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Drones monitor crowd safety at one of world’s largest gatherings

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During Ramadan this year (16 May-14 June), security staff at the largest mosque in the world are using drones to fly high above the throngs of pilgrims to ensure public safety.

The Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is a staggeringly enormous complex normally capable of holding 900,000 worshippers. During Hajj (the annual period when many Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca) this capacity leaps up to 4 million, equivalent to the entire population of Oregon.

Unfortunately – when gigantic crowds of people get together sometimes chaos breaks out and many people are often seriously injured or even killed.

In 2015 during Hajj, two large groups of pilgrims traveling in opposite directions came together at an intersection near Jamaraat Bridge. There was insufficient space for the people gathering which caused mass panic and a ‘crush’. During the crush at least 2200 people from 36 countries were killed.

Saudi Arabia was heavily criticized at the time for not taking adequate steps to protect the safety of their many visitors. The 2015 event was the most deadly at Mecca but there had been many previous incidences spanning back to 1990. On multiple occasions hundreds or even thousands of people were killed during stampedes. According to a study into the causes of the 2015 tragedy, at densities above 6 or 7 persons per square meter, individuals cannot move, groups are swept along in waves, individuals jostle to find breath and to avoid falling and being trampled, and hundreds of deaths can occur as a result.

As a response to the criticism and despite having a woeful human rights record, Saudi Arabia seems to be taking safety more seriously. The drones will be controlled by security forces and be on the lookout for anybody acting suspiciously, as well as to help authorities monitor the movements of people throughout Mecca. Accompanying the drones will be 25,000 cameras, 2,400 policemen and 1,300 security patrols.

Could we start seeing more drones monitoring public safety / spying on people at large events?

To get a sense of why crowd control is necessary during Hajj – check out the amazing video below.

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