What should you do if there's a panic or stampede?

We've all had that thought at a concert or festival: "What would I do if there's a panic"? We asked a professional Crowd Controller for their expert tips.

How to survive a crowd

Festivals and concerts are popular with travellers, giving them motivation to visit a destination and drawing huge crowds. But sometimes a crowd becomes a crush and your life is under threat.

In June 2017 a firecracker sparked a panic in Turin's main square as 30,000 fans watched Juventus play a European Champions soccer match. The crush that followed caused more than 1,500 injuries.

There were two crowd crush/stampedes in 2010 that claimed more than 350 lives. Both happened at popular 'fun' attractions where something went tragically wrong:

Water Festival, Cambodia, November 2010 – 345 dead over 300 injured.

Love Parade, Germany, July 2010 – 21 dead, 500 injured.

These tragedies have a few elements in common: both events had a narrow, single point of entry and exit. In Germany, it was a tunnel. In Cambodia, a bridge. Both events had crowds of over a million.

But there are differences, too. Paul Wertheimer, one of the world's experts on crowd control, runs the consultancy Crowd Management Strategies and writes extensively on crowd dynamics on his www.crowdsafe.com website.

Understanding Crowd Dynamics in a panic

Paul insists what happened in Germany was not a stampede. "A stampede is when people or animals are fleeing something of perceived danger. They're running from something that scares them. This was a crowd craze… a movement of people towards something of perceived value. Like getting into the place."

Paul says the critical error with Love Parade was underestimating the crowd size. Organisers had planned for 250,000 participants, 1.4 million turned up, leaving security, medical services, and infrastructure woefully inadequate.

"There's always this perception that if people had just acted rationally they wouldn't have been crushed to death. Panic didn't cause this, the failure to manage this event caused this."

Initial reports from Phnom Penh indicate this tragedy was a genuine stampede. The annual Water Festival marks the end of the rainy season. A million people had come to the capital for the festivities. Most were on an island in the Mekong River when something spooked them.

Some say a large group fainted in the crowd crush. Other reports say an electrocution sparked the panic. Whatever the cause, suddenly a massive crowd was attempting to cross one small suspension bridge.

Survival tips in a panicked crowd

A stampede or a crush, whatever it is, there are a few tips for increasing your chances of survival.

Paul Wertheimer says you should take a moment to make a mental note of all the exits in a venue as soon as you arrive. The natural urge is to use the same entry when you exit, not because it's safer, but it's familiar. Paul says there may be an alternative exit being used by fewer people that will get you out more quickly, very handy if you already know where it is.

"When you start to feel uncomfortable in a crowd, this is the time to start looking at leaving. This is very difficult, because if you've come a long distance, or you've waited for a long time, for example in front of a stage, you don't want to leave. "

Many people leave that decision until it's too late, and find they are now trapped in a large, swaying and shuffling crowd. Here are Paul's survival tips:

  • Stay on your feet.
  • Conserve energy – don't push against the crowd and don't yell or scream.
  • Use sign language to communicate with those around you (point, wave, even use your eyes).
  • Keep your hands up by your chest, like a boxer – it gives you movement and protects your chest.
  • If you're in danger ask people to crowd surf you out.
  • If someone extends their hand for help, grab hold to keep them up. - Paul says in his experience crowds tend NOT to panic, they tend to be heroic and compassionate.

How to escape a stampede

Paul has developed a technique for working your way out of a crush, he calls it the accordion method.

"After you're pushed forward, like in a wave there's a lull. In that lull is your chance to move, and the way you move is on a diagonal, between pockets of people. There's always space between people. A couple of steps sideways, another wave surge, then another couple of steps in the next lull. You work your way out that way till you get to the periphery."

But, and it's a big, nasty, but: "After a point you can't get out, it doesn't matter how big you are, how strong you are it doesn't even matter if you're a crowd safety expert. After a certain point you're trapped." Says Paul.

And that's the tragedy.

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8 Comments

  • Anonymous said

    Do NOT believe the “experts,” when they call a stampede fatality an “accidental death.”

    In my personal experience, stampedes are NOT accidental, and it is possible to help people who fall, if you are coming up behind them, or to one side of them.

    The truth is, most people do NOT help those who fall, and that is why they die.

    Most “experts,” focus on the “crowd force” generated by so many people pushing and shoving, but “pushing and shoving” are NOT involuntary actions.

    Just because there are “GOOD SAMARITANS,” does NOT mean that most people are good enough to help.

