How To Escape A Stampede In An Emergency Situation

When an attack takes place in a crowded area – like it did with the horrific bomb blast that took place at Manchester Arena, killing 22 and injuring as many as 59 – not all injuries and deaths sustained happen as a result of the attack itself, but from people getting caught in stampedes and crushes within the crowd.
Crowd crushes tend to occur when a very large number of people attempt to pass through a limited number of exits with a sense of panic or urgency – whether stemming from an incident which has taken place or from the panic of being confined.


Crowd safety specialist G. Keith Still says that while the physical space that a crowd is in plays a huge role in when these occur, they become deadly thanks to our biology – namely, our fight or flight response. When under duress, our body is flooded with adrenaline; this causes us to not only begin to panic and hyperventilate, but also to at all costs try and get out of that situation. This is what turns what would otherwise be a slow but peaceful process into dangerous chaos, as tens of thousands of people attempt to push past people who are unable to move.
At Falls Festival last year, 19 people were hospitalised and many more were injured after a crush occurred when punters attempted to exit a stage, with one woman suffering severe injuries as a result of having fallen down while trapped in the crowd. The situation became a crush because festivalgoers at the back were attempting to exit at a normal speed, while those at the front were slowed by a slippery hill in front of the stage. The ensuing injuries were a result of the panic caused by those stuck in the crowd.
It’s impossible to anticipate when you might be in one of these situations, but it’s not impossible to be prepared. PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke with Craig Sheridan APM, a former NSW policeman and managing director of security firm Sheridan Consulting Group, about what to do and what not to do in a crisis situation similar to that of Manchester.



Keep your eyes on the exits

Always be aware of where your exits are, also be aware that if there is an emergency, your exit may change:
“Always identify where your escape route is, where your evacuation area is. Be aware of your environment – if there is an emergency, identify where you need to move to.”

Crowd control expert Paul Wertheimer adds that it’s important to note that your exit may not be the one you came through and that you should take care to note marked exits located near you as you find your spot in the crowd. It might be seem easier to go out the way you came in, as it’s more familiar, but it may be more difficult for you to reach and take longer for you to evacuate.

Keep calm

As trite as it sounds, a lot of the panic is caused in a crush by the crush that is being caused because people are panicking. Attempting to push the crowd forward when it physically can’t go any faster will only result in more injuries, says Sheridan.
“It’s really easy to say ‘don’t panic’ but in a situation like this, it’s a natural thing to happen. Evacuate as quickly as you can and find a safe way to do so, but do so as orderly as possible and keep your wits about you and stay calm.”

If you can, try and keep those around you calm as well. Be communicative and friendly – you’re all in this together.

Follow instructions

As much as security staff might seem like the enemy when you’re trying to crowd surf, they’re trained for situations exactly like this and are following carefully thought out plans designed to get you get out of there quickly and safely:
“It’s really important for people to take the directions of authorities. At these stadiums, they have crisis management plans in place. Certainly, take the direction of police officers telling you what to do, as they are trained in these things and trained in response techniques.
“Remember the authorities do have plans for these situations; they’re exercising, they’re rehearsing these plans.”

Keep your hands at your chest

Wertheimer says that you are best off keeping your arms raised like a boxer’s – if the crowd is dense enough, there is a risk they could become pinned to your sides and keeping them up allows you to help keep yourself upright.


Don’t overexert yourself

Fatigue is only going to make it harder to stay upright and stay calm, so avoid overexerting yourself by pushing against the crowd or yelling. Wertheimer says that if you do need to communicate with someone, remember to try using gestures if it is difficult to make yourself audible. If your hands aren’t available, don’t be afraid to use your eyes.
Don’t attempt to find people

At all times you should be following the instructions of security personnel and police or emergency services, this may mean waiting until you are safely evacuated before attempting to locate friends and family – it will be easier to find them outside of the panicked environment and will make it easier for you and everyone else around you to get out of there.
Try your best not to fall over

This is obviously not entirely within your control, but try your best to remain upright – it’s easy to get trampled and quite difficult to get back up. It works both ways, too: if you see someone who has fallen over or is in the process of falling, do your best to slow down and help them, and encourage other people around you to do the same.
Photo: Getty Images / Kevin Mazur.