While the saying commonly goes, “The more, the merrier,” it should be noted that “The more, the riskier,” also holds true. In mass gatherings, the sheer number of people that show up poses a risk of injury, especially in the case of moving crowds. An example of this would be the Black Nazarene Procession, also known as Traslación—a religious event celebrated annually in the Philippines. Following the image of the Black Nazarene, devotees reenact the “solemn transfer” of the dark-skinned image of Jesus Christ from Intramuros to Quiapo.
This caught the attention of Darius Joseph “Jed” Diamante (BS CE-TRE, ‘20). In an effort to improve safety protocols and prevent possible injuries, Diamante focused his undergraduate thesis on the analysis of the procession. This thesis won Diamante first place in the 2021 Magsaysay Future Engineers/Technologists (MFET) Awards, an honor given by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) to young engineers and technologists.
“I’ve always been fascinated with mechanics and how things work,” Diamante explains. This fascination is what pushed him to pursue a career in the field of engineering. Thinking he would enjoy it, Diamante decided to enroll in the University’s civil engineering program, and he is grateful for having done so. The summa cum laude credits the University for emphasizing the importance of using knowledge for the betterment of the community, and he even recalls professors telling him to use his education to improve people’s lives.
Alongside his academic pursuits, Diamante was also a member of the DLSU Men’s Football Team, the Green Booters. According to him, being an athlete heavily influenced his own time management skills. Student athletes, after all, must learn to balance their time between academics and sports, and doing so requires discipline. It was also important that he had people supporting him—his teammates, coaches, mentors, and classmates all helped him accomplish his goals. Overall, Diamante credits his achievements to the combination of his will to serve the community, his discipline to focus on his responsibilities, and the collaborative environment he worked in.
Every year on the ninth of January—recent years notwithstanding—millions of devotees fill the streets of Manila in anticipation of Traslación. With limited policies safeguarding the event, devotees are at a heightened risk of sustaining serious and even fatal injuries from stampedes and crowd compression. Since sporting events, music festivals, and other mass gatherings are very common, Diamante stresses the importance of crowd risk assessment, “Since we are dealing with human lives, policymakers and organizers continue to uphold high levels of safety and put a strong emphasis on risk management to prevent disastrous events.”
Numerous risks face Black Nazarene devotees in the near 22-hour procession. Extreme crowding can be observed near the andas, the moving base that carries the statue. Surrounding it, eight to 12 pedestrians fit into a single square meter—around twice as many people as one would normally be comfortable with.
While the unique crowd dynamics of Traslación have not been previously studied, Diamante was able to determine the characteristics of the event using novel methodologies and estimation methods. The researcher discovered that there is a higher risk of injury during prolonged stops as devotees demonstrate more aggressive behavior, “[Devotees are] being stepped on their heads and shoulders by others who were reaching for the andas.”
From stoppage, Diamante estimates at least 56 individuals must push together to keep the andas moving. With this, designating personnel in reducing stops and facilitating the continuous movement of the andas could lessen the risk of injury.
Interestingly, this situation is not unique to Traslación. Participants of other mass gatherings—such as the Peñafrancia Festival in Naga City and the Feast of the Sto. Niño in Cebu City—are exposed to the risks associated with extreme crowd density.
As these concerns have extended through annual processions, mitigating these risks call for a better understanding of recurring events and improving current policies. With his research, Diamante hopes to provide festivals with a “better celebration environment.”
At a safe distance
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts have advised the government to ban mass gatherings and urged the public against participating in them as well. As such, many festivals and processions—Traslación included—have been put on hold.
Diamante likewise highlights the role of risk management in controlling disease spread during mass gatherings. When individuals are in close proximity to each other, there is a higher risk of inhaling contaminated aerosols—suspended solid particles or liquid droplets in the air—from those infected with airborne diseases. In effect, the World Health Organization urges that physical distancing is crucial in reducing disease transmission and preventing new cases.
As risk management exposes the risks involved in participating in mass gatherings, one may need to reconsider plans. Maintaining a good distance does not only provide us with safety and physical comfort, but it also protects surrounding individuals and the environment from injury and harm.
Onward into the future
Following the research that Diamante has done, he says he is also interested in exploring more about the field of smart and sustainable cities. Just like his undergraduate thesis, the area of research he plans to pursue is also under his field of expertise: transportation engineering—a field of engineering focused on designing, building, and maintaining transportation systems. Additionally, he says that he intends to focus on sustainable mobility especially in the future since the demand for it is increasing over time.
In the pursuit of new discoveries, figuring out where to start may not always be the easiest step. Though a newcomer in the field, challenges did not stop Diamante from seeking out opportunities. Following his footsteps, other young scientists, technologists, and engineers may take inspiration from his creativity and ingenuity despite the limited resources. With dedication and hard work, innovative minds can keep people moving—improving lives one stride at a time.