By nature, by profession, and by training I bloody well hate crowds.
A man I admired once informed me that the IQ of a crowd could be ascertained by taking the lowest IQ of any single person in the crowd, and dividing that by the number of people in the crowd.
For myself, I always think of a crowd as one large, dumb, and happy organism … right up until something decides to take a thunder run at the crowd, and it becomes a large, dumb, and dangerous organism.
Unfortunately, it is a Fact of Life that, upon occasion, crowds must be endured.
And while there are several types of dangerous crowds, and several ways in which a crowd presents a danger, the focus of today’s musing is confined to that crowd phenomenon called the “crush” or the “stampede”.
A “crush” is when a crowd takes it into its’ multiple little mind that Something Bad Has Happened, and decides to unarse the A.O.
There are two things that should be noted here. 1) 90+% of all deaths resulting from a panicked crowd are from traumatic asphyxia or compression asphyxia; and 2) The majority of the victims of compression asphyxia will have died standing up.
The obvious question is: “LawDog, what is ‘compression asphyxia’?”
Glad you asked.
When you get a large mass of dumb and panicked suddenly moving in one direction, Dumb and Panicked tends to bring a lot of force to the dance. How much force? At several scenes where fatal “crush” events have taken place, After Action Reviews of the incidents have revealed steel railings bent and deformed by nothing more than the press of multiple bodies. In at least one (the 1979 The Who concert stampede. I think) recreations of the accident show a horizontal application of force equaling about one thousand (1000) pounds.
One half of a ton of force, plus or minus, applied sideways.
It takes far less than that to compress the rib-cage of a normal human being to the point that they can no longer inhale. Without the ability to draw air into your lungs, unconsciousness sets in at ten to forty seconds, brain damage starts at about four minutes, and death follows fairly quickly after that.
“Traumatic asphyxia” or “compression asphyxia” is what happens when a squishy person gets between an immovable object — such as a wall — and the irresistible force of a mass of a panicked crowd.
So. How to avoid this?
First off, stay away from crowds. If you can’t avoid that, stay away from crowds in confined spaces — and by “confined space” I mean any place with more walls around the area than open air.
However, if you find yourself having to be in a confined space with a crowd, I’d like you to keep at least two things in mind:
1) Crowds are made up of people. And people are creatures of habit. One of those irritating little habits is that people want to go out of an area the same way that they came in. And that goes double when they’re panicked.
When things go agley, and The Crowd decides that it’s Time To Be Somewhere Else, The Crowd will escape the area the same way it came in. Only a lot faster, and damn the torpedoes.
That means that if 99% of The Crowd came into the dance venue by way of those two double doors right there, unless there’s A Damned Fine Reason preventing such, when the crush happens, The Crowd is going to go right out those two double doors right there. At full, berserk speed. And they will do their damnedest to fit the entire Fire Marshal’s Maximum Occupancy Number into that one doorway, all at the same time.
So, the best way to avoid this crunchy, sticky mess is to exercise some of that Situational Awareness when you first enter the venue, and spot at least two exits that aren’t the main entrances.
Given our druthers, we’d like these exits to be unobtrusive, and on walls as far away from the walls that the main entrances are on as possible, but we’ll take what we can get.
But what do I mean by “unobtrusive”? Find exits that Joe and Jane Average don’t think of as exits. When you’re standing in front of the counter at Mickey Ds, how many of you count the kitchen back-door as one of your exits?
When you’re at the club, watching your very favourite band at a live show, and Murphy decides that it’s just not your day, is there an exit for the entertainers behind the stage? Maybe another one for the booze delivery behind the bar? Might behoove us to find out either before going, or pretty ricky-tick after showing up, yes?
Things go pear-shaped, The Crowd heads back out through that single entrance door on the south wall, you need to be the guy skiting out the roadie smoke-pit door behind the stage on the north wall. Lot fewer folks trying to get up under your hat with you that way.
However it ends up, find another exit that every Tom, Dick, and Harriet won’t be trying to get out of at the same time as you.
2) Think of a crowd as an ocean. Like an ocean, it has surges and currents, and when the stampede happens, think of it as a really strong current.
Now, you can’t swim against a really strong current. You can try, but it’s a pretty good way to wind up exhausted, and then dead.
When that mass of people — the current — starts rushing towards the exit, don’t fight against it. There will be surges and pauses — maybe so small as to only be noticed if you’re looking for them, but those surges and pauses will be there. When the surge is on, go with the current, diagonally, towards the edge where the current — the press of people — isn’t as strong, and (hopefully) away from anything you can get jammed up against. When the current pauses, slip between people, always heading for where the density of bodies is less.
As the current of people moves, it’ll break around small immovable structures like pillars, staircases, vehicles. Stay away from the upstream side, where people are running and crushing into the structure. Instead, find the downstream side — the lee side — of the structure, if you need to pause.
However, I caution you against using the lee side of a structure for very long. Remember that whatever condition that started the panic in the first place may still be about, and may be looking to introduce itself to you. Pause in the lee. Re-orient yourself; Re-assess the situation; Re-acquire your goal/target; and drive on.
Lastly, always have two rendezvous points. The first one is where you exited your transportation, before entering the scene. The parking lot where you left your vehicle. The front of the structure where the taxi dropped you off. That’s your default RP you should use for a normal evening.
However, in the slight chance that you didn’t have a normal evening — things went Biblically pear-shaped, a mass response by public servants was warranted, “Aloha Snackbar” was yelled, CNN is dotting their cupcakes in somber-yet-happy anticipation, dog and cats living together, whatever — have someplace within walking distance where your entire party knows to go for a headcount.
This is more important than you’d think. In the aftermath of stampedes, riots, what have you, there are more people wandering around, looking for their buddies and generally getting in the way, than there should be.
When five of you went out for a night on the town, something went squishy, and all five of you are all right, but all five of you spend the entire bloody evening wandering around looking for each other, it creates a lot more stress and gnashing of teeth than is altogether good for every one’s blood pressure.
For pity’s sake, have a rendezvous point.
That should do for the quick-and-dirty on crush crowds. I’m for bed.
Y’all have a safe evening.