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Extreme theatregoers will do almost anything to get Broadway tickets, especially cheap ones. Twenty years ago, it was common to have to camp out in front of theatres to score good, cheap seats. Producer Jeffrey Seller said, “On a Friday night, there’d be a line going west for the Friday night rush and then there’d be a line going east for the Saturday matinee rush. And people were sleeping over. We became worried that kids were going to get hurt and get into trouble.” To end the overnight camp-outs, increase safety, and implement a system more fair for the hundreds of people vying for a limited number of discounted tickets, most productions implemented rush, lottery, and standing-room-only (SRO) policies. However, nearly twenty years later, the lottery system has developed dangers of its own.

Back in July, one of the hottest shows currently on Broadway – Hamilton – began a lottery of its own. Several times a week, two and a half hours before a performance, fans could wait outside the theatre to enter their name to win front row tickets for only $10. Between 700 and 1000 theatregoers would arrive for each lottery; the crowds have become so large that they have also become a threat.

Yesterday, it was announced that the Hamilton lottery would be digital effective January 5, 2016. The move comes after many theatergoers and Richard Rodgers Theatre neighbors complained of hundreds of ticket-seekers turning the well-intentioned lottery into a danger zone on W. 46th St. According to Jeffrey Seller, now a producer for Hamilton, the extreme lines for the lottery have been blocking traffic on busy West 46th Street causing both congestion and potential accidents. “We love seeing so many fans show up to participate in the lottery,” said Seller. “But we need to figure out how to safely accommodate our fans without blocking traffic on West 46th Street. We’re taking this winter break to work out some safety measures and improvements that we’ll implement when we return to the live lottery in the spring.” Producers collaborated with the NYPD to create “a safer environment” for the production, and Sellers said they will be working with the theatre owners to make the entire lottery system safer and more user-friendly.

Thankfully, nothing tragic has happened during the Hamilton lotteries besides blocking traffic, although one theatre goer said he saw a woman almost get hit by a bus when she stepped into traffic. While the dangers of the auto and pedestrian accidents are somewhat obvious, and I have discussed both topics in detail before, there is a hidden danger here, too — crowds.

As hundreds of people crowd into one given area, often times distracted, the scene is an accident waiting to happen. Most people do not consider the risks of serious injuries due to crowds, but they are just as dangerous as other pedestrian accidents.

“Crowd Crushing”

Being crushed is a major cause of injury and death in crowds. Crushing can occur either against an obstruction or between people. Often times, victims of crushing aren’t even aware of how much they are being crushed or the harm done to them; they may feel sore, but internal damage can be quite severe. Internal bruising and suffocation are the largest risks.

“Crowd Quaking” and “Crowd Collapsing”

Crowd quaking is when the density of a crowd is so great that a single movement can easily shift from one person to another and gain force as it travels. With hundreds or thousands of such movements building up, bodies can begin shifting in an uncontrollable way causing some people to lose their balance resulting in stumbling or falling. When this happens, it can lead to crowd collapsing making others vulnerable to being crushed or trampled in the aftermath.

“Stampedes and Tramplings”

The number of stampedes/tramplings have more than quadrupled over the past twenty years; approximately seven thousand people have died in stampedes in the past thirty years. “Crazes” of people all scrambling for something they want is one of the easiest ways to get caught up in being crushed, trampled, and seriously injured or killed.

While event management should implement a plan to predict, monitor, and control crowds including having emergency procedures in place, event-goers can help too. If you plan to spend time in at a crowded venue such as the theatre, a concert, music festival, or ticket lottery, stay alert and take safety precautions.

  • Be aware of past safety issues related to the event and/or event space.
  • Arrive early enough to survey the area and locate entrances, exits, and safety equipment.
  • Look for barriers or dividers for organizing and limiting the crowd’s size and shape.
  • Avoid large uncontrolled crowds, obstructions and traffic.
  • Always move with the crowd, not against it
  • Consider departing slightly early or staying late in order to avoid the rush after the performance.
  • Avoid crowded situations when possible, especially unregulated ones.

The safest measures to follow in any situation are awareness and prevention. It is always great news to report on pro-safety decisions being made as in the case of Broadway lotteries such as Hamilton.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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