Crowd Safety Specialist
From member of the crowd to managing the crowd – one man’s journey to becoming a crowd safety expert…
Based in the Netherlands, Eric Kant is a specialist in managing crowds in confined spaces and crowded places. He has successfully worked for many years as an event specialist at the Dutch National Police, and more recently founded his own company, Phase01 Crowd Management, where he helps organisations and local authorities solve complex crowd management issues.
Welcome to the Leadership interview, Eric.
How do you start your day?
For more than 25 years I worked in irregular shifts, including approximately 1,000 nightshifts. Since I stopped working in shifts, regularity became important to me. Nowadays I wake up at 6.20 am, get my coffee, catch up with e-mails and social media, read the news and check my calendar.
What was your first job, and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?
I was 18 years old and just finished high school. My first job was at an assembly line in a metal trash cans factory. It was my task to stack these trash cans on a pallet after an anti-rust treatment. It was also the worst job I’ve ever done as it was mind-numbing work. But I am also grateful for that experience because there I realised life wasn’t as easy as it always seemed. After that experience, I had several jobs before joining the army.
What advice would you give to others about furthering their careers?
Find something that you are passionate about. Explore the ‘ins and outs’ of that industry. Try to get different positions in that industry and get as much as experience as possible. Do not stop learning and specialise yourself. Try to take small steps towards your goals. Don’t stay in one place for too long because it feels comfortable. And never give up.
Who inspires you and why?
Many people inspire me. Among them some bright professionals and brilliant scientists in my field of work. Professor Keith Still has encouraged me to start studying crowd safety. Because of that and because of him, I am right here. He inspires me to always question what I read or what I know or think I know. And I am inspired by my wife Wilma, who runs a very successful training-agency in MS Office 365 applications. Her positiveness and way of interacting with her clients is a big example for me.
Do you think a talent to lead is nature or nurture?
I do not have real knowledge of leadership, so it’s just my opinion. But I think the talent to lead is nature. And leadership skills can be improved by guidance.
How can a leader fail? Do you have a personal example?
In my opinion, leaders motivate and inspire others to achieve a goal. In my career I’ve met a lot of leaders who failed in leadership. Mostly because, in the end, their priority was themselves. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure once in a while I fail as well. I never learned to be a leader, so I learn by trial and error.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I started training karate when I was eight years old. When I was in high school, I trained approximately 16 hours per week. Later I participated in international competitions, until I joined the army. I applied for the special forces, passed all the tests, and after a few terrible and exhausting months, I got my green beret. What I am trying to say is that I probably never chose the easiest way and in many things, I wanted to be among the best. I think my greatest strengths are never giving up and being a perfectionist. At the same time, perfectionism is also my weakness. For example, it can take a significant amount of time until I’m satisfied with the quality of my work. Another weakness is that I am too modest, and sometimes too patient and polite.
What do you find most challenging about being a leader?
The truth is that I am not concerned with being a leader. I know I’m very good at what I do or can do: improve crowd and event safety and advocate an evidence-based approach. I take great pleasure in sharing my knowledge with others. But I find it a challenge to be found by the people who can use my help, without imposing myself on them.
What are you most proud of?
Event safety has intrigued me for decades. I was a frequent visitor to dance events and festivals all over Europe. Several times I found myself in serious crush conditions and sometimes I even feared for my life. I visited events that were on the news the day after because things went wrong. These are things I will never forget.
At the police force, I joined an anti-riot squad and an arrest unit. Often we were deployed at festivals, dance events, football fixtures and other mass events. At that time there were more often problems concerning public order than nowadays. Many times I saw things go wrong: with the crowd, with security, with policing events. I witnessed a lot of near-miss situations.
Later, working as an event coordinator in the police force, I was determined to learn as much as possible about event and crowd safety. It became my priority to improve the safety of people who attend events. Visitors often don’t think about their safety. They come to have a nice time and expect others to have thought about their safety. We have to live up to that expectation. So I started studying and my interest in science related to crowd and event safety increased. There are many scientists out there producing great work that can help us make events safer.
The combination of the knowledge and the experience in the field has made me decide to start my consultancy Phase01 Crowd Management. I help organisations or local authorities, that struggle with complex crowd issues, to solve these problems and improve safety using evidence-based applications.
Over the past years, my efforts improved the crowd management approach at countless events. I found serious problems ‘lying in wait’ or dangerous misconceptions in dozens of safety plans and got many of them fixed. The thought that hundreds of thousands of people visit these events that became significantly safer makes me very proud. But the improvements did not come naturally. There is still a long way to go and we have to keep pushing.
What’s your biggest self-indulgence?
Wilma and I are happy owners of a small but comfortable pleasure yacht. During weekends we sail to our favourite places, located in a beautiful nature park near our city. We can anchor for days without leaving our boat, we enjoy the sun, silence, nature, chattering birds, each other, food and some wine. Perfect for charging my battery and to get inspiration to improve myself and my business. However, in winter, when it’s too cold for sailing, I might just watch a full season of a good Netflix series in a day.
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