The Difference Between Crowd Crush and Stampede

Itaewon crowd crush seoul

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Key Takeaways

  • More than 150 people died in a crowd crush in Seoul last weekend.
  • A stampede implies there’s space to run, while a crowd crush means there’s little to no room to move or even breathe.
  • Staying upright, putting your arms in front of your chest, and locating exits are some ways to stay safe in a crowd surge or crush.

At least 150 people died in a Halloween crowd crush in Seoul this weekend. When media outlets first broke the news, the tragic event was first described as a "stampede," but it’s now described as a crowd surge or crush. What are the differences?

A crowd crush is comparable to a stampede in that both are dangerous scenarios involving large groups of people. But they are different in the way the danger ensues.

In a stampede, people have space to run or walk hurriedly. This sporadic movement is what puts the group most at risk. But in a crowd crush, people have little room to move around—if any room at all—and they’re likely to be squished together.

“In most of these crowd crush scenarios, it’s a very, very slow movement that causes a problem,” Michael Molloy, MCh, MSc, dean of the faculty of sports and exercise medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, told Verywell. "Stampede is a misnomer in the whole concept and that it implies speed, and it almost implies a little bit of blame on the individuals affected by it."

Molloy explained that in a crowd crush, people might start to fall over and get trampled by the crowd, or run out of oxygen because they have no room to breathe. The severity of a crowd crush can depend on the size of the crowd in proportion to the space, the level of panic, and people’s underlying health conditions.

How to Minimize the Risk of a Crowd Crush

Event organizers play a crucial role in dictating safety standards. Here are some questions organizers can try to address before and during large events, according to Molloy and Paul E. Pepe, MD, MPH, medical director for public safety and emergency medical services for Dallas County in Texas.

Is the Space Over-Occupied?

Before an event, organizers should be mindful of space occupancy, and not allow too many attendees into one place, Molloy said. When three or four people are squeezed into one square meter in a moving crowd, it gets difficult to navigate through the crowd. When the number gets up to seven or more per square meter, it gets very difficult to resist the push of the crowd, and people may even have difficulty breathing. At this density, if someone falls it may be very difficult for them to get up.

Is the Ground Leveled?

Uneven ground can increase the risk of tripping or falling over.

Are There Enough Exit Routes?

Event organizers should also craft venues that are easily escapable, by lining them with multiple exit routes. This can be in the form of exit doors or easily-openable fences or barricades.

"One of the ways we can avoid [crowd crush] is having escape routes, so if people aren’t getting caught, we can get them right over a fence or open a doorway," Pepe said.

Do People Look Distressed?

A safe venue isn’t just about the setup. It requires on-set upkeep, too. Organizers and emergency medical staff should be on the lookout for signs of crowding and distress among attendees. During the event, organizers should look at people’s facial expressions, Pepe said.

"If things are not good, you can usually tell by looking at the people around you," he said. "They’re looking worried or they’re looking anxious, or they’re feeling a little claustrophobic."

Are People’s Heads Moving Up And Down?

A big sign that people are packed too tightly into a space is if people’s heads start to bob up and down in the crowd, according to Molloy.

"Sometimes, you’ll find in such a big, big dense crowd that people seem to get lifted up—they’re no longer in control of themselves, they’re not walking anymore, they’re being moved by the crowd," Molloy said. "As they start to struggle, you’ll see your heads going up above the crowd or coming down."

Upon noticing this, safety personnel should act quickly to disperse the crowd, he added.

How Can Attendees Stay Safe In a Crowd Surge

Getting swept up or pinned down in a crowd crush can be scary. And ultimately, it might be out of your control. Still, if you find yourself in such a situation, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of falling.

Locate Exits and Don’t Wait

Familiarize yourself with where exits are and how you can get to them immediately in case of an emergency. If you notice people looking distressed, or feel distressed yourself, head for the exit immediately. It’s smart to leave the crowd before the worst happens and while you’re still breathing and mobile.

Lift Your Arms Up

Falling over in a crowd crush can make you more vulnerable to being trampled and having your oxygen cut off. If a crowd is caving in on you or beginning to move and swarm, keep your arms in front of your chest to help you stay stable.

“Bring your hands up in front of your chest, almost like a boxer would stand, to give your chest more space to expand, to allow you to survive for longer,” Molloy said.

Additionally, if the crowd begins to rush or sporadically move, it can be helpful to bring your arms up even higher and move them in a swimming motion in the direction of exit routes, he added.

“In a mobile crowd, trying to use your arms to swim through the crowd to get to the ‘edges’ can be a significant predictor of those who are going to survive,” Molloy said.

Look Out for Children and Smaller People

People who are shorter or petite are more at risk of being trampled in a crowd crush due to their proximity to the ground. It can be important to look out for children to make sure they are not being pushed over in the crowd.

When In Doubt, Don’t Go

Confined terrains can cultivate disaster, so making it out of your favorite concert unscathed might mean not going in the first place. If you know a concert or entertainment venue is small compared to the number of tickets sold, it can be a good idea to skip the event.

What This Means For You

A crowd crush is a disaster that can occur when too many people gather in too small of a space. Without room to move, people may trample each other and inhibit each other’s oxygen supplies. To stay safe in a crowd surge, locate exits, keep your arms up, and maintain a steady stance.

Correction - November 8, 2022: This article was updated to reflect the current title of the experts interviewed.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Helbing D, Mukerji P. Crowd disasters as systemic failures: analysis of the Love Parade disaster. EPJ Data Sci. 2012;1:7. doi:10.1140/epjds7

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.