Umrah crowd control: How Saudi authorities are ensuring safety of pilgrims

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Since Saudi Arabia lifted the cap on the number of pilgrims allowed to perform Umrah at one time, hundreds of thousands of Muslims worldwide have flocked to Mecca for the pilgrimage.

Authorities have rolled out multiple policies and initiatives to ensure pilgrims are always safe at the holy sites.

Designated personnel

Around the holy sites, designated personnel help manage the crowds performing Umrah.

During the tawaf, when Muslims circumambulate the Kaaba, it can be challenging for individuals to move through the large groups of people.

Saudi police officer helps pilgrims during their Umrah. (File photo: SPA)
Saudi police officer helps pilgrims during their Umrah. (File photo: SPA)

The stationed officers receive training to prevent stampedes and guide people in an organized manner.

According to the Kingdom’s Director of Public Security Lieutenant General Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Bassami, the Umrah security forces will implement the Ministry of Interior plan to manage and organize crowds, control traffic, provide humanitarian services, and train personnel on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of Civil Defense Major General Hammoud bin Suleiman al-Faraj told reporters at a press conference earlier this week that all teams are prepared to handle the large influx of worshippers, especially during Ramadan.

“The General Directorate of Civil Defense has completed its preparations in all sites frequented by pilgrims and visitors to ensure readiness, fire prevention and protection, especially in areas that witness high density,” he said.

Saudi police officer stands guard as pilgrims arrive to perform their final Tawaf in the Grand Mosque, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Saudi police officer stands guard as pilgrims arrive to perform their final Tawaf in the Grand Mosque, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

The Civil Defense had coordinated with authorities to take legal measures by applying regulations and controlling violations, al-Faraj added.

The use of AI technology

In March, al-Bassami announced that the Kingdom would develop artificial intelligence algorithms to help crowd management and streamline services for pilgrims visiting the holy sites.

On-the-ground personnel will use AI to provide the best services to pilgrims.

A Saudi soldier monitors screens as they sit on duty at the command and control operation center in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. (File photo: AFP)
A Saudi soldier monitors screens as they sit on duty at the command and control operation center in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. (File photo: AFP)

According to al-Bassami, AI technologies introduced recently around the mosques have been helping keep crowds under control as they enter and leave, thanks to faster decision-making, while ensuring that no more than the right number of people are present anywhere around the sites at any given time.

Thanks to these technologies, he added that any crowd-related contingencies are immediately dealt with.

Protecting children

During the holy month of Ramadan, the Grand Mosque witnesses an influx of children accompanying their family members on Umrah.

As a preventative measure, the Agency for Women’s Social, Voluntary and Humanitarian Services launched an initiative to provide each child with a bracelet with their personal information in case they get lost.

The bracelet lists the child’s name, data, and their accompanying adult’s contact information to ensure that they are returned to their family members if they lose sight of them in the crowds.

Read more:

Ramadan: Saudi ministry urges pilgrims to limit Umrah to one visit

At least 20 Umrah pilgrims killed, 29 injured in bus crash heading to Mecca

Saudi ministry advises Umrah pilgrims not to carry large sums of cash, warns of fraud

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