Kumbh Mela Experiment to predict stampede risk 30 minutes in advance
NEW DELHI: One of the largest religious congregations on earth, the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, will also mark the confluence of tradition and technology to solve a problem that vexes authorities worldwide and takes a heavy toll of human life — large crowds. Along with the millions who will gather on the banks of the river Shipra in Madhya Pradesh from April 22, there will be some 350 scientists and engineers monitoring information from GPS trackers and wearable devices to develop a system that will help manage and provide early warning if a disaster is impending.
The goal of the ‘Kumbh Mela Experiment,’ which will collect data about crowd behaviour and the pattern of movement of devotees, is to predict the possibility of a stampede 30 minutes before it happens and thereby avert disaster. If the experiment is successful, the results will come in handy during mass gatherings such as sports events, rallies, and fairs.
An estimated 10 crore devotees are expected to take part in the month-long Ujjain Kumbh Mela, which takes place once every 12 years. Along with Ujjain, Allahabad, Haridwar and Nashik are the locations where the Kumbh Mela is held. According to mythology, drops of the divine elixir Amrit fell on these four places.
“Crowd management has remained a complex problem for administrators around the world,” Aruna Sharma, the top bureaucrat in the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, wrote in a message to the project team. “Under this project a crowd management solution based on pre and post event simulations of large religious and other gatherings will be developed.”
Wearable devices, GPS trackers, mobile phones and closed-circuit televisions will collect data that will be converted to useful information using data analytics tools and connected electronic devices. Researchers and volunteers from engineering and management institutes will help assist in the project. Data will be collected in real time and at the end of each day.
The research is being carried out as part of an agreement between the information technology department and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) on pervasive communications and computing. It is being supported by industry partners such as Tech Mahindra for data analytics, Aarav Ltd for drones, Salland Electronics from Netherlands for tracking bracelets and nxTio for urban mobility technology.
Crowd-management is a pressing problem, especially in India where stampedes have claimed thousands of lives. During the last Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013, 36 people were killed in a stampede at the Allahabad Railway Station.
Over 100 died at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala in 2011, and in India’s worst stampede disaster an estimated 800 people were killed at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 1954. The Muslim Haj pilgrimage is also notorious for stampede tragedies. Just last year, several hundred people lost their lives in a crush near Mecca.
Ordinarily, the police and local administration deploy a mix of manual methods and CCTV camera footage to manage crowds. “We mainly make sure that people in the crowd moving in opposite directions do not cross each other, and make the routes for their passage accordingly. We also see the carrying capacity of a particular location,” said Ravindra Pastor, the Commissioner of Ujjain.
Ashish Verma, an assistant professor at the department of civil engineering at IISc, whose team is leading the project, said the sources for data collection we include about 1,000 wearable devices to monitor crowd flows and an equal number of GPS tracking devices. These will be supplemented by cellphone count data, data from CCTVs as well as cameras deployed on balloons, high-mast poles and vantage points. The team will also collect about 10,000 data samples from questionnaires. It is also running 3D simulations of the large crowds that are expected to congregate at the Mahakal Temple in Ujjain, and have experts on hand to help to study crowd psychology.
The core team of 40 researchers, including 25 from India, and 15 from the Netherlands, Russia, and Singapore, is already setting up an “akhara,” or camp, inside the Kumbh Mela grounds in Ujjain. This team will be helped by 300 student interns from across India.