The crowd goes mild for Beca

17:00, Jul 27 2013
SMOOTH OPERATORS: Beca traffic engineers, from left, Alan Kerr, Martin Peat and Calum Nicholson in Brazil.

It was the biggest event in Brazil's history - the Pope's visit - and a team of Kiwi traffic engineers made it all happen smoothly.

Engineering firm Beca was commissioned earlier this year to provide crowd-flow analysis, transport planning, evacuation, food and beverage provisions, and event operations around the Guaratiba venue where more than a million followers gathered for the Pope's vigil and the closing mass as part of last week's World Youth Day festival.

Beca technical director Alan Kerr said the $200,000 contract included supplying services similar to those provided for the Rugby World Cup in 2011, but on a grander scale.

Kerr said attendance at the events more than doubled those of previous World Youth Day celebrations.

It was the largest crowd Beca had dealt with, he added.

"From a crowd-planning perspective they don't come much bigger."


World Youth Day is an international youth meeting organised by the Catholic Church every two to three years and was established by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

The Rugby World Cup taught Beca it was important to get different stakeholders pulling in the same direction, he said.

Achieving this in Brazil was a challenge, especially when the language barrier was added to the mix, Kerr said.

However, the Catholic Church, the Brazilian Government and security had been great to work with.

Crowd modelling, or planning, uses mathematical models to represent how crowds form, disperse and move when in confined areas such as corridors and gates.

A crucial part of Beca's analysis focused on evacuation and crowd-movement patterns in the case of a catastrophe, Kerr said.

Last month's civil unrest in Brazil made it important to have measures in place in case something went wrong, such as the bombings at the Boston Marathon, he said.

"Brazil's a volatile place but it's a cool place."

Guaratiba was a temporary venue west of Rio de Janeiro where streets and quarters had been set up with food, medical and toilet facilities for the festival.

Pilgrims walked 14 kilometres on foot from drop-off points around the area.

Beca worked at an analysis and planning level but the security - in this case a reported 22,000 army, air force, navy and police officers - handled the implementation on the ground.

"You plan for these sorts of events in the hope that it would never happen but it's a real threat," Kerr said.

However, the modern-day pilgrims had come a long way to see the Pope and they were looking to have a good time, not to cause trouble, he said.

Weather had to be taken into account because it affected how many people attended, along with how they travelled to and from the events.

It had been raining in Rio de Janeiro where the events were held but it did not seem to dampen followers' spirits, Kerr said.

Beca, which is owned by its staff and was founded in New Zealand in 1918, has become a specialist in crowd planning.

It has worked on most of the major sporting events for the past four years including the London Olympic Games.

The company is also in the running to secure crowd-planning contracts for the approaching Olympics and Football World Cup in Brazil, as well as the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018.

"People's expectations and experiences are increasing, and [planning] is becoming more complicated and more involved," Kerr said.

Crowd planning is part of the company's aim to grow and diversify overseas but still amounts to only a small portion of its annual $406 million turnover.

Consulting globally on civil engineering and infrastructure, and industrial and commercial buildings remain the core sources of revenue.

Sunday Star Times