“Crowd Crush” a real and dangerous phenomenon

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The Guardian

The crowd in Itaewon, South Korea on Halloween.

Imagine going to a crowded concert, with hundreds and hundreds of people celebrating and having fun. You’re enjoying your time when all at once people start pushing forward. You start feeling suffocated and worried as you lose space around you, reducing your ability to move. You try getting out of the crowd but the large number of people make finding an escape nearly impossible. The longer you stay, the more stuck you get, and it becomes more challenging to leave the dense crowd.

Crowd crushes occur when a group of people becomes dangerously overcrowded and the crowd density per square meter increases significantly. Usually, the crowd density per square meter is about three or four people, anything over five is the maximum recommended capacity and could lead to a crush. When there are three people in a square meter you still have space to move around but as more people enter, your space becomes restricted and suffocating. Imagine being in a square meter with four other people but also surrounded by other square meters with over five people. Your space will be extremely limited and it will become too crowded to escape.

People per square meter

Crowd crushes can lead to serious injuries like falling or getting trampled on, crowd collapses, (a “domino effect” that happens when people packed in a confined space keep pushing), and death. Crowds can become so dense that one can’t even expand their chest to breathe. This is especially true for people who are short or small. 

Crowd crushes can happen anywhere, especially in crowded events like concerts. On November 5, 2021, 50,000 people attended the Astroworld Festival, created by American Rapper Travis Scott. As Scott took the stage and started his first song, excitement spread throughout the crowd. People surged from the sides and the middle of the audience towards the front of the stage to be as close as they could to Scott. This movement not only scared many but it led to a fatal and hurtful crowd crush. In total, 10 people died at the event but many left injured and terrified.

In South Korea on Saturday October 29, thousands of people gathered together in Itaewon to celebrate Halloween after two years of being in lockdown. People gathered in narrow alleyways, and the crowd grew at an alarming rate. Itaewon streets were packed, many were standing shoulder to shoulder, some were falling or pushing others down. 

Unaware of the danger, many kept moving toward the crowd since they were used to the crowded streets. Unbeknownst to them, just a few dozen meters down the street, several people were getting trampled on and feared dying.

Authorities rushed in around 10:23 p.m., six hours after the incident began, pulling people out of the crowd. A first responder, helping people get out of the crowd, told CNN, “…when we laid them (on the ground) most of them were unconscious.” Many received medical assistance after suffering from cardiac arrest. First responders rushed many onto stretchers and into ambulances and hospitals were ordered to prepare emergency beds. It was reported that the crowd capacity was 12 people per square meter, double of the recommended number five. 

Just after 1 a.m., the first death toll was released by the authorities. 59 people had died. Reports of missing people were sent to the government and lost objects were found over the roads. At 6 a.m. the death toll rose to 149 with the current count coming in at 156 deaths. 

On Tuesday November 1, the national police chief admitted that their response was “inadequate”even though there was police trying to direct people away from the crowd, most weren’t listening. This was an event that surprised many people but it led to new ideas and precautions for future crowd control.  

Now that you’re terrified of crowds, how can you identify one and protect yourself? One way to determine a crowd crush is when a crowd is moving a lot slower than it was, it’s doing this because it may have become denser, increasing the number of people per square meter. 

Above all else, pay attention to how your body feels. If you feel more restricted by the amount of space you have, take that as a warning, and remove yourself from the crowd as soon as you can. However, if you can’t, here are some tips to protect yourself. Remain on your feet, protect your chest by putting your arms in front of you in a boxing stance, and save oxygen by not yelling unless you have to. Stay alert when you are in a crowd because things can change all of a sudden. 

Whenever you attend any large event or gathering, always remember to be attentive and cautious because anything can happen. Keep in mind that crowd crushes happen as a result of the crowd density, not specifically the size of the crowd. Protect yourself and others and be safe wherever you go.