News | Monday, 23rd January 2017

How many people were at Trump’s inauguration? Manchester Met crowd scientists find themselves at heart of global news story

Scientists provide expert analysis on the size of the crowds

Two Manchester Metropolitan University crowd scientists have found themselves at the centre of a global news story.

Professor Keith Still and Marcel Altenburg provided expert analysis for the New York Times on the size of the crowds at Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States of America.

Their analysis had led to a huge debate between the office of the President, who claim the crowds were far larger than estimated, and the American media.

Using sophisticated algorithms previously developed by Prof Still, a running estimate was given during the inauguration, to decide just how many people were present at the historic Washington DC ceremony.

Prof Still said: “We used seven live video feeds during the inauguration and a geometric analysis. We have developed a technique which can provide scientific estimates of crowd dynamics, which has important real-world applications in the preparation of large events for crowd safety.

“On the basis that the crowd for President Obama’s inauguration was over one million people (physical counts vary for this), Trump’s was a third of the crowd size from the available, verified images. From a non-expert’s point of view, if you stand in front of a crowd it would change your perception and you would see a sea of people and possibly think the numbers are far greater. But the evidence is undeniable.”

Prof Still and Marcel, an enterprise delivery fellow, worked around the clock from 11am on the 20th - to 7am on the 22nd analysing crowds, not only for the inauguration, but also for the anti-Trump protest marches.

“The crowds for the women’s march was three times the size of those for the inauguration,” said Prof Still.

Prof Still is a leading expert in the field of crowd science and risk assessment and his insight has been in high demand recently: estimating historical crowd sizes of previous US presidential inaugurations for the New York Times, from Lincoln to Obama.

In December, he provided analysis for the Washington Post on the safest number of people that New York’s Times Square could hold for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

This expert analysis feeds into the University’s MSc in Crowd Safety and Risk Analysis, led by Prof Still, which trains industry professionals and students.


More news