#101Wednesdays: Crowd management and the Hillsborough Stadium disaster of 1989

Blog Post created by gharrington Employee on Jun 28, 2017

This past May, I posted about the NFPA 101, Life Safety Code requirements for crowd managers. In today's installment of #101Wednesdays, guest author Robert Solomon discusses the broader subject of crowd management, and how the lack of a comprehensive plan can have tragic consequences as seen in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster in the UK.


The UK Crown Prosecution Service announced today that charges were being brought against six individuals who had various levels of responsibility for crowd and fan safety at the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster in Sheffield, England, where 96 soccer fans died in a crowd crush. Crowd management, stadium design, and response plans have been cited as contributing factors to this disaster.


While tragic events in assembly occupancy venues are often equated to fire (e.g., Cocoanut Grove nightclub, USA, 1942, 492 deaths; Bradford City (Valley Parade) Stadium, UK, 1985, 56 deaths; The Station nightclub, USA, 2003, 100 deaths), a surprisingly large number of deaths have occurred in these environments under other than fire circumstances as well.  As discussed in the Hillsborough Stadium case, elements such as overcrowding, lack of crowd management, or both, can lead to a heartbreaking outcome.


A 2011 article published in NFPA Journal focused on the importance of having a robust plan in place, coupled with the need for building design features to keep occupants safe and sound in large assembly venues for any number of potentially dangerous circumstances, including non-fire events. Potential changes to NFPA 101 in this area are continuously being studied as the nature, design, and performance characteristics of large assembly occupancies continue to push the limits. These concerns apply equally to indoor and outdoor venues and include considerations well beyond fire.


Code requirements for a life safety evaluation (LSE) are provided to facilitate this type of review. The LSE made its first appearance in NFPA 101 in 1988 and it is specifically designed to evaluate a host of situations in assembly occupancies. NFPA 101 defines the LSE as: A written review dealing with the adequacy of life safety features relative to fire, storm, collapse, crowd behavior, and other related safety considerations


The parts of the Code that deal with assembly occupancies (Chapter 12, New Assembly Occupancies, and Chapter 13, Existing Assembly Occupancies) prompt these very specialized rules because of the nature of assembly occupancies, which includes large concentrations of people in relatively confined areas. The LSE entails a comprehensive evaluation of each event, including the myriad potential life safety hazards for which the event organizers must be prepared. Over 100 factors must be considered when an LSE is prepared. Those factors fit into one or more broad categories, as shown below from of the 2015 edition of NFPA 101:


(1) Nature of the events and the participants and attendees

(2) Access and egress movement, including crowd density problems

(3) Medical emergencies

(4) Fire hazards

(5) Permanent and temporary structural systems

(6) Severe weather conditions

(7) Earthquakes

(8) Civil or other disturbances

(9) Hazardous materials incidents within and near the facility

(10) Relationships among facility management, event participants, emergency response agencies, and others having a role in the events accommodated in the facility


The LSE goes on to require a life safety narrative (, a life safety floor plan (, applicable engineering analysis and calculations (, and life safety management documents ( The LSE is a comprehensive assessment tool that is designed to prevent tragedies similar to that which occurred in Hillsborough from occurring again.


Other countries, including the U.S., are not immune from these types of events. In fact, similar tragic outcomes have occurred globally.  The 2012 Fire Protection Research Foundation study, A Literature Review of Emergency and Non-Emergency Events, looked at similar occurrences worldwide not involving a fire where crowd crush and similar crowd dynamics resulted in death, injury, or both. Application of the LSE to these scenarios would have likely resulted in different, less tragic, outcomes in many cases.


A documentary of the Sheffield disaster was captured in a 2014 ESPN 30 for 30 film entitled Hillsborough. The director looks at the event from many perspectives, including those of the fans, law enforcement personnel, and the families who lost loved ones on that fateful day. 


Robert Solomon, P.E., is division manager, building fire protection and life safety, at NFPA.        


Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!


Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”


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