October 18, 2013

INDIA: Curious Why India Is Prone To Stampedes? 115 People Died In One Last Sunday. :/

The Wall Street Journal
written by By Joanna Sugden
Tuesday October 15, 2013

A high tolerance for crowds and crowded spaces in India means major events in the country are vulnerable to stampedes, according to an international expert on crowd management.

Teresa Moore, of the International Centre for Crowd Management and Security Studies in the U.K., said that different cultures have varying degrees of forbearance for crowds.

“The higher tolerance for crowded spaces in India allows for people to get closer, because they don’t feel uncomfortable until it is very packed,” said Ms. Moore director of education and training at the center, which is part of Bucks New University in Buckinghamshire. At that point the crowd is dangerously large, she added.

“People panic and react. Couple that with a rumor, which can come out of that feeling of panic, that’s when you can get a surge or a problem,” Ms. Moore said.

On Sunday, 115 people were killed in Madhya Pradesh when those crossing a crowded bridge to a Hindu temple thought it was collapsing.

“There will have been a moment on that bridge when people felt that it was too close, too packed,” Ms. Moore said of Sunday’s stampede. In countries with a higher tolerance for crowds she added, “the tipping point between what people can manage and what they feel is dangerous is very fine.”

The death toll, which continues to mount, is among the worst since a stampede in 1954 killed 500 during the Kumbh Mela festival in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the River Ganges.

But deaths from stampedes are relatively frequent at religious events and major gatherings in India. A report by the Press Trust of India in 2011 said that over 1,000 people had lost their lives by being crushed underfoot during temple stampedes in the previous decade.

More mundane events too can turn deadly. Six were killed in 1969 as they rushed for tickets to a cricket game in what was then Calcutta. Three women died in a scramble for free food and cooking utensils in a promotion by Jindal Aluminium Ltd. in Bangalore in 1992.

To be sure, India is not alone in suffering casualties in crowd surges at such events. A Wal-Mart employee in the U.S. was trampled to death during a sale event at one of the companies stores in November 2008.

Almost every year in India, sometimes more than once, during festivals, pilgrimages, and election rallies there are reports of people being trampled to death. And a look at the timeline of these tragedies shows that the number of dead and injured is growing.

Madhya Pradesh has had a number of such incidents. In 1991, 37 died and 40 were injured when 200,000 people gathered at the Mahakaleshawar temple, in the town of Ujjain.

In July 1993, at least 20 people were killed and 100 injured in a stampede at a Hindu festival also in Madhya Pradesh.

In 1994, around 117 people, 75 of them women, died when a police baton charge aimed at quelling a protest, triggered a crowd surge in the city of Nagpur in Maharashtra in November of that year. In 1995, around 400 people died in a fire at a school north of Delhi, many in the charge to get out of the burning building.

Seventeen people were electrocuted and then trampled to death at a music concert in Calcutta in 1996.

More recently in August 2008, up to 145 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during a religious festival in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh after a railing collapsed under the weight of pilgrims.

At least 168 people were killed and 100 injured when thousands of pilgrims stampeded at a Hindu temple in the town of Jodhpur in western India in September of that same year.

In March 2010, 65 people were killed in a stamped at the Ram Janki temple in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh as crowds pushed to get a free meal.

In January 2011, more than 100 people were killed and 25 injured in a stampede of pilgrims at a Hindu festival in Kochi, Kerala.

Earlier this year in February, at the Kumbh Mela which was this year one of the largest ever religious gatherings on earth, at least 36 people were killed in a stampede at the nearby railway station as they headed to the festival site.

“Crowd management is not particularly established as a discipline in India,” Ms. Moore said, adding that the professionalization of managing crowds is a relatively new concept worldwide and has developed as a response to disasters at events around the world.

In Australia, for instance, after the death of a young woman crushed in a mosh pit at a Big Day Out music festival 12 years ago, new rules were brought in governing the structure of audience areas at gigs. In Victoria, a state in south eastern Australia, the government has passed a Major Events (Crowd Management) Act, setting out legal requirements for big gatherings.

Professor Simon Darcy, a member of the Australian Centre for Event Management at the University of Technology in Sydney, said “legislation is only as good as the way that it is policed and the diligence of those managers involved.”

“If there’s not back up and compliance checking these things will continue to happen,” he added.

So how else to prevent stampedes?

Planning is the key, according to Ms. Moore from the Centre for Crowd Management. “You need to know the size of the crowd, the capacity of the event, not just the size of the area, the capacity to manage that crowd,” she said.

Crowd stewards, monitoring potential changes in crowd behavior, and having sufficient entry and exit points are all crucial to maintaining a safe event, Ms. Moore said.

“A bridge like the one in this event in Madhya Pradesh, we would expect to look at the capacity on that bridge, the flow rates, how many people can get across safely, and how to manage that,” she said.

Worldwide, no crowded event is immune from these tragedies, she said. “You need the wrong combination of events and people not really focusing on planning and it can happen anywhere,” she said.

If you are part of a crowd and things take a turn for the worse, there is little you can do. “If you are caught up in the middle of something you almost have no physical control over your own body your feet are lifted up. The best thing is to be very vigilant about what you’re getting into and do your own risk assessment,” Ms. Moore said.

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