Posts Tagged ‘asphixiation’

**Warning – this topic may be disturbing to some!**

Myths About Crowd Deaths

Black Friday and end of season football games always make me think of crowds. We’ve all heard stories – people trampled to death because of panics at rock concerts, sporting events, and even Black Friday sales. The deaths are real, but the causes are wrong. In crowd crush, people usually die of asphyxiation, not from being trampled. Their chest is so compressed by the pressure of the crowd that they can’t breathe.

In addition, panic is rarely the problem. A dangerous situation may cause a crowd to attempt a quick exit, but this is appropriate, not panic. Sometimes, a limited resource (anything from the best deals to simple food and water) creates crowd crush. Most often, crowd crush is simply too many people trying to get in or out through too small an opening. At times, crush even occurs while people are standing still.

Large concert crowd. Photo by James Cridland.

People in back do not know that movement in front has stopped, so they continue to press forward. The pressure is so strong, it can bend steel railings. In addition, when people are too crowded, the mass literally acts like a fluid with waves, reflections, and turbulence. In this video of the Love Parade Concert Disaster of 2010, where 21 people died and more than 500 were injured, you can actually see the fluid waves in the crowd, beginning around 5:40 on the recording. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y73-7lFBNE

How Serious Can Crowd Crush Be?

Here is a very small sampling:

  • December 3, 1979: 11 people killed during a crush at a concert by The Who.
  • July 2, 1990: A stampede in a pedestrian tunnel from Mecca led to the deaths of 1,426 pilgrims.
  • February 20, 2003: 100 killed in The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island.
  • August 31, 2005: 953 pilgrims died in a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad, following rumors of an imminent suicide bomb attack.
  • August 3, 2008: At least 162 people killed and 47 injured at a temple in India when a rain shelter collapsed, mistakenly thought to be a landslide.
  • Fri, Nov 28, 2008: Store employee dies of asphyxiation and eleven others, including a pregnant woman, are injured on Black Friday at a Wal-Mart in New York. .
  • November 22, 2010: A stampede during a festival in Cambodia killed at least 347 people.

Victims of November 2010 Phnom Penh Stampede.
Photo by Ramon Stoppelenburg.

What Should You Do?

What should you do? Most importantly, do anything possible to avoid crowds like these!! No concert, game, religious occurrence, or sale is worth this. If a crowd starts to form, leave. Come early or late, and wait to leave large events until crowds decrease. Even in a dangerous situation, joining the crowd will not get you out faster.

If caught in a crowd with people touching you on all 4 sides, you are in potential danger! If you feel pressure on one side, don’t push back. Move in the opposite direction if you can. Watch for swells and lulls  – use lulls to move to open spaces, inching sideways and backwards from the push. Don’t panic and move slowly.

Potential Crowd Problems in Disasters

From an emergency management perspective, we must plan for potential crowds. Obviously, trained crowd management and control are essential for any large gatherings. After a disaster, however, unique crowd situations might develop around limited resources, such as overcrowded shelters, transportation for evacuation, and food/water/medicine distribution points. At hospitals, if patients with less serious injuries are turned away without plans for alternative treatment,  an unruly crowd might develop. Hopefully, officials are planning for this, but my philosophy is that the more we all know, the better we’ll do.

Resources:

There is a great article by John J. Fruin called The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters,  which both the public and emergency planners might benefit from. Check it out: www.crowdsafe.com/FruinCauses.pdf    For you rock concert fans, there is also a special page on rock concert safety at http://www.crowdsafe.com/cafe.html  If any of you were ever in an uncomfortable crowd situation, leave a comment so we can all hear your experience!

Stay safe,

Sheila