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  • Rachel Brown

How Do Stampedes Happen and How Can We Prevent Them?

Over the course of one month, two stampedes in Indonesia and South Korea have caused a staggering loss of life. We must ask ourselves, why are these stampedes happening? And can they be prevented?


A man being carried out of crowds at Kanjuruhan football stadium
A man being carried out of crowds at Kanjuruhan football stadium. (CNBC | Getty Images)

What is a Stampede?


A stampede, or a crowd crush, occurs when an area becomes overcrowded and unmanaged. It often happens in small areas over capacity and when people struggle to escape from the crowd, resulting in pushing and violence. If there are deaths, the cause is usually asphyxiation.

During two events on October 2022, tragedy struck, and many lives were lost. Kanjuruhan Football Stadium, East Java in Indonesia, and the streets of Itaewon, Seoul, in South Korea were supposed to hold a celebration. Instead, both ended with a stampede due to negligence.

Kanjuruhan Football Stadium


On October 1st, 2022, Arema and Persebaya Surabaya played a football match at Kanjuruhan football stadium in East Java, Indonesia. Following Persebaya’s 3-2 victory, Arema fans stormed the pitch and began to riot. The two teams are long-term rivals, and there were already concerns leading up to the big match, as violence is not uncommon between fans.

The Indonesian Football Association had applied extra precautions by banning Persebaya fans from the match and adding additional security on the day, but unfortunately, these precautions were not enough. Arema, the home team, stormed the pitch after their loss, but the police’s reaction to the riot was brutal and deadly.

The release of tear gas with fans climbing barriers to escape
The release of tear gas with fans climbing barriers to escape. (CNN ID)

The Cause?


The police attempted to stop the rioting fans by firing excessive amounts of tear gas around the stadium. However, it is reported that the officers on duty had little to no awareness of the effects of tear gas. The crowd struggled to breathe as tear gas clouds surrounded them, forcing a mass exit.

Due to the stadium being over capacity and panic from the tear gas, thousands of fans rushed to escape the tear gas and were crushed at the gates.

People committed further violence by punching holes in the walls and pushing others to break free. Parts of the stadium were damaged, and the crowd remained trapped inside while suffocating the gas and the crushing.

One hundred seventy-four people died as a result of the stampede from the football match, 34 of which were children. Players claimed they had fans dying in their arms from asphyxiation and heard others screaming in distress outside the locker rooms.

Football teams in Indonesia are known for violence between football supporters, and the police often disregard football regulations and inflict brutality on the fans. On this occasion, the police force ignored the regulations implemented by FIFA, the Federation of International Football Association.


FIFA has banned using tear gas as a measure of crowd control. However, the police force has continued to use it, even though it has been criticized for breaking regulations.


Seoul’s Halloween


Later in October, following the Kanjuruhan stadium stampede, Seoul, South Korea, had a similar tragedy. At around 10 pm on Saturday, October 29th, many people gathered in Itaewon's narrow, sloped streets to either go home, move to the next bar, or mingle with others.

Halloween celebrations in Seoul, just like many cities around the world, had been postponed for two years due to Coronavirus restrictions. The event was celebrated across the city, but unfortunately, the evening ended with a stampede in Itaewon.


The crowded streets of Itaewon, South Korea
The crowded streets of Itaewon, South Korea. (Sky)

Was the Cause Similar to the Indonesia Stampede?


It is said that 100,000 people gathered in Itaewon's streets, but the narrow streets could not handle the mass crowds.


The crowd surged in different directions, and because of the slope, people were losing their footing and falling. People at the bottom of the street were affected the most. It has been described as a domino effect. As people fell, others fell on top of them and were trampled.

The crowd was so densely packed that emergency services struggled to pull people out from the crush. Others were seen scaling buildings in an attempt to escape the crush.


Witnesses saw victims with blue skin, cyanosis, bleeding from the nose or mouth, and broken bones. Many had already died before emergency services arrived.


More than 150 people were killed from either asphyxiation or trampling in Itaewon that night, mostly young adults in their teens and early 20s.

While the Kanjuruhan stadium stampede occurred from negligence and violence from the police force, both incidents had two things in common: lack of crowd control and overcrowding.


How Can We Prevent Stampedes?


In both events, overcrowding was a significant contributor, which is the most common reason for stampedes to occur. The Kanjuruhan football stadium capacity is 38,000; however, 42,000 tickets had been sold. The streets of Itaewon filled above the capacity for the square meter.

“If crowd densities rise above four people a square metre, and especially if they get to six, the risk of an accident rises.”

- The Guardian

Crowd control seems to be the logical response to potential stampedes; however, it is not always possible. In the incident at Kanjuruhan, the police were at fault for the stampede; therefore, no crowd control would be possible, but the police could have prevented the stampede by not inflicting tear gas onto the crowd.

The stampede in Itaewon, however, could have had more stringent crowd control. Event organizers should have been able to predict overcrowding given the fact it was Halloween, a highly popular holiday, and that it was the first Halloween event to take place in two years.


Cause of stampedes/crowd crushes explained.
Cause of stampedes/crowd crushes explained. (The Guardian)

Awareness


Following these events, Kanjuruhan demolished its stadium in response to the incident. They aim to rebuild their stadium with higher safety measures to prevent tragic events like this.

However, the South Korean government is not taking responsibility for the disaster, claiming it was an unfortunate accident. The people of South Korea disagree with this statement, and as reports indicate, police ignored requests for assistance with crowd management. The Itaewon incident, just like many others, could have been prevented with better planning.

With the help of social media, both incidents are quickly gaining attention, and the public is becoming aware of the danger of overcrowding. While it brings awareness to the situation, it is not often the public’s fault. Hopefully, in the future, event organizers will be more vigilant in preventing these incidents from happening.

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Rachel Brown is an English Literature and Creative Writing student at Keele University. She is also a content writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.


Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.

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