How Does The National Park Service Estimate Crowd Size For Events Like Inaugurations, Concerts, & Marches?

After looking at so many photos of the Trump Inauguration and the marches in recent days, it’s natural to wonder just how organizations like the United States National Park Service determine how many people attend a particular event. But just what methods are used to get what is a ballpark number for attendance, and are the approximate numbers for Donald J. Trump’s Inauguration events, including his swearing in, accurate?

While it is common that the administrations of certain presidents have been questioned or written about, most actual inauguration events go by with very little argument on questioning. But in the last few days, the National Park Service was banned from tweeting after they showed side by side photos of the Trump Inauguration and the last Obama Inauguration, and oddly enough, questions were asked about a cake designed and created by Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes for the 2013 Obama Inauguration, was copied identically by a baker who was given a photo of the Goldman Obama cake, says the Inquisitr.

But while we will never get an exact number, there are methods that get what many would call a “ballpark” figure. While “official numbers” are no longer being given by the U.S. National Park Service after they were threatened with a lawsuit in 1995, after they reported that only 400k showed up for the Million Man March, informal estates and aerial photos are still shared.


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The Atlantic has shared just how organizations and media outlets get numbers for large events that don’t require tickets. It seems that official crowd counters use several methods to get their numbers. First, aerial photos, taken by helicopter or satellite, which can be augmented by counting how many people can fit into a specific space or grid. Then, there is actual head-counting, which is literally going person by person to take a count.

Professor Stephen Doig of Arizona State University have used a weather balloon, a “tool of the trade” to come up with accurate numbers for the events of the weekend in Washington D.C. Also on the job with be Curt Westergard, president of Digital Design and Imaging Service based in Falls Church, Virginia, and he stressed that his company’s methods were “at the very top of the accuracy and ethical side.”

Westergard has been doing counts for over twelve years, and has given official numbers for events on all parts of the political spectrum. While the weather balloon will record the events from an aerial view, Westergard and members of his staff will bike and walk around, counting the number under trees, and taking shelter by structures, which would be blocking them when photos are taken by the weather balloon. Westergard says that the weather balloon will also be lowered to take photos of people under trees.

“At 400 feet, we’re looking under the trees. At 800 feet, you’re looking at the top of them.”

But there is more work to be done after the fact, as hours are spent on the computer, counting.

“We sit there literally, head by head, going tick-tick-tick-tick-tick” with the images. It’s painful, it’s long, but it’s far more accurate than these algorithms.”

But it’s no shock that there will be conflict over the attendance estimates, as Sean Spice, Trump’s press secretary, says that, despite statistics to the contrary, that the Trump Inauguration had the highest attendance level ever, says NPR. Even though Curt Westergard and Stephen Doig have no dog in the fight, Spicer claims that photos of the event were taken to promote an agenda.

“Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

Spicer went on to say that more people witnessed Donald Trump’s swearing in than any other president.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

Spicer then went on to lecture the press on what they should be covering, including Trump addressing the CIA.

Do you think that an actual number will ever be agreed upon for the Trump Inauguration?

[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]