Stampede survival 101


As we commemorate All Soul’s Day today, more than 150 families in South Korea are mourning following the deadliest stampede in their history. The district of Itaewon was jam packed with Halloween party goers last Oct. 29, and since it was the first Halloween celebration after pandemic lockdowns, Korean media estimated a whopping 100,000 people, most of who were in their teens and twenties, flocking to the now devastating party.

Large gatherings are common, but if the crowd exceeds the venue capacity, or if the crowd is poorly managed, chaos such as deadly stampedes or crowd surges can occur. The last big stampede in the Philippines in recent memory was the Wowowee Stampede in Pasig back in 2006 with 73 dead and 400 injured. About 30,000 people gathered in front of the Philsports Arena, waiting to join the 1st anniversary episode of the former TV variety show “Wowowee” in the hopes of winning big ticket items like jeepneys and the grand prize of ₱1,000,000.

The common misconception is that deaths in stampedes are caused by people merely crashing against each other when the truth is, lack of oxygen is the most common culprit of deaths. People crashing against each other can leave one’s chest compressed making it difficult to breathe, causing what is known as compressive asphyxia.

The best defense against stampedes, like the best defense against other calamities whether man-made or natural, is information. While accidents happen at the most unexpected moments, knowing how to deal with them even before anything happens is the best defense.

Here are some tips before going to an event and if you find yourself in crowd frenzies.

1. If you plan to attend a big event like concerts and sporting events, it is best to plan ahead. Check the weather forecast beforehand and remember that when it starts to rain, crowds can increase as people rush to find shelter.

2. Do not go alone. Have a buddy system in place at the very least.

3. Always bring your ID cards and mobile phones.

4. Avoid wearing flowing and long clothes and dangling jewelry that can get caught or entangled. Avoid wearing footwear with shoelaces and opt for comfortable shoes to prevent tripping.

5. Keep yourself hydrated to avoid fainting or dizzy amidst crowds.

6. Make sure to supervise your kids if you are bringing them.

7. Check prior to the event or as soon as you get to the venue, where the emergency exits are, as well as the other doors and windows which can serve as emergency exits.

8. As tempting as it is to be as near as the stage, try to stay away from the barricades and fences near the main stage. There is a tendency for the masses to surge in this area.

9. Watch out for trash on the ground such as water bottles that you might trip over.

10. Follow the instructions of the marshals and security for safety, such as not going on top of equipment or other structures. Accidental collapses can happen and consequently cause panic.

11. Go with the flow. In moving crowds, try to walk at the same speed as everyone else. Keep going towards the crowd.

12. If you get caught in a wave, keep your feet moving.

13. If you fall to the ground or lose balance, get right back up or seek help. If you cannot get up, curl up and protect your head and neck. Stay away from walls, railings, fences, or other solid or barricaded objects.

14. Avoid pushing or pulling away from moving crowds. If possible, gather next to the crowd or in a less crowded area.

15. In the event of fire or smoke, crouch down as smoke rises and dense areas cut off the oxygen supply, making it difficult to breathe.

16. If you are injured, seek medical attention as soon as possible. It will be wise to learn where the first aid stations are located.

I enjoin the world in mourning for the untimely death of the victims of South Korea’s Halloween stampede. And with this, I hope that the tragedy in Itaewon will serve as a wakeup call for government agencies and non-governmental organizations alike that are dedicated to disaster prevention and management. As stampedes are not as common as the other disasters that ravage our country on a regular basis, we are often left complacent when it comes to preventive measures. Sadly, for now, we do not have as many available materials such as instructional videos to educate us on stampedes, but hopefully, we will soon see a rectification of this current situation.