Not Only in Korea… So Many Risks of a “Crowd Avalanche” in Japan | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Not Only in Korea… So Many Risks of a “Crowd Avalanche” in Japan

Itaewon "Bloody Halloween" in Seoul, South Korea, where more than 150 people lost their lives, could happen to you, too

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Countless casualties lay on the streets of Itaewon. Emergency services rushed to the scene, but it was clear that they were over capacity.

At first it was just a feeling of congestion, but gradually it became impossible to move forward, and the atmosphere became one of “something happened on the road ahead” and “go back! But then the people coming up behind us started to push us back. However, the situation only worsened as people coming from behind pushed us back. The pressure from both sides of the road began to hurt. I was afraid that if I fell, I would be trampled, so I ran out of the street, being careful not to fall or let anyone else fall.

On the night of October 29, a crushing death in Itaewon, Seoul, South Korea, claimed the lives of more than 150 people, including two Japanese students. On Saturday, the “Roppongi” of Korea, which was said to be packed with about 100,000 people, turned into a “bloody Halloween” with screams and yells flying everywhere.

The accident occurred on a 3.2-meter-wide, 40-meter-long slope connecting the front street where Itaewon Subway Station is located and a back street lined with restaurants, where people streaming in from the two streets formed a lid on both ends of the slope, making it impossible for the crowd to move forward or retreat. The crowd was unable to move forward or backward. Most of the casualties were concentrated in a space of only about 5 square meters. They were caught in what is known as a “crowd avalanche.

Minoru Watanabe, a disaster and crisis management journalist, explains the mechanism.

When there are 10 or more people crowded into a square meter, the risk of a crowd avalanche increases. However, if someone stumbles or tries to move in a different direction, the pressure will be directed toward the open space, causing an avalanche of people to fall. Those who were trapped underneath were likely to have died, unable to take evasive action due to the weight of more than a hundred kilograms on their bodies.”

Short women and children, even if they were standing up, would suffocate because their noses and mouths were blocked. In 2001, in a pedestrian bridge accident at a fireworks display in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture, which killed 11 people, the pressure was so great that the stainless steel railing was bent. There was not the slightest margin for evasive action.

The Akashi example shows that crowd avalanches can occur anywhere in Japan. Especially during this year-end and New Year’s holidays, there will be a succession of full-scale events for the first time in a long time, and more crowds than usual are expected. Japanese people, accustomed to crowds and crowded trains, tend to have less sense of danger, which increases the risk even more.

What kind of places are dangerous? Crisis management advisor Nobue Kunizaki says, “Crowd avalanches are becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

Nobue Kunizaki, a crisis management advisor, says, “Stadiums are the most prone to crowd avalanches in the world. When sporting or musical events are held, crowds rush into entrances, exits, and narrow aisles, pushing each other around. Structurally, places with no side escape routes are also dangerous. In the case of Itaewon, it is believed that the narrow street and the hotel wall on the side of the street made it a disaster because there was no space to escape.

During the year-end and New Year’s holidays, countdown concerts and sports events are held in many places. If one is careless and thinks that this is an annual event, the danger of a crowd avalanche suddenly surfaces. What about places closer to home? Take, for example, the stairs leading up to the Yamanote Line platform at JR Shibuya Station, which, like Itaewon, was crowded on Halloween. The risk of a crowd avalanche rises when the flow of passengers and alighting passengers collide on the stairs, where there is no escape route to the side. Shrines, where worshippers rush to gravel paths, cobblestone pavements, and stairs, are also at risk of falling due to the distraction of the crowds during the Hatsumode season.

As was the case in Itaewon, once a crowd avalanche occurs, the pressure is too great and rescue from the outside is extremely difficult.

The basic premise is to stay away from crowded places, but how can we prepare for such an eventuality? Mr. Kunizaki, the aforementioned person, says, “Hold your bag in front of you.

It is important to be tactful and secure your space by holding your bag in front of you. The most frightening thing about a crowd avalanche is that you can be crushed to death while standing.

The “normalcy bias” of thinking that you are the only one who is okay can lead to tragedies like the one at Itaewon. This year-end and New Year’s holiday season, we need to be careful.

Even women in revealing costumes looked exhausted after witnessing the devastation.
The “World Gourmet Culture Street” just before the accident. The crowd avalanche occurred on the slope to the left at the T-junction from this street.

From the November 18, 2022 issue of “FRIDAY

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