Sunday, April 12, 2020 by Arsenio Toledo
People gather in large crowds all the time, from concerts and sporting events to religious services and family reunions. While in a majority of cases, large gatherings such as these are harmless, it’s still possible for them to go horribly wrong.
In 2015, for example, a worker at a Walmart in Long Island, New York, died after being trampled by a human stampede during the Black Friday rush. In 2003, a stampede occurred in a nightclub in Chicago after club security used pepper spray to break up a fight, which inadvertently caused people to panic and rush towards the exits. The ensuing stampede killed 21 patrons and injured over 50 more people. In 2010, a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, caused a stampede that killed at least 340 people.
Human stampedes can be very deadly. However, they can also be survivable, so long as you do several things once the stampede begins.
Human stampedes happen because people panic. The best defense you have against becoming a victim of the stampede is to keep your wits about you. Paul Wertheimer, a crowd control expert, says that a lack of proper guidance, information and direction from organizers of concerts, nightclubs and other large gatherings creates confusion. “They trigger self-preservation defenses, panic and putting people in a stampede to compete against each other for survival.”
You cannot fight against a wave of people rushing towards you. Doing so puts you at a greater risk of getting injured or worse. Instead, try and keep pace with the crowd without getting to the head of it. Don’t kneel, stop, push other people or bend down to pick up fallen items.
If the crowd gets too tightly packed, your best defense against asphyxiation would be to push out with your arms so you can breathe.
The human stampede you’re stuck in may be rushing towards an exit – a gate, a fire exit or the end of a constricted pathway. If that’s the case, then you shouldn’t go for that exit, as it will result in a crowd crush. Instead, look for an alternative exit that will put you away from the center of the crowd, even if it’s farther away.
While moving with the crowd, do your best to make your way to its peripheries where you’re least likely to get crushed. Zig-zag around people as much as you can to get to the edges.
If this is impossible, try and grab onto some kind of immovable structure, like a pole or a piece of very heavy furniture – something that even the weight of the crowd can’t topple over.
If you do find yourself on the ground, the first thing you should do is to try and get up. However, if that’s impossible, crowd experts like Wertheimer recommend curling up onto your side and covering your head with your arms. This, according to them, can minimize the damage that the stampede can cause provided that, as soon as you find the opportunity, you try and get up quickly. (Related: Survival first aid tips: Do you know how to apply a tourniquet?)
Other people in the crowd may not be as well-prepared as you. If somebody close to you falls, help them up if you can, especially if they’re young or old. If you were able to make it into a pocket that barely moves at the edges of the crowd or onto a stable structure, try and get several people to join you there where it’s relatively safer. The more people you can help out, the more people will be able to survive this terrible, spontaneous disaster.