CRUSHING IT: Catherine Curtin and her father, Daniel Curtin ,are behind the Crowd Cushion technology to help prevent deadly crowd crushes at live events. (Courtesy vendor)
Recent college graduate Catherine Curtain is bringing a high-tech solution to one of the most low-tech aspects of live performances.
With the help of Comprise Technologies, a 30-year-old New Jersey-based firm run by Curtin’s parents, Curtin developed a new product and service called Crowd Cushion. The company’s main business is producing customer service software for public agencies.
Crowd Cushion, by comparison, is a crowd management tool that’s essentially a cushioned pad that covers barricades set up concerts and venues. Sensors are built into the cushions, which, facing away from the crowd, light up when a certain amount of pressure builds up against the barricade, alerting venue management and security to potential problems in real time.
To date, Crowd Cushion has been an investment of about $250,000, Curtain said. There’s a full team of software developers behind the product. Each cushion contains two sensors on that monitor the pressure of the crowd. When it gets to an unsafe level of pressure, a back-of-house-facing red light goes on, alerting security and management to a specific area.
The technology was driven by Curtain’s personal experiences as an avid fan of live music who regularly attends festivals over the summer months.
“There’s a few specific situations I can think of where I was genuinely scared for my life,” said Curtin, 22, a self-described “front row person” who arrives early to get a good spot with her friends. “I always said if I didn’t have my friends with me, I don’t know what would have happened. One time I literally fell to the floor and I swear I was going to be trampled if they weren’t there to pick me up. It’s so terrifying, because there’s nothing you can do, and once a crowd crush starts it’s very hard to stop.”
Stone Pony Summer Stage, a 4,800-capacity amphitheater in Asbury Park, New Jersey was the first to install and implement Crowd Cushion.
“It’s great idea, our fans loved it, we liked working with them and we’re looking forward to have them back this year,” said Caroline O’Toole, general manager of The Stone Pony, whose operation extends to the 900-capacity indoor venue made famous by Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.
Curtin credits The Stone Pony for serving as Crowd Cushion’s pilot facility, where she and her team were able to fine tune the technology and improve operations.
“We did over 20 shows there this summer, and by the end of the summer, we had the confidence that this is something we can go out and sell,” she said.
A few arenas have shown interest in the technology, including one NHL facility, although company officials would not identify the venue until after a deal was signed. Clients can rent the equipment or purchase a system outright. Those transactions depend on the size of the event and duration of use, among multiple factors, although Curtin would not discuss specific expenses.
Crowd Cushion includes on-site technical support.
For venues and events using the product, the service includes real-time displays of the crowd cushions in action and text alerts for venue management and security. Crowd Cushion staffers are on site during performances to ensure the product is operating as intended. The goal is for Crowd Cushion to become part of a venue’s overall safety plan tied to real-time data to reduce potentially dangerous situations.
Curtin was born and raised in New Jersey. Always interested in the management and planning of music festivals, Curtin enrolled in the sport and management program at University of South Carolina. Much of the program revolved around event safety, with crowd crushes being a topic to come up repeatedly. In her final year of studies, Curtin’s class was tasked with coming up with a method to prevent dangerous crowd surges.
“What if we somehow came up with a way to put pressure monitors on those front-of-stage barricades that could tell staff when there’s an issue?” she wondered. “It’s less about the cushion and more about the sensors on the inside.”
Competitors, such as Netherlands-based Mojo Rentalm offer rental barriers with crowd load monitoring. Mojo’s Barrier system has been used at European festivals such as Lowlands, Roskilde, Leeds, Reading and Rock Werchter.
For Crowd Cushion, a home-grown operation with locally produced materials and tech, Curtin hopes word of mouth will help grow business.
“We just really started marketing and making sales within the last few months. We can go into any venue, small, big, outdoor, indoor, sporting; we would love to do that,” Curtin said.