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June 27, 2010

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Goose-steps to pavilion

IT'S hard to imagine the concept of Armed Police officers leading squads of visitors goose-step style into an Expo pavilion.

But it is happening regularly as authorities try to manage the huge crowds waiting to get into the popular Saudi Arabia Pavilion.

A company of police officers have been taking innovative measures, mostly inspired by their military training, to improve the flow of visitors.

And their crowd marshalling methods have proved to be both effective and popular with visitors who wait more than five hours.

A team of eight soldiers is responsible for a squad of around 200 people.

When the squad is ready to move, the soldiers lead them in goose-step style shouting "one-two-one."

Many visitors follow the steps for fun, shouting the rhythms and smiling happily as they get closer to the destination and enjoy the novel experience.

The officers use the goose-steps to control the moves of the crowd to avoid trampling, said Li Fengtao, leader of the 50 officers responsible for security and order in the Saudi pavilion waiting area.

Earlier when the waiting lines moved forward, the momentum became dangerous as people walked fast, pushing those in front of them, Li said.

This created potential for stampede accidents, he added.

When a visitor in the line needs to use the toilet, the soldier in charge of his squad will write on the visitor's Expo ticket, allowing him to come back into the line to his original position.

Senior visitors and those who feel uncomfortable can also "report" to the officers and get a ticket signed out to leave the line for a rest. They can cut back in when they feel better.

Li said the officers adapted the control measures from their military training. For example, soldiers can report to squad leaders to take a toilet break.

The measures have been welcomed by visitors.

Wu Chuanxian, 68, from Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, said she was grateful to the officers who allowed her to sit outside the waiting area and cut back in line when her son got close to entering the pavilion.

A saying becoming popular among visitors to the Saudi pavilion is "To ask for volunteers while outside the waiting areas, and ask for soldiers while inside."

The officers also cooperate with cleaners to sweep up the piles of waste left by waiting visitors. Each squad holds its position for several minutes when another moves forward so cleaners can clear away their mess.

With people waiting in queues for more than five hours, the empty food containers and bags they drop often block the next squad of visitors.


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