Planning a major event

Looking now for scapegoats of the Koh Pich tragedy will not lead to peace at all. If guilty, all of us. Education, prevention and social discipline are elements that do not come out from night to morning. We should remember that Cambodia is a developing country and that we are three decades away from the nightmare of brutality and violence. The Koh Pich tragedy is a historical and sad lesson, but we all should concentrate now in avoiding the next tragedy. To do so, we must work in the formation of a safe mentality that is in general lacking if we just see for example how people drive a car or a motorbike in Cambodia. How to plan a major event? Let’s see.

I went through the pages of major events in the world. Coming from a country like Colombia where every town has its own festival, it is possible to say that we have a kind of experience on the matter. Even further, Latin cultures tend to promote major events, from the European Spain, Italy and Portugal, to the Latin American nations. Do not forget that one of the world biggest carnival takes place in Rio de Janeiro.

It means that Cambodia has to learn very well the lesson and take note of how to handle with big gatherings. Cambodians like to see a lot people together. Cambodians do not like to be alone. Now well, this is a social value that must be preserve to promote unity, fraternity, national identity. But at the same time, it is necessary to educate Cambodians on how to be together.

There is for example a lack of conscience of what is public space and we have an open abuse over it. Walking the streets of any Cambodian city is difficult, because pedestrian areas are invaded by informal sellers, motorbikes and cars. People should be educated in simple things as to respect pedestrian areas, that a person crossing a street has priority over any vehicle. In Italy, for example, a driver can get a high fine if his/her car just touches a single hair of a pedestrian. In Cambodia, if the car runs over the pedestrian, the pedestrian ‘has to pay for the possible damages of the car.’

Here then some recommendations if you are preparing a major event in your town

Open space

It is not the same to arrange safety indoors than in open spaces. We have to put in mind that it is more delicate the security issue in an open space – any open space such a park, street, beach, market, bridge, etc – than security indoors. For example, in an open space any body has access to the event and it means that some people with bad intentions can come freely to the place in order to create violence, chaos, theft and even terrorism. If there is a high control over people entering an indoor public place like a fair, a library, a stadium… why not in an open space’s festival? Guns, drugs, smoke, alcohol and other detonating elements must be forbidden.

The fact that a concert endures a couple of hours, does not mean that it is not worthy of high security measures like video cameras (many modern societies today use public video cameras), professional security guards (not only the police) and the well planned control over accessibility.

Control of access

Any space that will be used for a major event, must be well planned in how the crowd will behave and uses that space. In that case, it is necessary to make secure that the crowd will go to the place that is designed for its enjoyment and will leave through the route that the authorities planned for leaving. Then we must contemplate the evacuation route, that is not necessary the same route of leaving.

One of the most impressive massive event of our time was the funerals of Pope John Paul II. The security measures are worthy of study for anybody involves in events planning. For example, it is reported that there were 15 thousand agents of security that included snipers, gunners and divers to protect the city of Rome from any possible terrorist threat during the event. Is it exaggerated to think that Phnom Penh could be threated by a terrorist attack? Of course no. Do not forget that there was recently a warning from different countries to their citizens in Cambodia. Then we must take it seriously. Well, we should not forget that during the funeral of Pope John Paul II, there were more than 200 heads of state, so it includes air patrol. What I want to underline is that security is first and over other interest. It is better to spend in security at the beginning, than pay for victims at the end.

What is more valuable

People, without doubts, is the most important value. In the mind of the organizers, this concept must be well impressed. The most important is the life and safety of the people, over buildings, cars, goods, etc. Organizations, companies and any official must present the proposal to the due authorities for a full authorization on the planning and realization of any event that includes big gathering of people. In such project, security must be strictly considered. The authorities must evaluate and approve the event.

The organizers must know the capacities of hospitals and emergency centers, the firefighters and the general plan of the city for access. The event must have camps for first aid with experts to attend any eventuality. In a very big crowd, some access and streets must remain cleared for any emergency evacuation or ambulance and firefighter entrance.

Finally, security and attention to the public must not rely only in police, soldiers and security guards. There are many other civil groups that can be involved like the boy scouts, volunteers, NGOs, etc. They have proven to be of great support in emergencies. Boy scouts, for example – I was one – are always ready to give first aid in emergencies, while helping the crowd to keep some places clear or give information. It is time to promote scouting in Cambodia once more and other organizations of the kind.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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