How Authorities Ensure East Lansing Won’t Have an Indonesian-like Crowd Crush

By Jason Laplow

Oct. 10, 2022

cover photo from Wikimedia Commons

Oct. 2 saw a significant loss of life at a soccer stadium in Malang, Indonesia after police tear gassed disgruntled fans who had rushed the pitch, leading to a stampede and crowd crush which left 125 dead and over 320 injured, Reuters reported.

The capacity of Kanjuruhan Stadium, the site of the tragedy, is around 40,000. In East Lansing, where crowds of over 70,000 are regularly drawn for Michigan State University home football games, there is robust protocol in place to prevent a similar incident from taking place, according to Dana Whyte, Communications Manager for the Michigan State University Police Department, which oversees crowd control for MSU athletics home games. She said that a lot of it comes down to the training, of which MSUPD officers “have some of the best in the state.”

That training directly translates into creating a safer environment for all who contribute to the massive crowds which have been a Saturday staple in East Lansing for over 100 years, says Whyte, although a lot of it falls on the gamegoers themselves to ensure a safer environment for all.

MSUPD attempts to maintain active communication with all who attend large gatherings on campus by way of their alert system, pre-game emails, and the Spartan Vision videoboards. Whyte explained that having that knowledge, in a dire situation, may be what ends up saving lives, adding that preventative measure is the biggest tool that MSUPD has in preventing a catastrophic event like what happened in Malang.

“You may be in a fight or flight moment and not thinking as rationally, but then they might go back to that thought like ‘Oh, well I did learn this,’” Whyte said.

The department has rolled out a new texting service this season specifically for gameday-related messaging, and Whyte advises all who regularly attend to subscribe to not only receive messages the day of, but also leading up to the game.

MSU Freshman Brayden Clarke, who has attended two home football games this season, explained that he thinks the crowd control measures on-site at Spartan Stadium do a good job of keeping people safe. He said that having students in a line to enter the building rather than a heard of people all trying to go through the relatively small doors towards the first-come first serve seating is a good system. If people were to rush the field following the game, he’s not sure if he would join in.

“I guess it kind of depends on the situation,” Clark said. “Like if everyone’s doing it I’m not gonna stay in the stands, but like if it’s not like a majority of people, then probably not.”

The measures do not just stop at stadium safety. Bethany Balks, Associate Director of Communications for MSU’s Residence Education and Housing Services, explained that multiple organizations work hand-in-hand every game week to ensure that nothing goes astray across the entire campus.

“We’re fortunate to have really strong partnerships with MSU Police and MSU Athletics,” Balks said. “Every game day there is a group that’s in constant communication, just talking about what might be happening during that game.”

REHS is looking into rolling out a text alert channel of their own for gameday-specific information, as they, too, believe the biggest tool to uphold crowd safety is communication and education.

The team is specifically concerned with the ways in which students who live in the university’s residence halls have access to resources in case of an emergency that might come about due to the nature of large gatherings and the activities they may bring, including alcohol consumption. While it’s not entirely clear how big of a role alcohol played in the Indonesian tragedy, it’s certainly possible that the decision to rush the field may not have been made in complete sobriety, as has been the case in similar incidents of the past.

Having education about the ways in which alcohol affects your ability to make rational decisions is important, especially in the case of many newly independent college students, explained Balks.

Any sort of event that brings tens of thousands of people to campus is a large undertaking, and the day doesn’t end when the game clock expires. Last year, a car was flipped on its hood and multiple couches set ablaze in the aftermath of MSU’s 37-33 win over rival University of Michigan.

Whyte said the postgame activities often are busier than the games themselves, and MSUPD partners with the East Lansing Police Department, which takes the lead on anything that happens off campus.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communication, above all else, has proven to be important in preventing tragedy at MSU.