How to Survive a Crowd Crush

Note the disorganization of the Love Parade crowd – everyone is trying to go a different direction.

Crowd crushes have claimed the lives of hundreds of festivalgoers this year, and no doubt the tragedies at Berlin’s Love Parade and the Cambodian Water Festival have touched your heart. While much of the blame lies with poor planning on the part of the organizers, I want you to know what to do if you ever find yourself in the scary situation of a crowd crush.

Standard crush survival rules state that if you are being touched on all four sides, you are in a very dangerous situation and must leave immediately. This describes almost every show I’ve ever been to. How about some survival tips for the real world?

I was trampled in a crowd crush at Lollapalooza 199something and still bear a gnarly scar on my hip; it might have been worse had I not been on the edge of the crowd, or if the stranger who pulled me out had decided to get a beer instead of running towards the pile of bodies.

Many of us often put ourselves into high-mass (and just high) crowd situations like this, and although much of life and death is just dumb luck, if you know what to do in case of a crowd-born emergency, you can increase your chances for survival.

1. When entering a room (or outdoor space) that is full of people, take a moment and make a mental note of the location of the emergency exits. Make this your new two-second habit.

2. Stay on the edges of the crowd. You will never find me in the middle of a crowd of 30,000; I am always gooning at the back, trolling the edges or dancing at the very front. I prefer the front of the dance floor not only for the obvious reasons (speaker stacks, visibility), but also because at the front you only have to deal with humans on three sides of you – your whole ventral area is free to move.

3. Listen to your gut and get out. We have all been in testy crowd situations where the energy starts to change – you can almost taste it- and the level of pushing and aggressiveness starts to mount. When you feel this scary sensation like the crowd might ignite at any moment, start moving towards the edge. Go get a beer!

4. If you are stuck in the middle of a big crowd that is getting pushier and pushier, remember this: crowd surges move like waves. People push from the back and then it slows, then surges, then slows, then surges – kind of like an accordion. Instead of trying to move forward or back, move diagonally towards the edge of the crowd that is closest to you when there is a lull in the surging. This surging, “shock wave” behavior in a crowd is a sign that things might go downhill fast, so pay close attention when you start to feel this motion.

5. People die in crowd crushes overwhelmingly not from trampling but from asphyxiation, as their lungs become too compressed by other humans to be able to breathe. In a tenuous crowd situation, keep your arms in front of you with elbows bent in a protective stance (like a boxer) and your legs spread shoulder-width, so that you…

6. DON’T FALL DOWN. Falling down in a pissed-off crowd may be your last trip ever, so stay on your feet. If you feel yourself falling, reach out your hand and try to make eye contact with someone next to you (hopefully a big strong person) who can grab onto you until you regain balance. If you do fall down: scream your damn lungs out and put one arm up into the air so hopefully someone will notice you on the ground and pull you to your feet. If not, get on all-fours and from there try and to stand up. Can’t do that? Get into the fetal position and protect your head.

7. If you decide to jump a fence, rush the stage, or join a crowd of people who are going to push through security to get closer to the front than their tickets allow, realize that you are taking a huge risk that might not be worth it (this is how I got trampled – rushing the stage for fucking HOLE). Once people start competing for limited resources or space, shit turns ugly fast - think of the shoppers trampling each other to be the first into Walmart on Black Friday.

8. If there is an emergency and everyone runs towards one exit- don’t just follow the herd. Stop for a moment and look for the nearest exit and then move towards it. People usually rush to the front exit because it is familiar, failing to notice the emergency exit that was right beside them.

9. BEWARE of large crowds that seem disorganized, where there is no clear “flow” of human traffic and people are trying to go all different directions at once. In an organized massive crowd, almost everyone’s heads are turned the same way (see photo below).

10. Don’t push in a crowd. EVER. Don’t let your friends push. Calmly and nicely tell people who are doing so: “Don’t push” with your voice and your body language. Project calm energy and RELAX – you’ll get to see TIESTO.

Please add your comments below!

Note the orderly crowd: all heads turned the same way.

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4 Responses to “How to Survive a Crowd Crush”

  1. Great post. Hopefully more people start educating themselves about this kind of thing.

  2. thx for tip, now I can safely watch my TIESTO!

  3. We were in a happycrowd at beatification of John Paul II and had to use all those techniques as the crowd was disorganized and unexpectedly large full of youth and elders. several people fainted and medical care had to carry them out. It was body to body in fact I was just holding on to an unknown person in front of me. Especially dangerous was being at the front of a barricade which the police would not let us through. finally the police opened it and we were on the side and did not get trampled. I hate to think of being in an unhappy crowd.

    • I would like to thank you on behalf of that unknown person. I was dragged out of a mosh pit by some awesome unknown person and I never got the chance to fully thank them as they were running off to help someone else.

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