    Also, notice how most people do NOT care if someone dies in a stampede. They do NOT show the same level of compassion as they do for someone who is shot, stabbed or even beaten to death. (Ask yourself this, “Would a good and decent person CONTINUE to enjoy themselves at a rock concert they were attending if they just heard that someone had been shot?)

    (NOTE: Trampling is also very popular in movies and TV, especially children’s PROGRAMMING. Victims of stampedes are mocked, laughed at, and made fun of, constantly. Yet, no one approves of punching someone in a children’s movie. However, depictions of people stepping on another human being is considered acceptable viewing for all ages.)

    Last, some “experts” claim that people do NOT die from trampling. This is a confusion of the facts because trampling can also cause asphyxiation. Most people die of asphyxiation rather than blunt force trauma, but if someone stands on your back long enough, you will NOT be able to breathe and die of asphyxiation. Stomping would cause more blunt force trauma than soft trampling, but both can cause death, and stomping can cause asphyxiation by knocking the wind out of you. Believe me, people have been trampled to death, and it has been well documented.

    Think twice before going to big, crowded events and concerts. Stampedes happen more frequently than you might believe. They are frequently kept quiet so event COORDINATORS can continue to draw big crowds and make money.

    "Experts," like Mr. Paul Wertheimer here, want to think that most people are good and kind and that they would NOT do such horrible things. Well, Mr. Paul Wertheimer can study pie charts and graphs all he wants. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT trust strangers to "body surf you to safety!!!!" That is the stupidest advice I have ever heard of in my life!!!! I would also NOT trust total strangers to "follow me to a safe exit." If you read this guys advice and break it down, he is talking all over the place and does NOT make any logical sense. ALSO, the number of people has NO bearing on fatal stampedes. The Wal-Mart Stampede that killed a temporary Wal-Mart Employee was only around 2000 people, NOT millions of people. Also, there have been several concerts over the years with fatal stampedes where only several thousand attended. (He is also wrong on many other accounts of the Love Parade facts. There was PANIC in the crowd around where the people were actually getting crushed and or trampled. NOT everyone in the crowd knew what was going on, and some of them were NOT in a state of panic, but where the crushing and trampling were taking place there WAS PANIC. Also, autopsy reports confirmed that mane were trampled to death, NOT simply squeezed to death against walls or between people. Some were squeezed, others were trampled.) I rest my case. Just don't go to these stupid things. No music or plastic beads are worth hurting even one person.

    Reply

  • Anonymous said

    P.S.: I must correct myself on one account. After careful review, Mr. Wertheimer states:

    *"Use sign language to communicate with those around you (point, wave, even use your eyes)."

    I want to go on record as saying, "I AGREE." ASSUMING he is merely referring to "moving your way through the crowd."

    In other words, "a way of communicating with those around you to please, kindly let you through."

    I also want to COMMEND Mr. Wertheimer for saying:

    *"If someone extends their hand for help, grab hold to keep them up."

    "YES! PLEASE DO!

    If you have any goodness in your heart, your helping hand could be the one that saves them! You may be their only hope!

    ALSO, I want to state that I AGREE with Mr. Wertheimer's ADVICE on HOW TO SLIP AND MOVE YOUR WAY THROUGH THE CROWD, IN THE FOLLOWING WAYS:

    Stay on your feet.
    Conserve energy – don’t push against the crowd and don’t yell or scream.
    Use sign language to communicate with those around you (point, wave, even use your eyes).
    Keep your hands up by your chest, like a boxer – it gives you movement and protects your chest.
    If someone extends their hand for help, grab hold to keep them up.

    And, also:

    “After you’re pushed forward, like in a wave there’s a lull. In that lull is your chance to move, and the way you move is on a diagonal, between pockets of people. There’s always space between people. A couple of steps sideways, another wave surge, then another couple of steps in the next lull. You work your way out that way till you get to the periphery.”

    I ALSO AGREE WITH:

    Paul Wertheimer says you should take a moment to make a mental note of all the exits in a venue as soon as you arrive. The natural urge is to use the same entry when you exit, not because it’s safer, but it’s familiar. Paul says there may be an alternative exit being used by fewer people that will get you out more quickly, very handy if you already know where it is.

    The FAULT of Mr. Wertheimer has is in his unfounded trust in total strangers.

    I REPEAT, ONCE AGAIN, "Do NOT ask people to crowd surf you out!!!!

    This is STUPID ADVICE!!!!

