Mumbai Elphinstone Road station stampede: What can we learn from the disaster?
mumbai, maharashtra
Mumbai Elphinstone Road station stampede Image courtesy:

Mumbai Elphinstone Road station stampede: What can we learn from the disaster?

Mumbaikars will not forget the morning of 29th September 2017, anytime soon. The day started off as any other week day for office-goers at Mumbai's Elphinstone Road station, but soon after the day went on to become a horrific experience the daily commuters would have many sleepless nights over.

The stampede at Elphinstone Road station had happened when the crowd gathered on a foot over bridge during the early morning rush time which killed 23 people and injured many.

A sudden downpour is believed to be one reason why many commuters took shelter at the foot bridge while another crowd which alighted from local trains joined them at the same time. Reports say that the overcrowded bridge was shaking causing panic of a possible collapse. Police suspect a short-circuit with a loud sound near the foot over bridge added to the panic.

The rain, rumors and thousands of commuters rushing out to save themselves caused the crowd crush which raised many questions on the infra-structure of Mumbai local transport systems and apathy of railway authorities.

While we can’t deny that the state of Mumbai local train commuters is indeed sordid and it’s high time that government should pay immediate attention to improve the scenario; there are a few important lessons we also can learn from this dreadful incident.

Understanding Crowd Dynamics

Unlike a terror attack, there is no evil motive behind a stampede. Stampede is a sudden incident which gives no chance to people to get prepared or to take precautionary measures. Let’s take the instance of Elphinstone Station, where a lone footbridge which is just six feet wide was put under tremendous strain caused by scores of commuters gathered atop it.

According to one estimate, over one lakh people use this footbridge during peak traffic hours, and people enter this bridge from multiple different directions. This results in a density of people on the bridge up to 7 and more people per square feet.

According to Pedestrian planner John J. Fruin, “At occupancies of about 7 persons per square meter, the crowd becomes almost a fluid mass. Shock waves can be propagated through the mass, sufficient to... Propel them distances of 3 meters or more... People may be literally lifted out of their shoes, and have clothing torn off.

Intense crowd pressures, exacerbated by anxiety, make it difficult to breathe, which may finally cause compressive asphyxia. The heat and the thermal insulation of surrounding bodies cause some to be weakened and faint. Access to those who fall is impossible. Removal of those in distress can only be accomplished by lifting them up and passing them overhead to the exterior of the crowd.”

Be it religious gatherings, a music concert or a railway station like this accident, basic ingredients of a stampede remain more or less the same: a huge crowd, a narrow passage, a trigger (often a rumor like in this case), panic and then the catastrophe.

Is there a way to survive while everyone is panicking?

Though there’s no sure way to survive a stampede but we surely can do certain things in certain manners which would increase our chance of survival. It’s believed that while caught in a panicking crowd, one loses his individual purpose or sense and he behaves as the crowd does.

Retaining one’s awareness about the entry and exit points of a confined space (like a theatre) increases the chance to escape a possible crowd massacre. Try to take a mental note of the escape routes the moment you arrive at a venue where a large number of people are about to gather.

Don’t wait. Leave the venue as soon as you start getting uncomfortable in a crowd. Don’t underestimate the lethal power of a crowd crush as the same has taken lakhs of innocent lives across the globe. Many people postpone that decision until it's too late, and in no time they find themselves trapped in a massive and panicking wave of humans, building pressures which can bend steel and concrete.

Remember the following handy tips to increase your chance of survival:

  • Try to stay on your feet and grounded even if the crowd will try to pull you up
  • Keep your hands close to your chest as if you are fighting like a Boxer. This will protect your chest from blunt trauma and also will give you some breathing space.
  • Try to conserve energy as much as you can. Don’t scream (which is very normal given that you are panicked beyond limits), rather try to use sign language to communicate with those around you, like waving, pointing etc. This will save energy which is vital in these situations
  • Try to move sideways but avoid railings, fences and walls at any cost. Most of the fatalities of a stampede are the ones who are pinned against walls or railings

Know about the “accordion technique” to move back to safety

In a crowd rush, it is not just enough to assure that you are firm on the ground; it’s also equally important that you try to keep others who are around you on their feet too. Because a crowd collapse is a point of no return and even if one person falls down, in no time a domino effect will ensure that other would fall, too. This can be the worst scenario possible in a stampede.

As we mentioned before, a dense crowd would often behave a wave; when a crushing surge passes, a calm will follow. This is your chance to escape. Crowd surges, like waves along the shore, move back and forth. In between the surges you have to make your moves, not along or against the direction of the crowd but sideways, using the spaces between the layers of people.

The only thing you can do around a maddening crowd is to keep your wits about it and try to think rationally about the situation. It’s a normal human psychology to feel panicky when the crowd becomes suffocating but keeping your sanity intact while thinking practically about the ways to exit is the only way to safety.

Authored: 9amstories editorial

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