Attending a large cultural or social event abroad can be an incredibly immersive and invigorating experience. And as with any large event at home or abroad, your safety is the first priority. Levels of security and the experience of security personnel and planning may vary greatly from country to country. Here's what to look out for at large events, whether they're planned or spontaneous.
Tips for Staying Safe at Large Events
How to Assess Event Security
Events with proactive safety measures are much more secure than those without them. If possible, try to research the following factors before deciding whether or not to attend an event. If that's not an option, consider them once you're there. And, if something's telling you to leave, always, always trust your gut instincts.
Presence and Location of Security Professionals
First, make sure security personnel are present, including police or event security and medical responders.
Second, note their location. Are the security staff located only along the perimeter, or are they stationed throughout the space? If they're limited to the perimeter, there's no way for them to quickly see or respond to activity within the crowd. You'll also want to look out for delineated travel lanes for security personnel and emergency vehicles to maneuver through the crowd.
Access Control Measures and Enforcement of Security Rules
Many large events limit attendance to help ensure that participation does not exceed what is safe and manageable for the venue and the law enforcement to handle. Ticketing or cutting off admission also allows for evacuation in case of an emergency. The annual Samba Parade during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and London's New Year's Eve countdown and fireworks viewing are just two examples.
Additional security measures include security screenings and bag checks. For example, every year, entrance to the Super Bowl requires a security screening, which greatly improves the safety of all in attendance. Some events and venues also restrict the types of bags and items that you're allowed to bring in with you and limit or restrict the consumption of alcohol.
Your Comfort with the Energy or Vibe
An event doesn't have to be organized and have security policies implemented for it to be a safe, fun, and memorable experience. While many larger cities have the resources to provide adequate security for large celebrations or parties, smaller cities and towns may not. The more you travel and get to know a city, the more you'll be able to develop your instinct.
While organized events are often the safer choice, organic and spontaneous events are not necessarily unsafe and can result in amazing and memorable experiences. Again, you have to trust your gut. Jubilant sports fans may fill the streets to celebrate a big win. But if the celebration takes a violent turn or if police respond aggressively, you need to find a safe haven or return to your lodging immediately.
Protests pose a different risk than celebrations. Some protests are well-organized and obtain all necessary permissions and permits. Others arise quickly with little-to-no advance warning and may turn violent at a moment's notice. Large groups of angry people can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable. It's also exceptionally difficult for the police to react to a protest. In many countries, the police lack the adequate training and equipment to safely control protests or angry mobs. They may use aggressive tactics to disperse the protestors or make arrests indiscriminately. If you're traveling to a country with known protest activity, review our advice for civil unrest.
Most importantly, if you find yourself in the vicinity of a demonstration or protest, leave the area. In some countries, it may be illegal for foreigners to participate in a protest. The Mexican constitution, for example, prohibits political activities by foreigners, and potential consequences include detention, imprisonment, and deportation.
Lastly, never take pictures of a protest or riot. What may seem like an innocent act may be perceived as subversive by local authorities. Even relatively liberal countries consider photography a serious security matter. Taking pictures of protests, riots, police, or military buildings is ill-advised and even illegal in some countries. Review the Overseas Security Council's do's and don'ts for photography.
Have Fun and Be Safe
Throughout your travels, you may find yourself in the midst of large public gatherings. Whether it's the Olympics, Oktoberfest, Chinese New Year, or any other celebration around the world, remember to do your research, have fun, and always be aware of your surroundings.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where your safety is compromised or you need medical support, seek help from the security or medical personnel at the event. If they can't help you (or if they're not accessible or not present), you can always contact International SOS, our 24/7 global emergency response program, at +1-617-998-0000 or through the Assistance App.