What To Do In A Crowd Crush

November 1, 2022
A photo of a crowd of people

"30 seconds"

You have an estimated 30 seconds before the crush of a crowd may cause you to lose consciousness.
As we cover another crowd surge tragedy, here's what safety experts say you should know before attending your next big event.

Tragedy in South Korea

  • Saturday: About 100K people were in a district of Seoul for the area's largest Halloween celebration since the pandemic arrived. A crowd surge then began along an alleyway packed with people.

  • At least 156 people were killed in the crowd crush; 151 were injured. The death toll could continue to rise since some people are still in serious condition, officials say.

  • As investigations into the cause of and response to the crowd crush begin, South Koreans are observing a week-long period of mourning.

"It takes 30 seconds before you lose consciousness, and [in] around about six minutes, you’re into compressive or restrictive asphyxia. That’s … generally the attributed cause of death — not crushing, but suffocation."

Visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England, G. Keith Still, on the most common cause of death when a crowd surge occurs. The Washington Post explains: "A crowd crush or surge happens when people are packed together in a confined space and there's movement such as pushing that causes the crowd to fall over."

Something To Consider:

  • When attending a large event, locate *all* exits & stay in an area that isn't too crowded.

  • Research scientist Mehdi Moussaïd says: "The most important advice is to be aware that there could be a danger if the crowd is too dense around you." As soon as you start to feel confined, it's time to leave.

  • If a crowd crush occurs, it's important to "stand like a boxer," with knees bent for stability and arms folded in front of your chest to provide space for breathing.

"A united crowd is more likely to survive than a crowd of individualists. So remain human and be kind to others, offer help when you can, avoid tripping up those around you and look out for the weakest members of the group."

Mehdi Moussaïd, who studies crowd behavior. If a crowd crush occurs, try and stay on your feet; if you fall down, it's best to curl into a ball. "Go with the flow" and don't fight against the crowd's movement. In a crowd crush, it's also important to conserve your oxygen: "Avoid screaming unless you have to, and control your breathing," Moussaïd explains.

Crowd crushes have occurred all over the world. One year ago this week, a crowd crush occurred at Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival in Texas, killing 10 people. In October, there was a crowd crush at a soccer game in Indonesia, leaving more than 130 dead. While crowd crushes are rare, experts emphasize the importance of having a "worst-case scenario" plan in place before the event so that if a surge occurs, you will be equipped with tools to keep yourself and others safe. Visit our source page for more crowd crush safety tips.

What to Do if You Find Yourself in a Crowd Crush (The New York Times)

How to survive a crowd crush and why they can become deadly (The Washington Post)

Ten tips for surviving a crowd crush (The Conversation)

Crowd Sense Tips (Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, Public Department of Safety)

Advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

S. Korea officials admit responsibility in Halloween tragedy (The Associated Press)

South Korean authorities say they had no guidelines for Halloween crowds, as families grieve 156 victims (CNN)

by Jenna Lee,