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Festivals and concerts draw huge crowds, and are popular with travelers, giving them the motivation to visit a destination. But sometimes a crowd becomes a crush or a stampede potentially putting your life in danger. Paul Wertheimer, one of the world's leaders on crowd safety gives his expert insight into crowd control, crowd dynamics and staying safe.
On 29 October 2022, a crowd crush, during a Halloween celebration in the Itaewon district of Seoul, South Korea, left 159 people dead and 196 injured.
In June 2017, a firecracker sparked 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 350 lives. Both happened at popular attractions where something went tragically wrong:
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 more than a million.
There are differences between a crush and a stampede.
Paul insists what happened in Germany was not a stampede. "A stampede is when people or animals are fleeing a 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."
The critical error with Love Parade was underestimating the crowd size. Organizers had planned for 250,000 participants, but 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," said Paul.
Initial reports from the Water Festival tragedy indicate this was a genuine stampede. The annual Water Festival marks the end of the rainy season and 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 electrocution sparked the panic. Whatever the cause, suddenly a massive crowd attempted to cross one small suspension bridge.
Whether it's a stampede or a crush, here are some tips for increasing your chances of survival:
Paul advises 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. He also adds 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 traveled 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 trapped in a large, swaying and shuffling crowd. Paul says, in his experience, crowds tend NOT to panic, they tend to be heroic and compassionate.
Here are Paul's survival tips:
Paul has developed a technique for getting out of a crush called the accordion method:
"After you're pushed forward, like in a wave, there's a lull. 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."
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