When the Fans Start to Flock

The football will kick off in Germany this summer. But security experts have many things to clarify for the European football championship, such as how best to manage the flow of visitors. In Düsseldorf, computer simulations are helping with these efforts.

Three years ago at London’s Wembley Stadium: England and Italy face each other in the final of the European football championship. Hours before kick-off, fans descend on the overcrowded entrances. And more and more people keep coming. Many come despite not having a ticket. Some manage to break through the barriers and charge into the stadium. Tumultus scenes ensue. The police eventually arrest around 50 people.

A repeat of these scenes needs to be avoided at UEFA EURO 2024 in Germany this summer. Five matches will take place in Düsseldorf’s main stadium. Hauke Schmidt is Executive Director Safety Management for stadium operator D.LIVE, where he is responsible for visitor safety. He can look back on many years of professional experience, which is why he knows that the EURO 2024 matches cannot be compared with the usual encounters in the Bundesliga.

For example, an additional, external security area needs to be set up around the stadium during the tournament. This area is intended to prevent people from gaining uncontrolled access to the stadium. This creates a problem in Düsseldorf: “The underground train station right next to our stadium is situated within this security ring and therefore cannot be used for arrivals – only for departures,” explains the security expert.

Düsseldorf’s MERKUR SPIEL-ARENA
Five matches of EURO 24 will take place in Düsseldorf’s MERKUR SPIEL-ARENA. On the right: the underground train station which will be used only for departures. (Copyright: D.LIVE / Peter Weihs)

To bring spectators to the stadium, the Rheinbahn will therefore stop on the opposite side of the arena. This changes how the travelling fans are distributed along the various routes to the stadium. For Schmidt, the question is how and when the visitor flows will be distributed around the stadium under these unusual conditions – particularly at the various entrances. “There is no blueprint for this and we are unable to do a test run. Despite this, everything will have to run smoothly right from the very first game,” says the security expert.

Fan walks are another challenge. “This is an organized march of a team’s supporters from an agreed location to the stadium,” explains Hauke Schmidt. “And this could involve a very, very large number of people – potentially tens of thousands.” This mass of people can interfere with the arrival of other fans, for example when the thousands of football fans cross an intersection and bring traffic to a standstill. Level crossings along the route of fan walks are also critical points.

In order to predict the flow of visitors and identify potential risk zones, Schmidt is supported by complex computer simulations from the interdisciplinary research project CroMa-PRO (see infobox). “Our simulations provide various scenarios for the temporal and spatial development of visitor flows. These scenarios facilitate on-site planning,” explains Jette Schumann, one of the project managers from Jülich’s Institute for Advanced Simulation (IAS-7).

CroMa-Pro

The interdisciplinary CroMa-PRO research project is developing solutions to optimize visitor flows at major events. Computer simulations, which can be used to examine the arrival and departure of visitors in advance, are a key component of the project. The simulations allow the researchers to run through possible scenarios. These scenarios in turn help event organizers and security personnel to prepare, come up with security measures, and suggest efficient arrival routes. Forschungszentrum Jülich, the German Aerospace Center, event and mobility planner Eventbande GmbH, and stadium operator D.LIVE are involved in the project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Project homepage (only in German)

Consider all pathways

The simulations take account of travel to Düsseldorf by car, bus, train, and other means of transportation. This part of the simulations is developed by project partner DLR. At IAS-7, an agent-based model is used to simulate how a large number of individual people move to the stadium on foot. The model is based on findings concerning the behaviour of people in large crowds.

“We give each virtual person a goal at the beginning: you want to get to this specific stadium entrance. You have several routes to choose from. We then press ‘play’, so to speak, and see how the whole situation develops,” explains Schumann. “We also take influencing factors into account, such as the weather, which has an impact on travel behaviour." The researcher can display the results on a map on the computer screen: small dots move like ants along the streets and footpaths towards the stadium. Sometimes individually, but often in groups.

“We then press ‘play’ and see how the whole situation develops.”

Jette Schumann

Zoom into hot spots

This makes it possible to understand which route a crowd of people will take through the city, how long it takes, and what happens if the crowd is interrupted by other road users in between. “We can always see how many people are in which place at which time. You can then zoom in and say: I’m more interested in this place at this time,” says Schumann.

For example, one group game in the Düsseldorf stadium kicks off at 15:00. “When rush-hour traffic is flowing through the city at the same time as the fans, this naturally has a significant impact on the duration of the walk to the stadium and the traffic situation. Our simulations show exactly how this plays out,” explains the expert.

This is a great help to Hauke Schmidt and the other planners: “If the fan walk proceeds along one of the main traffic routes, for example, we need to calculate in advance how much space we should give it. Do we give it access to the whole road or do two lanes have to remain free for other road users?” says Schmidt. The project partners will pass on their findings, for instance regarding the utilization of individual entrance areas, to other organizers such as EURO 2024 GmbH, which is responsible for admissions.

For the Jülich researchers, however, the European football championship only marks half-time for the CroMa-PRO project. “The European football championship is the first example of our simulation software in use. We will then work on transferring the concept to other events and locations,” says Schumann.

Text: Arndt Reuning | image above: Forschungszentrum Jülich/Martin Leclaire

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  • Civil Safety Research (IAS-7)
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Last Modified: 18.07.2024