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British crowd experts save lives at Haj

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DETAILED COMPUTER crowd simulations by UK engineers may have saved hundreds of lives at this year's Haj ceremonies in Saudi Arabia, engineers have said this week.

Last year several hundred people died when participants fell and were crushed in sudden crowd surges.

The incidents led to an urgent analysis and redesign of sections of the so-called Jamarat 'bridge', a wide concrete platform surrounding three pillars in the desert where the prophet Abraham is said to have been tempted by the devil.

'Some 2.7M pilgrims were there this year during the event, ' said Steve Twigg, a modelling specialist with Capita Symonds subsidiary Crowd Dynamics.

'It was crucial to control them well.' The bridge has been modified and widened in some sections to make crowd fl ows easier and safer. Schedules and management of the ceremony have also been revised and upgraded.

During the Haj pilgrims walk from Mecca to the normally empty desert site in the Mina valley where they throw stones at the three symbolic locations.

The 35 year-old bridge creates two levels to allow the huge crowds easier access to the pillars.

Crowd Dynamics is part of a design group led by Dar al Handasar which is working on a new four level bridge platform to be built for the Haj in the next few years.

Crowd Dynamics has also analysed crowd fl ws in the vast tented 'city' which springs up for the event.

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