The relief after the forced COVID-19 infused abstinence was just great. Over the last few months, football fans worldwide have been allowed to watch football matches live in stadiums again, and cheer on their favourite team – without significant pandemic restrictions, such as limited seats and social distancing in the stadiums. However, the excessive emotion this brings with it highlights almost forgotten challenges: such as fans storming the pitch during or after a match, the ignition of detonators and pyrotechnics or the unfortunate notorious racist insults.
Many stadium operators observe that often young male adults who are just 18 years old or slightly older engage in offensive or even criminal behaviour in addition to ‘normal’ adolescent behaviour. The pandemic restrictions have certainly added to the issues as this demographic has not had the opportunity to act out, by going out to bars and clubs. Now they are adults, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and they get carried away by the atmosphere of the crowd in the stadium and do foolish things.
Another sticking point is the lack of stewards. Quite a few have returned to their homes abroad during the lockdown measures in the pandemic or have simply looked for other jobs. Often those who are deployed in the regulars’ absence are partly inexperienced or not sufficiently trained.
Pitch Invasions: a very tight time window
These circumstances favour one of the biggest problems for crowd management, namely pitch invasions. From single streakers to hundreds or potentially even thousands of fans storming the pitch, this is a nightmare for every stadium operator, who has almost no chance of keeping an overview and ensuring the safety of everyone present. However, experience shows that most pitch invasions have the same signs in common: Fans leaving their seats and forming a crowd at the front of the stands before one person makes the start, storming the pitch with the masses following them.
In addition to some approaches, such as ‘licensed standing’, where clubs erect railings between each row of spectators to counteract a simple rush to the front, video technology can also have a preventive effect. High-resolution camera systems, equipped with several sensors of different focal lengths, enable a comprehensive overview of the entire event as well as any number of simultaneous zooms by several operators. In this way, the behaviour of crowds as well as individual groups of spectators can be precisely observed.
This gives the security staff and police in the control room a better understanding of the security situation and enables them to order stewards to specific tiers, in a very informed and targeted way, so that they can take further steps to calm the situation. The same applies to tumult at the entrance areas, when, for example, fans without valid tickets try to gain access to the stadium. Here, too, specially designed camera systems cover long distances and large areas and help to improve situational awareness and keep things under control.
They key is that these systems allow operators and police to understand the overall scene while at the same being able to check for details in as many areas as needed. This allows them to identify and fight trouble at the very point of its origin.
Another challenge is lighting and throwing of pyrotechnics. Equally dangerous is detonating explosives or fireworks which can cause mass panic or injuries to human hearing.. Throwing objects such as coins or lighters is also a common threat.
Useful video technology
In this case, camera systems are particularly suitable for the detection of such incidents if they cover the entire grandstand area with a sufficiently high resolution (more than 250 px/m according to IEC 62676-4) and a smooth frame rate (30 fps) to obtain recordings that can be used in court.
For effective prosecution, it is also important to be able to quickly investigate if the person is masked when igniting the pyrotechnics or is already elsewhere at the time of detonation. Here, stadium operators or the commanding police officer can benefit from video systems that allow large spatial contexts to be captured with as few camera perspectives and screens as possible. This allows for effective research and tracking. In conjunction with high-performance video management and control centre software, digital incident files can also be created, where the associated image, video, and sound recordings, as well as comments, witness statements, etc., can be collected and handed over to the law enforcement authorities.
Many clubs report, especially in this context, that fines imposed by the authorities are reduced by tens of thousands of euros if they can prove that they are using sophisticated and proven security technology to resolve such incidents and prevent them in the future.
Integration means quicker and better decisions
It is equally important to have an immediate overview of other security systems such as access control, intrusion detection and fire alarm systems. Imminent dangers, for example if a locked door is opened violently, can be reported by the access control system to a higher-level control centre software. By intelligently linking the locations of doors and associated viewing angles from installed video cameras, these systems can issue alarms and operators can immediately verify such alarms with video images, and take further action. For example, it is possible to unlock all doors during evacuation measures, control bollards and visually verify procedures.
Besides the challenges on matchdays, safety is also important when conferences, corporate events and other events take place. One trend is urban climbing, where adventurous people climb stadium roofs, for example, to take selfies and pictures for social media. In these ‘sterile areas’, the interaction of video cameras and AI-based object classification software can help to issue an intrusion detection alarm if the system detects a person in this forbidden zone. Security forces can intervene accordingly and resolve the situation.
Camera systems, such as Dallmeier’s Panomera multifocal sensor systems, already offer numerous possibilities of how they can meaningfully support crowd management through high-resolution recordings of large spatial contexts. In addition, stadium operators benefit from sophisticated building and control centre systems to control all security systems via a uniform and intuitive user interface in dicey situations. Due to the rapid development of AI-based video analysis, there will be numerous applications in the future that can improve crowd management. These include, for example, the tracking and automatic search of people based on certain characteristics, such as:
• The colour of their clothing.
• Tracking of individuals throughout the entire stadium.
• Predictive analysis of tricky situations before they occur, and many more.
Regardless of future capabilities, high-quality camera images will always be at the core of any analytics solution – image quality determines data quality, and, in most applications, the human eye is needed to make the final decision.
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