Safety in numbers takes planning
24 Apr 2019
Organisers for The Way of the Cross Easter walk describe the risks involved in managing a large scale event, and how they keep thousands of people safe on the journey each year.
Stefanie Pearce is the Secretary for Melbourne City Churches in Action (MCCIA). She has helped to plan and manage the ecumenical walk through Melbourne’s city streets, in commemoration of the journey of Jesus to his crucifixion. Every year the walk commences on Good Friday at one of the city’s oldest churches It starts at St. Francis Church in Lonsdale Street, continues to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Flinders Street, and finally the resurrection is celebrated at St. John’s Church, in Southgate. Along this journey walkers visit a total of 14 churches or ‘stations’ where they pray and sing while contemplating the work of artist Anna Meszaros, whose bronze sculptures interpreted biblical texts at each station.
“The main risks in this event are the same each year,” says Pearce. “Traffic, obstacles for pedestrians, and potential injuries through accidents or illness-related incidents. I think that we have now started to become more conscious of the possibility of a deliberate attack to our walkers, so crowd control and the presence of vehicles near us is more carefully considered than in previous years.”
Some changes to the route also need consideration.
“I looked at the route a little closer this year as we had a change in the churches who were involved. It meant the route of the walk might need to be changed.”
Pearce also had to consult with a number of people outside of the MCCIA.
“We do a lot of planning and thinking ahead for the walk. I advised the Melbourne City Council of the event so they could let people know what was happening on their website.”
“I did a reconnaissance of the route the day before the event with the police commander for the event who was Senior Sergeant Mark Kelly. We checked the route together. We were considering walking along Little Collins Street instead of Collins Street because I thought it would be safer to avoid the trams, but it was too narrow and there were road works. As Senior Sergeant Kelly explained to me, if there happened to be an emergency then first responder vehicles would not be able to get to people quickly enough because the road was too narrow.”
Volunteer marshalls supported the procession along the way.
“We had a First Aid medic driving along the route in a car who was ready to assist with any accident or illness. They had a defibrillator in the car and a medical kit. I asked for volunteers to be our Marshalls and they were in high visibility vests. We had 16 of them altogether this year, and they carried our donation buckets as well. They had all received a briefing from the police before the event to help us to manage crowd safety during the walk.”
It was also important to have public transport officials in the loop.
“We liaised with Yarra Trams and Public Transport Victoria to ensure they were aware of the crowds attending. We also alerted Transdev bus lines because we knew we’d have a large crowd going up Lonsdale Street.”
The crowd numbers have increased each year, with police advising the MCCIA there were approximately 5,000 at the 2019 event.
“We had vehicles positioned along the route,” says Pearce. “There were two sound vans, a medic car, the police cars, and the police also supplied a bicycle patrol along the route. The last walkers had a police car behind them who could monitor the whole event.”
“As we walked, I was aware that we had a clear police presence surrounding us and we were always safe from the traffic. It was subtle but very secure. We had no trips or falls because we took the advice of the police and made use of the area of the road they gave us.”
Sergeant Kelly and his team had recommended using part of the roads on the walk.
“The police recommended half of the roadway for walking and I was surprised that they said it would be much safer than confining so many people to the footpath. We were told to use it so we had that space and it made perfect sense.”
The MCCIA has managed the walk for 20 years, and each year has become better at preparing for it.
“It’s important to plan and manage events that have large crowds. You do that in consultation with the community and your council, and the police of course. They’ve continually helped us to improve the event and this year they also assisted us in briefing the volunteer marshalls.. We had a beautiful walk this year. Even spectators enjoyed it, and they were very respectful. We had no trouble at all and look forward to next year’s event with an even bigger crowd.”