It Shall Happen Again and Again
Professor Joe Goldblatt
It always begins the same way. Young people filled with enthusiasm for a fun night out with friends put on their best party clothes and head toward the crowded streets. The joy of reuniting with friends following the desperate days of the Covid 19 pandemic increase this enthusiasm to a level that judgement is suspended. And then, quickly, the euphoria of reuniting with friends becomes a tragic death trap due to poor planning by civic officials. And one thing is for certain, it will happen again, unless civic leaders resolve to try and prevent these catastrophes.
The recent crowd crush tragedy in Seoul Korea that saw over 153 people, mostly teenagers lose their lives due to suffocation from being crushed as they descended down a steep hill in a narrow street was preventable. In fact, I believe that all crowd crush incidents are preventable.
India, one of the world’s most populated countries, has had the most documented notable human stampedes and crushes with 28 individual incidents. The deadliest human crush of all time, with an estimated 10,000 deaths, occurred during the First Jewish–Roman War in AD 66 andthe most documented deaths, with 5,000, occurred at the Ponte das Barcas in Portugal in 1809. Since the early nineteenth century, over 200 crowd stampedes have been recorded resulting in thousands of deaths of mostly young people.
In the early part of this millenium the Governor of the US State of Rhode Island appointed me to chair a committee investigating the impacts of the Station Night Club fire. In this deadly event over 100 young adults died as they tried to escape a burning inferno that had been caused by the misuse of indoor pyrotechnics. The majority of the victims died from being trampled at the front door as they tried to escape from the same door where they had entered.
Recently I conducted a tour in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland that was well publicised on social media. One post received 17,800 views. A few days before the tour I wondered what might happen if all the people who viewed the post actually attended the tour without confirming their participation in advance? The propensity of promotion opportunities through social media should remind all event producers and civic leaders of the need to be cautious about over promoting future events that could lead to the Halloween nightmare recently experienced in Seoul.
How do we prevent these tragedies? Over the past 100 years very sophisticated models have been developed for crowd assessment, analysis, planning, and control. Organisations such as the International Festivals and Events Association and others have led through their effective and well attended crowd management education programmes. However, unless our civic leaders who are ultimately responsible for applying this education and executing the plans they develop take radical action to prevent future incidents, they shall continue to recur. Therefore, I believe the following three tactics must be deployed immediately and universally to attempt to mitigate future tragedies.
Firstly, we must reduce the size of crowds to a level that is manageable by local authorities. Therefore, those agencies responsible for issuing assembly permits must revise their maximum number of participants to a number that may be managed effectively by stewards and police. For example, if a public street cannot be dispersed and cleared by police on horseback in a few minutes time, the event should not be given permission to be conducted.
Secondly, we must provide well signed and easily accessible escape routes for crowds to insure that in the case of over crowding that there is always a safe and secure way to find the egress. These escape routes need to be clearly marked both above eye level and at ground level with symbolic signs in multiple languages so that even if individuals are forced to crawl they can still be directed to the egress.
Thirdly, we must provide better education before and during the event for participants in events to help them understand the danger of being in a crowd and then allowing them to make the decision of whether or not to participate upon arrival. A simple announcement, both written and verbal, reminding participants that crowds may be dangerous and they must decide whether or not to enter the crowded area, how to escape if necessary, and where to seek help if needed is essential if we are to better protect our participants.
Throughout the world people are now once again enthusiastically coming together to gather whilst celebrating their joys, sorrows, triumphs and other major milestones of human life. It is my view that it is the undisputed responsibility of civic leaders to insure that every person who assembles in their jurisdiction has the best possible opportunity to participate and return home safely from their events. Unless radical action is taken regarding human safety at future live events, the crowd crush episodes that we have experienced in the past century will most certainly be repeated.. Whilst there is no guarantee that our participants will not be harmed at future events, we can confidently assume, based upon past experience, that unless we are more vigilant more young people will die from this horror being repeated again and again.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the author, co – author and editor of over 40 books in the field of planned events. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot