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Instances of large groups of people being trampled are extremely rare, but experts say more recent tragedies have been devastating in scale, and that people need to take basic precautions to ensure their safety in the future.
The two most recent large-scale examples have been extreme. At least 151 people were killed and dozens of others were injured after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley during Halloween festivities in downtown Seoul.
Just weeks earlier, more than 125 people died in a stampede at an Indonesian soccer match. And this weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the Astroworld Festival where 10 people died in a crowd surge during rapper Travis Scott’s performance in Houston.
Crowd crushing has occurred for generations, said Gil Fried, a University of West Florida professor and expert in crowd safety. But we’re witnessing these catastrophic events in a whole new way due to people immediately sharing their experiences online, which can draw a vast amount of attention.
“Social media allows us to see these tragedies in real time, and we can feel the anguish and fear from the videos,” Fried said. “Tragedies similar to these have happened for thousands of years, even during the Greek and Roman times. We just see it now, and it is in our recent memory.”
While these tragedies are extremely rare, BuzzFeed News asked experts about staying safe in crowded environments.
A crowd crush typically happens when people are packed so closely together that no one can move. These crushes can happen wherever there are large crowds, such as at music concerts, sports events, rallies, and festival events.
They also differ from a stampede, when people are trying to get away from a threat, crowd safety expert G. Keith Still said.
A crowd crush, however, involves being stuck.
“You have a whole bunch of people packed so tightly together that they can’t breathe, and it doesn’t require any triggers to create mass fatalities as we saw in South Korea,” he said.
One triggering factor can be excitement.
“People like to be excited and have fun. People want the best spot to get a photo,” Fried said in an email. “Another major factor is greed. People want to be first or to get the best spot or to be the first to secure an item at a Black Friday sale — regardless if they have to knock over a grandma to get the item.”
But the most significant cause, according to Fried, is the venue and how it’s configured and managed, which, unfortunately, is out of the audience’s control.
John Drury, an expert on the social psychology of crowd management at the University of Sussex, told the Guardian that crowd crushes usually involve three factors: overcrowding, “waves of movements in an already extremely dense crowd, and crowd collapse,” he said. “When there is an obstruction, the effects are exacerbated.”
Deaths in crowd crushes are often caused by compressive asphyxiation, as people are squeezed so tightly that they can no longer breathe or inflate their lungs.
Check out the facility ahead of time online or in person to examine where it’s located, the venue’s shape and size, as well as the environment (outdoors or indoors), Fried wrote in a safety guide he sent to BuzzFeed News.
Also, make sure to research the type of event itself. Is the event standing or seated? What type of fans and music will it be? How many people are expected to attend? How long will it last?
“Go in groups and try to wear distinctive clothing that helps everyone stand out,” Fried wrote, adding that it is important to make sure that the group chooses a place to meet if they have to leave the event in a rush or emergency.
When you arrive at the event, Fried suggests parking close to an exit, even if it means a longer walk to the facility where the event is being held. In addition, make sure you remember where you park and note the vehicle exits.
Wear “comfortable shoes,” Fried told BuzzFeed News, as it will be easier to move around.
“Make sure you have plenty of fluids to drink or ask security for water as people are often dehydrated in the pit area,” Fried wrote.
In the same vein, Fried added that it’s important to understand how alcohol can affect you and others around you, so make sure you are aware of your intake if you are going to be drinking at the event.
Once you enter the venue, make sure you figure out where all the nearby exits are in case of an emergency.
You have to ask yourself, “What if X or Y happens?” Fried said. And make sure you know exactly where the exits are at the event — and when to leave. Don’t wait until it’s too late, he warned.
Make sure to pay attention when it comes to what is going on around you. Look for changes in the crowd or increased security presence. Also, make sure to be aware of the crowd density and whether it’s shifting.
“Avoid the high-density areas,” Still said. “Be aware of the crowds not only ahead of you but behind you,” adding that if you realize that you are beginning to shuffle forward, maybe take yourself out of that area.
“A patron can be trapped with little room to move by the barriers and can likely face other patrons bumping into them when they are dancing,” Fried warned. “If you feel unsafe, tell the security person at the railing that you want to be lifted out.”
If you want to be near “the action,” Fried suggests trying to stay near the sides of the crowd rather than the middle to avoid being hit when mosh pits form or people start pushing forward to a stage area.
An average stairway used to be 44 inches wide so that two people could walk up together, Fried noted in his safety guide. “However, when we walk downstairs, we take up more than 22 inches of space with our hip movement,” he wrote. “This phenomenon was seen during 9/11 when it was hard for people to go down the stairs and people had to move to the side to allow firefighters to go up the stairs.”
“If the queuing system to get in the event is chaotic, that’s a red flag,” Still said. “If they can’t organize a basic entry system, then what are you going to expect when you move into a venue?”
If the entry happens to be chaotic, Still suggests staying on the edges of the crowd and avoiding the high-density areas.
Stand like a boxer with one foot ahead of the other so you are more steady and can better absorb pressure from people pushing against you, Paul Wertheimer, a crowd management expert, wrote in a safety guide emailed to BuzzFeed News.
“Stand straight, feet apart, one foot in front of the other, knees slightly bent and hands protecting chest and head,” Wertheimer wrote.
“Keep your hand in front of your chest like a boxer and keep firm footing,” the CDC says.
Also, try to remain upright. “If someone falls, they create a domino effect,” writes Mehdi Moussaïd, a research scientist in Berlin who studies crowd behavior, in an article for the Conversation.
Try to go to the sides, not to the front or the back, Fried explained. “If you fall, crawl out to the sides rather than trying to stand back up … as that might be impossible,” he said.
Fried added that if you see security, try to get their attention and see if they can lift you up over the barricade if you’re at a concert.
According to the CDC, try to work your way diagonally to the edge of the crowd when there is a lull in movement. “Don’t resist the force of the crowd,” the agency warned.
Don’t bend over to grab something that has fallen, Wertheimer told the New York Times, as you may be unable to get back up.
If you do happen to fall down, the CDC suggests that you protect yourself “by curling into a ball” and “stay calm and get up as soon as you can.”
Try to lie on your left side to better protect your heart and lungs, Wertheimer added. Lying on your back or stomach may prevent you from breathing if others fall on top of you, causing your chest to compress.
Do not waste precious oxygen by frantically yelling or screaming in a chaotic crowd situation, Wertheimer wrote. “No one may hear you, and you will become out of breath,” he added. “Air in a crush is often hot and muggy,” so “lift your head upwards for better access to fresh air.”
You need to preserve as much energy as possible, so try not to panic or scream. Don’t try to fight a crowd surge. Move with it if you can.
“You will be better able to stay upright and retain some use of your arms and hands,” Wertheimer wrote. “Do not fight the surging waves of pressure. You will need your strength to survive. Let the surge pressure pass. Expect to be pushed about, twisted, and to have your feet stepped on.”
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