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Inauguration Crowd – Like Ants From Space

January 21st, 2009 by Chris Henry

Reporter Chris Henry here:

Technology was a big player in yesterday’s inauguration of Barack Obama. Besides television coverage (how 20th Century) Americans could track the event through Facebook, Twitter and of course Web pages galore, including the O-fficial Inauguration site.

Thanks to satellite imagery, we had access to photos taken from space that make the masses of people gathered for the historic occasion look like swarms of ants. My favorite from the BBC (how un-American, sorry), shows the National Mall on Dec. 29, empty, and then on Inauguration Day, adrift in little tiny human beings.

Many Kitsap residents were part of the swarm. Thousands, like Bremerton residents Sam and Cherry Rachal, were unable to get to the spot on the mall for which they had tickets. The Rachals waited in line for three hours only to find the space had been filled hours earlier. Cherry Rachal said her disappointment gave way to excitement and joy at the sheer energy of so much humanity gathered in one spot for one purpose.

So just how many people were there? According to an article in the Los Angeles Times by a reporter at the inauguration, early estimates ranged as high as 2 million. But satellite images suggested there were maybe half that, according to Clark McPhail, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois, who has been analyzing crowds on the National Mall since the 1960s.

Whether the Obama Inauguration crowd will top the estimated 1.2 million at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration is yet to be determined. The National Park Service will provide an estimate later this week, the article states.

According to MSNBC, there actually is a method for calculating crowds:

“The method goes back to the late 1960s and a University of California at Berkeley journalism professor named Herbert Jacobs, whose office was in a tower that overlooked the plaza where students frequently gathered to protest the Vietnam War. The plaza was marked with regular grid lines, which allowed Jacobs to see how many grid squares were filled with students and how many students on average packed into each grid.

After gathering data on numerous demonstrations, Jacobs came up with some rules of thumb that still are used today by those serious about crowd estimation. A loose crowd, one where each person is an arm’s length from the body of his or her nearest neighbors, needs 10 square feet per person. A more tightly packed crowd fills 4.5 square feet per person. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density would get about 2.5 square feet per person.

The trick, then, is to accurately measure the square feet in the total area occupied by the crowd and divide it by the appropriate figure, depending on assessment of crowd density. Thanks to aerial photos or mapping applications like Google Earth, even outdoor areas can be readily measured these days.”

Perhaps those of you who were there can describe the crowd you were in. Was it a “loose” crowd, tightly packed or mosh-pit density?

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3 Responses to “Inauguration Crowd – Like Ants From Space”

  1. Emilie Says:

    I didn’t go to the inauguration, so it is hard to tell what it might have felt like being in the crush of so many people. It didn’t look too tight anywhere even if there were a million there; it is a huge area, and thanks to the Jumbotrons, people don’t have to try to squeeze themselves into one area. They have the loudspeakers and screens to make them feel a part of it and still keep a comfortable space around themselves.

    I was once in a very scary crowd condition; I was in New York City in the Garment District when a crowd gathered and we went to see what it was— it was the candidate of the time, Jimmy Carter. Such a crowd gathered that soon we were skin to skin; I felt my lungs being crushed, and I couldn’t breathe, and the people around me felt the same and started to panic, which made it worse because they started to move as one mass, this way, then that. I thought, my God, if I fall, I will get trampled. A lady next to me expressed the same thought so together we squeezed our way to the perimeter and made it out of the crush. Very scary. I will never put myself in that situation ever again.

    I am amazed that there were no arrests, no incidents reported at the inauguration. So many people, yet they were all well-behaved, and the powers that be took every precaution to make sure things went off smoothly.

    Emilie
    Port Orchard, WA

  2. Jake Metcalf Says:

    I downloaded a video of the Inauguration ceremony via BitTorrent and I’ll watch it soon. (I don’t watch TV or video that is not delivered via the internet or DVD). The pomp and circumstance is nice but the serious policy changes are what I am going to be celebrating for a long time.

    I feel cautiously optimistic and extremely patriotic. I am going to celebrate by writing to Congressman Dicks and Inslee about the changes is Iraq policy that are now finally possible.

  3. Jim C. Says:

    My daughter said it was tightly packed, she was there with the OHS class.

    Jacob, welcome to the Patriotic Club. I have been a member since about 1969. I was 6 and remember the moon landing. It’s a great club and has a lifetime membership.

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