    Mr. Wertheimer may have been fortunate enough to have some good experiences with people around him in a crowd, but my experiences have been quite the opposite.

    "YES, SOMETIMES you have no choice but to TRUST A STRANGER. HOWEVER, I would do my best to be a "good Samaritan," but NOT expect the same in return. It would be appreciated, but NOT expected.

    Other people may feel differently, but that has been my personal experience.

    FURTHER MORE: Calling something a "Crowd Craze" does NOT change reality. A stampede is a stampede. A stampede may involve some "crushing of bodies," some "squeezing people together," some people being "pushed against walls," and it may be moving towards or away from something. It's still a stampede idiot!!!! If you say tomato and I say tomato, that doesn't change the fact of what it is, a tomato!!!! Calling something by a different name doesn't change the facts.

    Some people are cold blooded killers who will trample all over another person, or deliberately push them up against a fence, just to get ahead of them, leaving them for dead, without remorse. Most people who will do such a thing are NOT in a state of "panic" when they do it because they are NOT in fear for their own life, and they do NOT care if the person they are doing it to lives or dies. So, NO, those people are NOT in a state of "panic." Some people can watch a person die right in front of them and NOT feel anything.

    I really do NOT have much more to say, other than Mr. Wertheimer's methods of "slipping your way through a crowd," are relatively sound. But I do NOT trust strangers!

    I also do NOT go to Concerts, Festivals, Carnivals, Mardi Gras, Black Friday Sales, or even crowded Night Clubs, because of this very thing, stampedes!

    If you do NOT believe that stampedes are deliberate actions of greedy selfish people, read the accounts of the Black Friday Wal-Mart Stampede!

    Sincerely,

    Reply

  • Faheem Safdar said

    I had been in a sit-in for a month long protest against Government. The crowd grew to almost 2 hundred thousands of people. One day, the state police and paramilitary started firing rubber bullets and tear gas. The people get panicked and started to run; creating a massive push against the people behind. I was almost in the middle of that huge crowd.
    What i felt, was a powerful wave taking my feet above the ground. I tried to get down in order to make my feet firm at ground but i could not even touch it. Then after a few seconds, that wave push faded for a while and i got my feet back to the ground. Then i tried to push the man in front me because the guy behind my has almost pierced his elbow into my spine. But my effort was in vain. I realized the crowed is not going to disperse soon and because the sit-in venue was a broad road having buildings at its both sides. I stopped pushing and exerting force and started to take deep breaths, repeating a phrase "don't panic please its going to be ok". I just kept repeating it. I must say the screams of people were more scary than the mechanical force i had experienced there. Luckily, there was a playground nearby when the front of the crowed filled it, pressure reduced

    Reply

  • Debra wallingford said

    I too found myself being crushed. This at a Mark Anthony concert in Medellin, Columbia. It was sudden and being in the middle of a single exit, unavoidable. The pressure of the crowd grew quickly. People started to panic and I saw in the eyes of one young girl the overwhelming sense of fear. I remember saying to her in English "I dont want to die , i don't want to die" and intuitively switched directions to the way I came. I saw the small faces of my friends two children and grab the daughter's arm. "Turn back, turn back...this is how people die!". She grabbed her brothers hand and slowly, zig zagging through the rising panic of the crowd. Through people punching one another in protest of the pushing and yelling. In a normal tone, in English, though not the language, repeated my mantra"its alright, everyone's going to be fine, its alright". When we made it to a widened area we didn't stop till we found our seats. The concert was a wash after that:) Adreline kicked out and sleep wanted to take over....people in our group didn't believe something like this did or could happen. Hopefully, they never have to experience it.. I'll never put myself in a situation like this ever again, even as an avid concert goer. Yes, Stay calm, protect your chest and move diagonally....

    Reply

  • Ron Ablang said

    Wow! Thank you for sharing. Having kids keeps me grounded from doing "fun" things like going to crowded venues.

    Reply

    • jay said

      hey!! check out this useful article on survival it can help to protect your family.
      http://survivalgrid.co/u/1764/1free-complete-survival-guide

      Reply

  • Jenny Lou said

    Awful aye?
    There should be a LAW in EVERY COUNTRY against more than 2000 @ a CONCERT & 1 Security Guard for 5 people too.
    Also if you don't like crowds don't go. I don't like places I just make an excuse, sorry I have the spew bug.

    Reply

  • Eric Saferstein said

    Any interest in this subject? Check this site. agsaf.org (Artificially Generated Stampede Awareness Foundation)

    Reply

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