Do you know what to do if you’re ever in a dangerous crowd situation?
The recent news that 10 people were killed in the crush of the crowd at the Astroworld concert in Houston, Texas is tragic, but the awful story is not as uncommon as you might think. This past April, 45 people were killed and many more were wounded in a panicked crowd at the Mount Meron pilgrimage in Israel. In 2006, 78 people in Manila, Philippines, were killed in a stampede that happened at an arena where TV auditions were being held. In the summer of 2010, 21 people died and more than 650 were injured at a music festival in Duisburg, Germany, when they were trapped in a crowded tunnel that accessed the festival. And these are just a few of the many examples of people being injured or killed because of intense crowd density.
At the Astroworld music festival in Houston, hundreds of the 50,000 fans who attended were injured, and nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed against Travis Scott, who was performing, and Live Nation, the company who was promoting the festival. Plaintiffs are asserting that they suffered “emotional trauma, mental anguish, back pain and other physical injuries and accused the defendants of negligence.” There will likely be more lawsuits filed in the days and weeks to come, including wrongful death complaints.
Most of us would likely attend a concert or other large event without a thought of it being a dangerous thing to do (these days our biggest safety concern would probably be whether or not we had remembered our mask to protect against Covid). But knowing what you can do to keep yourself safe if a crowd starts to get too dense could actually save your life.
The first thing you should do to stay safe in a crowd is to be actively aware of your surroundings, and to be willing to leave if you sense that the crowd is getting too dense and restrictive around you. Listen to your inner voice, and if you have an uneasy feeling that the crowd has reached a point where there are just too many people in close proximity, leave. One useful rule of thumb is if you are touching shoulders with people on both sides of you, or if you are in contact with others on multiple spots on your body, that’s a strong signal that the crowd density has reached unsafe levels.
If you aren’t able to leave the crowd, it is imperative to stay on your feet, because if you were to fall it would be extremely difficult to get back up again, and if you are on the ground you are at high risk of being trampled. To this end, adopt a boxer’s stance, with one foot in front of the other, for stability, and move with the flow of the crowd, don’t try to push against it. Position your arms in front of your chest to preserve your ability to breathe — giving your lungs even just a couple of centimeters of space to breathe could save your life. In tragedies like the Astroworld concert the cause of death is usually lack of oxygen, when people’s chests are compressed to such an extent that they cannot breathe properly.
One interesting — and hopeful — thing about crowd dynamics is that certain behaviors can be contagious: just as panicked behaviors like pushing and running can spread within a crowd, so can acts of kindness and helpfulness. If you see someone in need of help, give them a hand if you are able, and that helping behavior is likely to spread from neighbor to neighbor in the crowd.
All of us at Burnett & Williams hope that you never find yourself in a dangerous crowd situation, but if you do, we hope that these tips will help you stay safe in what could be a deadly circumstance. And if you or someone you love is ever injured or killed in a tragedy like what unfolded in Texas recently, we are here to help you navigate your path forward.