Stampede Perceptions

images-2Human stampedes only happen in third world countries.  Human stampedes only take place at religious festivals and soccer stadiums.  They’re more likely to occur in nations which assign less value to the lives of their citizens.  The United States is a wealthier, more sophisticated culture.  We’re more concerned about the welfare of others.  We have superior standards regarding public safety.  Stampedes don’t happen here because we’re a more “civilized” society.

I’m not so sure.  This footage from the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium’s 2010 Electronic Daisy Carnival might make you reconsider any previously conceived notions.

When most people think of stampedes, they conjure up images of people being trampled to death.  Though by and large, this is inaccurate.  The vast majority of people perish while remaining upright through a process called compressive asphyxiation.  You suffocate from the crush.  It’s the equivalent of drowning in air.

Now you might be inclined to think, but this was a rave!  Aren’t these electronic music festivals flooded with alcohol, ecstasy and other dangerous amphetamines?  The majority of these kids must be under the influence of something.  Perhaps.  I have no evidence to the contrary.

But what about the recurring scene of some of the world’s deadliest stampedes, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia?  Fatality counts during the Hajj boggle the imagination.

Recent estimated death totals from the Hajj:

July 2, 1990 – 1,426
May 23, 1994 – 270
April 9, 1998 – 118
March 5, 2001 – 35
February 11, 2003 – 14
February 1, 2004 – 251
January 12, 2006 – 346

As you might expect, the injury tallies are considerably higher.

I think we can generally rule out drugs and alcohol as contributing factors.  Is it wise to blame religious extremism?  Probably not.  Finding inner peace and humbling oneself are the main reasons for participating in the Hajj.  The cold hard truth – it’s all about logistics.  Crowd turbulence coupled with the induction of panic results in tragedy.

But here’s something else to consider.  In the first minute of the Electronic Daisy Carnival footage, everyone is physically stuck in an open-air stairwell.  Fortunately, most are eventually able to break free from the human stranglehold.  But what if there had been a locked gate and/or an enclosed exit?

Such was the case during the 2012 Egyptian soccer stampede that killed 73 and injured hundreds.  Originally, the fatalities were considered to be the result of fan-on-fan violence and clashes with Egyptian security forces.  But what if I told you that the majority of people died in human stampedes?  What if I made the assertion that the stampede WAS the violence?  Would it shock you to find out that the majority of bodies were recovered at one of the stadium exits?

My point is this.  Stampedes are blamed on all kinds of factors: barricades, narrow corridors, hooliganism, drugs and alcohol, mismanagement of security, etc.  It’s easy to assess blame in the aftermath of tragedies like these.  But at the heart of everything, it’s always a matter of panic and physical logistics.  It’s really that simple.  Anytime there’s a large mass of people in a confined location who wish to suddenly relocate, tragedy can strike.

Here’s the moral of this story.  From a historical perspective, a culture or nation may have experienced a small number of human stampedes.  Some countries may never have experienced one.  But this makes them no less vulnerable to the prospect of a stampede, or in the worst case scenario, a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  I believe the United States government should be more cognizant of this unprecedented hypothetical.