Avoiding the Dangers of Large Crowds

"The Crowd" by Upshaw Imagery is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On Oct. 30, an estimated tens of thousands of people flooded into an area in Seoul, South Korea. They were there to celebrate the first Halloween since pandemic restrictions were lifted. The area, Itaewon, has become an increasingly popular place for people to gather, some even flying into Seoul just for the festivities. 

As multiple groups crowded into a narrow alley from different directions, people became cramped and crowded. The surge occurred when people kept shouting to push forward and couldn’t hear others shouting for help. One hundred and fifty-six people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, were killed and dozens of others were injured. The victims, 56 men and 97 women, were from at least 26 foreign nations, including the United States, China, Iran, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Australia, Norway, France, Russia, Austria, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. 

The size of the crowd and the fact that they were all wearing Halloween costumes increased the confusion surrounding the situation. Authorities were unable to reach those in the crowd who needed help and were unable to control the crowd who mistook their uniforms for costumes. They were also unprepared for the number of people who would be celebrating in Itaewon. According to Lee Sang-min, minister of the interior and safety, only a “normal” level of security forces had been deployed there, while “a considerable number” was sent to a different area of Seoul, expecting protests. This made it harder to break up the crowd, which took over an hour, and harder for authorities to arrive quickly on the scene. 

The day after the surge, South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, declared a weeklong national mourning period, and police launched an investigation, including scouring the scene with forensics officers. 

If you find yourself in a large crowd, here are some safety measures you can take to prevent injury. If there are any, make sure you know where the exits are and avoid standing on or near structures that could collapse. Avoid wearing loose clothing or accessories and open-toed shows that could get pulled, stepped on or tangled. If the crowd seems to be getting out of control, consider leaving early to avoid the rush. To get out of a moving crowd, walk sideways or diagonally across it. 

If you’re with a group, be sure to have up-to-date photos and pick a place you can rendezvous if you become separated. Keep your phone charged and notifications on to stay in contact with your group members.