Cedar Rapids Weather
Iowa Fire Marshal Advocates for More Crowd Management Training
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
DES MOINES, Iowa - In the wake of Friday’s deadly shootings in a Colorado movie theater, the Iowa State Fire Marshal is stressing the importance of crowd management and mandated training for events and venues hosting large groups of people.
“We have had some incidents reported to us where crowds were on the verge of being too big and where the fire department felt like something bad was going to happen,” said State Fire Marshal Ray Reynolds. “We are not immune to potential disaster, and we want to remind the public that when you are at a large venue, we expect there to be people trained so the public is safe.”
The fire code adopted by Iowa requires any establishment, venue or event expecting 1,000 or more to have at least one person trained in crowd management, Reynolds said. On the heels of a mass shooting in a Colorado theater early Friday that left 12 people dead and 59 injured, Reynolds announced his office is endorsing a new online crowd manager training program available through the National Association of State Fire Marshals web site.
“Recent events have shown us fire isn’t the only thing that can cause a rush to the emergency exits,” Reynolds said. “It’s important employees are trained appropriately to manage crowds in an emergency.”
Iowa adopted the International Fire Code in 2006, and the requirement to have a trained crowd manager went into effect in 2009, Reynolds said. But, he said, no criteria was set for training standards.
“We were all over the board on this,” he said. “There was no standard for how we expected a crowd manager to be trained.”
Although the fire code does not require venue and event managers to go through a specific program, Reynolds said, the state has endorsed the new nationally-backed and researched online training that debuted about a week ago.
“It felt like it was the perfect time to jump on board and be the first state to push the crowd manager training,” he said.
The online program costs $19.95 and takes about two hours to complete. Everyone who passes receives a certificate that employers can keep on file. Reynolds said the new program is a simple way to get into compliance, which he says needs to be a higher priority for event planners and venue operators.
“I have been to basketball games when bad weather rolls in, and I’ve watched people be totally oblivious to what would happen if a tornado hit the school,” he said, mentioning another recent concert in Iowa that drew a large crowd. “I think the staff there initially felt totally overwhelmed.”
Reynolds said that although some venues are properly staffed and prepared for an emergency, plenty are not. And, he said, investigators often find out after it’s too late.
“This is a team effort to make sure the public is safe,” he said. “Our office is not ready to put up bars and metal detectors in every business, but we’re raising awareness of what to do and how to respond in an emergency.”
Greg Buelow, spokesman for the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, said a heightened alertness is one thing he thinks the Colorado shootings will affect nationwide, including Eastern Iowa.
“In the immediate, it will change people’s awareness levels,” he said. “Anyone who has watched the news in the last 12 hours is probably thinking, ‘What would I do? How would I react?’”
Cedar Rapids has strict permitting guidelines for larger events that require police and firefighters to be on scene. But, he said, when it comes to more mundane gatherings and smaller group events, there needs to be more preparations.
“Crowd control is a serious issue,” he said.
For example, Buelow said, a few years ago in a Cedar Rapids movie theater, a popcorn machine overheated and patrons were asked to leave. Instead of heading out nearby exits that led directly outside, everyone filed back through the lobby and past all the smoke, Buelow said.
“They missed at least four other opportunities to safely exit and instead went through the area of danger,” he said, adding that the theater should have been responsible for helping patrons exit safely.
“You have to help,” he said. “You have to give some direction.”
Although theaters in Eastern Iowa were running on schedule and without modifications on Friday, Iowa City’s Marcus Sycamore Cinema had clearly marked signs near the new Batman movie line reminding patrons that carry-in bags like backpacks are not allowed.
Sales to the Dark Knight Rises were steady at Sycamore Mall, and the midnight show in the Iowa City theater was packed, one ticket official said. But Kiaya Deneice, 20, of Iowa City, said she felt some hesitation to see the film.
“People are that insane that it could happen,” said Deneice, who is from Colorado and recently returned from a trip to the Rocky Mountains. “But I like to think that people aren’t that crazy here.”
Matt Swanson, 24, of Iowa City, said he and a buddy bought tickets to the Friday afternoon showing of the Dark Knight on Thursday, and they checked in with each other before going to the theater.
“We talked about it – whether it changed our minds about coming,” Swanson said, adding that they decided not to let something that happened hundreds of miles away keep them from seeing a movie. “But it will definitely cross my mind when I’m in there.”
For the online crowd manager training program click here
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