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Stampede safety tips: How to protect yourself in a crowd crush situation

After 156 die in Seoul disaster, here are a range of actions experts recommend in a crush

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Tuesday 01 November 2022 13:23 GMT
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Footage shows scale of crowd before Seoul Halloween stampede tragedy

At least 156 people, mostly women, died in a crowd crush in South Korea when thousands of people gathered at a narrow street in Seoul’s popular Itaewon neighbourhood on Saturday for Halloween celebrations.

The stampede, the deadliest in the country’s history, saw at least 26 foreign nationals killed when the crowd began swelling during one of the first major celebrations following two years of Covid induced restrictions.

Over 100 women, primarily in their teens or 20s, died in Saturday’s crowd crush. According to an expert, women are particularly vulnerable during “crowd turbulence” situations due, in many cases, to being shorter than men.

“Five to 10cm in height makes a big difference when it comes to chest pressure,” Choi Sukjae, an emergency medicine specialist and public relations director of the Korean Emergency Medical Association, told the Associated Press.

There have been a number of major stampede incidents worldwide in the past two decades, with the deadliest incident witnessed during the Hajj pilgrimage at Mecca in 2015, when over 2,400 people were killed.

Earlier in October, a riot and stampede at a football match in Indonesia led to the deaths of at least 125 and left over 180 injured.

And November marks the one-year anniversary of the Astroworld festival in Texas, where 10 people died and hundreds sustained injuries in a crowd crush as rapper Travis Scott performed on stage.

Crowd crushes take place when density reaches a critical threshold of about six people per square metre and people are squeezed to such an extent that they can no longer inflate their lungs.

There is a range of expert advice available on what to do in such a situation, including the US CDC’s guidelines on travelling to any mass gathering event. Here is a summary of what they recommend if you find yourself in a crowd crush:

Research the event

Before attending the event, research the venue properly. Open street celebrations often have fewer security measures. Once inside the venue, check for the nearest entrance and exit options and make a mental note of it.

Keep your eyes open

In a crowd crush situation, the best way to get out of a sea of people is to look for exits nearby, quickly and calmly.

Once the crowd begins to swell and if you are able to move your hands around you, look for possible exits and leave while you can.

Always look up to find a quicker escape route, which can be by climbing a fence or a tree.

Don’t scream

Most deaths in a crowd crush take place due to compressive asphyxia, which happens when people are pushed against one another so firmly that airflow becomes constricted.

In such cases, saving oxygen is important. Avoid screaming and control your breathing. Try to lift your head above the crowd to get more air.

Stand in a boxing position

If the pressure from all sides starts to rise, fold your hands in front of your chest like a boxer and keep a firm footing.

The boxer position will help protect the ribcage and provide a few centimetres of space for the lungs to breathe.

Don’t resist the force

When pushed from the back during a crowd crush, resisting becomes an impossible task. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests you should let yourself be carried by the force of the crowd, while maintaining your balance.

Use the edge of the crowd to exit

Work your way diagonally to the edge of the crowd when there is a lull in movement.

Curl up or lie on your side upon falling

If you fall down, then lie on your left side to protect your lungs, says Paul Wertheimer, a crowd safety expert. If you’re on your stomach or back and people fall on top of you, there’s a risk your chest could compress, he told The New York Times.

The CDC also suggests curling into a ball to protect your chest upon falling.

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