Vivid needs better crowd management, says Chris Minns after bottlenecks cause ‘near-miss incident’ | Vivid festival 2024

Vivid needs better crowd management says Chris Minns after bottlenecks cause near miss incident | Vivid festival 2024
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The NSW premier, Chris Minns, has conceded organisers need to “do better” after the crowd at Vivid’s drone show were left feeling trapped and panicked, with one expert describing it as a “near-miss incident”.


The first drone show as part of Sydney’s annual winter light festival drew enormous crowds to Circular Quay, where bottlenecks at the exits left thousands of people trapped and fearing a crowd crush on Saturday night.

Police reinforcements had to be called in to manage the ballooning crowd, with Minns saying authorities had not anticipated the size of the crowd.

He said authorities reacted by changing the location of barricades and closing some streets earlier.


“We need to do better. We didn’t anticipate the crowds on that night. What I can say is that the organisers [and] the NSW police worked quickly to learn from the mistakes of the night before they did a major walkthrough with all the agencies, Destination NSW, as well as NSW police,” Minns told reporters on Monday morning.


“Some street closures were brought in earlier in the day, some of the crowd barricades were moved to different sections, and the following night worked better.”

Minns said he believed the crowd size could be attributed in part to the cost-of-living crisis and the draw of a large-scale free event.

“I know people are doing it tough at the moment and this is an opportunity for families to spend time together … [and] enjoy something that doesn’t cost any money,” he said.

“We want to make sure it’s a safe night out.”

Trains, buses, and ferries were diverted on Sunday night as organisers made arrangements to prevent the same crowd-building to continue around transport hubs.


The incident prompted organisers to post on X, calling on people to avoid Circular Quay and The Rocks on Sunday night.

One witness, Anthony Warren, was visiting Sydney and attended the show with friends and said the crowds looked “packed together like sardines” and “panicked”.

“Looking at the crowd, you could see it was all families and people with prams, and they were packed together like sardines. It could have gotten so much worse very quickly, if someone started running or shouted ‘fire’. They had nowhere to go.”

“People looked a bit panicked but were trying to keep their cool,” he added.

Warren said authorities were “disassembling the barricades” on Saturday night amid the crowds, in an attempt to ease the congestion.

“People just could not get out – there were people stuck there for over an hour, just standing. And I noticed some of the barricades were being disassembled, which eventually eased the crush.”

Dr Milad Haghani, a crowd safety expert at UNSW, said he was concerned about the location of the barricades, adding that it was an issue Vivid management could “learn from”.

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He said an underestimation of crowd numbers and the placement of the barricades led to a “near-miss incident”.

“My initial reaction was that it was a bad level of service that people experienced, and a kind of a scary situation, something that we sometimes refer to as a near-miss incident,” he said.

“I think there was a misestimation of the crowd size, and the placement of the barricades could have contributed to the issue. You cannot just put barricades without having a good understanding of the amount of people who will turn up, which can be a challenge.”

“It needs to be designed, because not all the barricade placements were bad, but if the capacity exceeds estimations and the walkways become too narrow, then they need to be removed.”

Haghani said the fact that there wasn’t a crush or any injuries was a positive takeaway.

A spokesperson for Vivid said event and security personnel do “monitor crowd flow” and adjust plans as crowds swell.

“We understand that a large number of people leaving a major event at the same time can be slow and challenging and are grateful to the public for their patience and cooperation,” the spokesperson said.

They added that staff “implement scalable measures to manage crowd flow at various points if required, particularly on the busy nights and peak periods”.

“This includes advising visitors that certain areas have reached capacity and adjusting infrastructure to support crowd flow.”

Vivid Sydney is owned, managed and produced by the NSW government’s tourism and major events agency.

The light festival is in its 14th year and draws international and interstate visitors, with the festival attracting 3.48 million people in 2023.

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