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[BANGALORE] An Indo-Dutch team is creating early warning software that can help manage crowds at football matches and mass religious gatherings such as the Muslim Haj pilgrimage and the Hindu mega congregations or  ‘Kumbh Melas’ to ensure human safety.
The team led by Ashish Verma, professor of civil engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, will use psychological modelling to study in real-time how crowds behave under different situations. Crowds will be simulated on computers to develop alarms that trigger warnings of risky situations some 15—20 minutes before a potential stampede or other mishap.

Verma and his team are now gearing up to test the system at the Kumbh Mela, a mass Hindu gathering at Ujjain, central India that takes place every 12 years. The next gathering, from April 22 April— May 21 this year, is expected to draw some 60 million devotees with special days congregating up to 10 million people. The team will use cell phones, drones, CCTVs, cameras attached to balloons and even bracelet devices to capture data about people’s behaviour at the gathering. Data gleaned from these sources will as inputs in computer simulation of crowds.

“Crowd and psychological behaviour when studied together will lead to solutions that do not exist to avert crowding accidents,” Verma tells SciDev.Net. A 3D simulation modelling of the Mahakaleshwar temple and the Ramghat area, where processions take place, will be used for crowd simulation. The data collected will be used for computer programmes that trigger alarm systems whenever a potentially dangerous situation develops.

This US$500 thousand project brings together institutions from Switzerland, Russia, the Netherlands and India. “By 2018, we will have an app that can avert crowd disasters, and allow organisers of events to take preventive measures,” says Verma.

According to Vinod Menon, disaster management expert and former member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) such software can be enormously useful in countries like India known for its crowded places and large religious gatherings. “The NDMA has developed its own frameworks to prevent stampedes that result in injuries and loss of lives,” he tells SciDev.Net.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South Asia desk.