Crowd Dynamics: How to Prevent (and Survive) a Human Stampede or Crowd Crush

Crowd Dynamics: How to Prevent (and Survive) a Human Stampede or Crowd Crush

Human stampedes are tragically common in certain parts of the world, namely India, where heavy population density and a high tolerance for crowded spaces create gnarly conditions that can easily turn deadly. But stampedes and crowd crushes are by no means limited to the Third World, as shown by last year’s New Year’s Eve stampede in Shanghai, and the Germany Love Parade disaster of 2010.

Crowd safety expert Paul Wertheimer takes care to differentiate between a stampede and a “crowd crush”, pointing out that stampedes are usually created when a crowd is started or fleeing a danger or perceived danger, while a crowd crush is created by the press of human bodies on a central point or points.

How do these things happen?

It seems difficult to imagine how exactly these things occur, but make no mistake: crowds are dangerous. If the crowd is big enough, it can exert enough pressure to bend steel. While every situation is different, this documentary outlines the official findings from the Love Parade crush, during which left 21 people dead and scores more injured.

Scary. So how do you, the event manager, make sure these situations don’t happen? And what do you, the living, breathing human that wants to stay that way, get out alive if they do?

How to prevent a stampedes and crowd crushes at your events

When it comes to crowd control, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Crowd panic often rises slowly, and there are plenty of break points in which you can ensure that things don’t get out of hand. Ensuring that exits are clearly marked, that attendees are aware of safety procedures, and that maximum space capacities are adhered to can help ensure a safe event.

Researcher Jens Kraus, crowd evacuation and control method researcher, has been developing some new science that suggests that placement and manner of security personnel is critical:

Krause’s team analyzed the behavior of 200 volunteers in an arena with a diameter of 50 meters. The arena could only be evacuated safely and quickly if the security personnel were posted in the corners of the arena or in the middle of the crowd. Only the personnel, and not the members of the crowd, knew that the aim was to evacuate those in the venue to a “safe place” on the edge of the arena. Krause illustrated his findings through computer animations.

He also found that there is no need for security personnel to be dressed in an identifiable uniform. As long as those in the crowd are aware that there is someone who will lead them to safety, the theory works.

The experiment worked quickly from the very start: the security personnel moved very determinedly and firmly to the edge of the arena. Although there was no verbal communication, the other members of the crowd recognized the resolute behavioral characteristics of the personnel and followed them intuitively. “Behavior alone is enough for the crowd to recognize if somebody has certain information,” Krause concludes in the study, which he will publish shortly.

If you’re caught in a human stampede

In a recent interview on Safebee, Mr. Wertheimer urges those caught in a crush to be sure to stay on their feet, adopting a boxer’s stance to maintain balance and keeping hands up by your chest to protect your breathing space. He goes on to say:

Use the “accordion technique” to weave your way to safety. When a crush surge passes, a lull will likely follow, says Wertheimer. “Crowd surges are like waves along the shore. They move back and forth. In between the tide, there is a moment of calm. That is when you make your moves. So, it won’t be a straight line to safety and comfort. Your exit route will use the “weave” technique as you move in and around people in zig-zap style, likely in a diagonal direction” to the periphery — and freedom.

Further Reading

Check out these related articles for more interesting forays into crowd control:

David Sonntag
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