Last week during a Travis Scott performance at the Astroworld Festival in Houston, eight people died and hundreds were hurt when the densely packed crowd surged toward the stage. Many attendees have uploaded troubling, horror-inducing footage of concert-goers struggling to get help as Scott continued to perform. With the tragedy comes a need to place blame, from absurd satanic conspiracy theories, to–more appropriately–the unpreparedness of event organizers. Currently more than 20 lawsuits have been filed that accuse organizers of failing to take simple crowd-control steps or staff properly.
When done right, being part of a large crowd can be an invigorating experience. But what about when a crowd begins to feel dangerous? How can you tell when a crowd is too dense? Is there any way to stay safe against a mass of bodies pushing against you?
Although the thought of getting trapped in a large crowd can seem helpless, there are tips to protect yourself as an individual in this situation. In 2019, we spoke to crowd expert Paul Wertheimer about how to survive a human stampede. In light of the recent tragedy, here are additional tips to staying safe in a large crowd.
Be aware, and be ready to leave at the first sign of danger
Mehdi Moussaïd, a research scientist in Berlin who studies crowd behavior, told NPR that “the most important advice is to be aware there could be a danger if the crowd is too dense around you.” Moussaïd’s tip for detecting crowd density is to check whether you can feel people pressing against you on both shoulders and other areas of your body all at the same time. If there’s force coming from all sides and you still have time to move, then you should “get away…that’s an alarm signal.” Trust your instincts and take advantage of exit routes before it’s too late.
Don’t panic, and preserve oxygen
Experts say crowd surge deaths happen because people are packed into a space so tightly that they are being squeezed and can’t get oxygen. It’s not usually because they’re being trampled. Despite all desire to panic, don’t yell or scream, as you’ll be wasting oxygen.
Stand like a boxer
The CDC recommends taking a “boxer-like” approach in large crowd stampedes: Keep your hands to your chest and maintain firm footing. To maintain sufficient space to get oxygen, hold your arms a few inches out from your chest.
Similarly, don’t risk sitting down or going back for your backpack on the ground—it won’t be worth it.
Move with the crowd
Moussaïd explains the dynamics of crowd movements in his interview with NPR:
In a crowd, everything is about chain reactions. When you push your neighbors, they’re going to push their own neighbors and it eventually hits an obstacle. Then the pushing is amplified — and it’s going to come back to you…In the worst moments, you have multiple pushing waves at once. This is what we call crowd turbulence. You don’t want to be where two waves cross, because the pressures come from opposite directions, and that’s really dangerous.
If you feel a push, resist the urge to push back. Even if it’s uncomfortable, the best thing you can do is go with the flow.
Avoid walls and solid objects
Walls and other solid obstacles prevent you from moving with the flow of the crowd, and increase your risk of getting crushed by the waves of people. Avoid obstacles and once again: Try to go with the flow of the crowd, even when it’s counterintuitive.
Help your neighbors
If a crowd is starting to feel unsafe, look out for those around you. Human behavior is contagious in large crowds (like mob mentality), so try to spread altruism over individualism.