What to Do if You’re Trapped in a Surging Crowd

What to Do if You’re Trapped in a Surging Crowd

A Halloween festival in Seoul, South Korea, resulted in a deadly crush on October 29. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Itaewon, a district of the city known for its nightlife, on Saturday night. The crowd was so dense that many people couldn’t move. Itaewon’s narrow streets and narrow alleyways were the result of the tight conditions. More than 150 people died, and more than 170 were injured.

The accident in Seoul is known as a “crowd crushing.” This is a form of death that results from pressure on the lungs, not trampling. People often get trampled after they have lost their oxygen. People in a crowd crush are often unable to control their movements due to the density and motion of the crowd.

Scientific American spoke with Ali Asgary, an expert in disaster and emergency management at Ontario’s York University, and Alison Hutton, an expert in the health and safety of mass gatherings at Australia’s University of Newcastle, about the causes of Seoul’s crowd crush, ideal crowd management strategies and what people can do to stay safe during mass gatherings.

What went wrong in Seoul to cause such a deadly crowd crush?

” In a situation like this it is difficult to say exactly what went wrong,” Asgary said. “Typically, investigations are planned and conducted following events like these to point out the details .”

Asgary notes some key factors that led to the deadly Seoul gathering. The crowd’s tremendous size was an obvious issue–an estimated 100,000 people converged on Itaewon–but so was its motion. Asgary states, “In this instance, we are talking of a crowd who is not standing or staying in a single place.” “This is a dynamic crowd that moved in different directions in the space, especially in the area where this incident occurred. The danger of harm is already high .”

because people were moving in opposite directions along a narrow street.

Asgary believes the crush was caused by the time of the day. He notes that the crush occurred at night when visibility is low and people are less alert. Asgary adds that unconfirmed reports claim there was talk of celebrities or an “attraction” in the crowd. This drew people into the event. Asgary says that rumors about a possible threat can have a similar effect on crowd behavior.

Hutton also points out the geography of this area of Seoul. She says, “If you look at this terrain, it appears that the streets are unevenly sloping. So of course that would have added to” people’s lackof control. “And once you get lost in the crowd, you don’t know where you’re going

All these factors could have been overcome, according to Asgary & Hutton, but this particular event had little oversight, they claim. Hutton states that “I don’t think it was considered that this was the first time that young people have been out in large numbers since South Korea’s COVID restrictions were lifted.” “So I believe it was the lack of planning and lack of insight into how many people would be in that area on that night that led to the event turning deadly.”

What can event organizers do to prevent crowd crushes?

” I think signposting is really essential–about exits, entries, etcetera- and making sure there’s enough space for egress,” Hutton states.

Proper lighting is also important, she says–as is communication. She says, “Obviously, once people are in such a crowded area, it’s really difficult for them to communicate.” “You can only communicate with people that are next to you …. If we want to plan for the future, it must start at [the beginning of each event]. It can be helpful to communicate that it’s going be a big night, and to remind each other .

Hutton states that designated crowd managers are essential to keep track of how many people are coming in and out and redirect them when necessary. She notes that better management would have helped to control the crowd in the Seoul alley, where many people were killed. Hutton points out that it was possible to get into the alleyway from many different directions. This created a problem, as some people came in one direction and others were coming in another. This caused the crush in middle. “Making it a one-way street would have helped with the flow ….. Also, keeping track of how many people were coming in and out would have helped to determine how many people could be expected in that alleyway at that point .”

” We are social creatures,” Asgary says. “We want to be together. We actually enjoy the crowd. That’s fine. However, we also should know that there are risks when the crowd forms, and these risks are coming from different angles and sources.” He says it’s the responsibility of everyone–governments, event organizers and the public–to consider those risks and prepare to respond.

Is there anything a person could do if they are in a crowd crush situation?

” In a moving crowd the crowd becomes fluid,” Asgary explains. “It’s not you who is controlling the whole. You are controlled by the whole .”

Asgary states that the main goal of a person should be to avoid dangerous crowds. What makes a crowd dangerous to you? Asgary suggests that there should be no more than five to six people per square meter. However, it can be difficult to know what to do. He suggests looking behind you to determine if you can exit the crowd if necessary.

Asgary urges people to observe a crowd’s movement before they enter. “If there is a moving crowd, ensure it moves. And that it doesn’t stop moving, stopping, moving, and stopping. This is a sign that there may be problems with the crowd .”

It’s also important to be aware of your risk factors, he said. Children and people of lower height are more likely to be crushed by a crowd. People with respiratory conditions should be extra cautious as majority of crowd crush deaths are caused by asphyxiation.

If you find yourself in a crowd crush then your options are limited, Asgary states. He explains that it is dangerous and futile to try to stop the crowd’s movement. “Don’t, for example, try to reach down to grab anything. This is a common occurrence, especially in crowds. He says that if you stop, it will not only cause injury to yourself but also create a crowd domino effect,” which causes people to stop and fall over on each other.

Instead, Asgary suggests that you should follow the crowd’s movements. You can move forward and diagonally towards the crowd’s edges if you want to make your own way, but this is unlikely to work in low-density situations. It is best to follow the crowd calmly without pushing.

Also, protect your lungs. “The pressure on their organs from the crowd means that the majority of people who are hurt in a crush can’t get oxygen to their bodies, which is why the majority of them are not able to breathe.” Asgary states that many people recommend protecting your chest to ensure your chest isn’t under pressure. He explains that some suggest that you bend your arms in a way to protect your chest while trying to avoid pushing against your chest.

Hutton takes a more pessimistic view of people’s ability and willingness to protect themselves. She says, “You can put up your arms, but then you’re going crushing your arms–and crushing your lungs with the arms of your arms.” “I think once your arms are up, you’re there and there’s nothing you can do,” she says. Hutton also emphasizes the importance of crowd management to prevent crowd crushes from ever happening.

Hutton comments on the disaster in Seoul: “I think it is a terrible, tragic situation and my heart goes out for the families that have lost their loved ones,” Hutton said.


    Daniel Leonard is a freelance science journalist and current S

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