Last Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Harry Potter And Crowd Safety
Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2016

Hey you, get back in line. Photo: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ (c) 2016 (crop)

A major Harry Potter attraction opens next moth (April 7) at the Universal Studios Hollywood amusement park in Los Angeles. At issue, as usual for such events, is the safety of the crowd. A recent Los Angeles Times story by reporter Hugo Martin took a superficial look at preparation for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ event soliciting crowd safety insights from various crowd safety consultants, including Crowd Management Strategies’ Paul Wertheimer.

The Los Angeles Times article reserved little space to address the subject in any seriousness, such as the more controversial crowd safety aspects of the Harry Potter opening. Universal Studios Hollywood was tight lipped in response to questions from Mr. Martin. That left a strong impression that the park had a loosey-goosey crowd safety plan for the anticipated potential record crowd of Harry Potter fans .

One of the crowd techniques Universal Studios Hollywood has apparently decided to use for the big event is a first-come first-served policy. In a highly popular event like this one---and with pricey tickets to boot---the technique can create, among other things, unwanted competition among people in a crowd, anxiety and conflict. What can follow are things like crowd crush, crowd surge, crowd craze and altercations.

Universal Studios Hollywood customers who find themselves facing maxed-out lines can opt for a ticket to come back to the line at another time say park management. That’s great if people---and children---have all day to spend at the park. Mr. Martin noted that when Universal’s Harry Potter attraction that opened in Orlando six years ago, park customers waited up to five hours to enter the new grounds, stood in line about an hour and a half just to enter a souvenir shop and waited two hours in line for one of the most popular rides. And yes, there were other glitches causing delays and frustrating fans.

Top museums and retailers solved the crowd problems a first come, first served policy can create decades ago. Apparently, the amusement industry---or at least Universal Studios Hollywood---has not gotten the word yet. Mr. Wertheimer told the reporter that all tickets to the Harry Potter attractions could have been pre-sold for certain days and at certain times. That is an effective crowd management technique used to gage the size of anticipated crowds as well as to manage on-site crowds. Walk up crowds would could buy tickets in the same manner. Mr. Martin apparently did not have space to write about this technique. Maybe it sounded too sensible. Or, maybe all that self-congratulatory industry commentary that flowed through his article was deemed more important.

Mr. Martin wrote that “Universal Studios representatives are loath to acknowledge potential crowding let alone how the park would mitigate it” for the big Harry Potter opening. In other words, keep the public in the dark about what might occur or how park patrons should prepare for the big day. Or, for that matter, whether it is wise to bring the whole family---or attend if you have a disability. In contrast, consultant Adam Leggat of the Densus Group noted in the story how important it is to keep the public informed in order to partner with them to help create a safe event.

How Universal Studios Hollywood would handle emergency situations with such a large crowd in attendance was also not addressed. Dire situations can range from overcrowding to unanticipated attraction failures to shootings (Crowdsafe® Database: A shooting occurred on the grounds in 2015; another shooting occurred at Universal CityWalk, adjacent to the park, in 2014) to---yes, bad weather. Then there is the issue of terrorist acts.

Hopefully, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ opening will go smoothly. But, based on Universal Studio Hollywood's comments in the Times' story, it sounds like Universal Studio Hollywood customers should be ready for a rough ride.

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