Crowd Disasters and Management in India

Context:

The Amritsar Dussehra incident (October 2018) highlights the poor crowd management mechanism in India

What is a stampede?

The term stampede is applied to a sudden rush of a crowd of people, usually resulting in many injuries and death from suffocation and trampling. Stampedes are caused by surge of individuals in a crowd, in response to a perceived danger, loss of physical space or excitement.

Stampedes in India-Statistics

  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau figures, from 2000 to 2013, almost 2,000 people died in stampedes.
  • A 2013 study published by International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction (IJDRR) points out that religious gathering and pilgrimages have been venues for 79% of the stampedes in India.

Recent examples of stampedes in India

Causes and triggers of stampede:

1.Structural:

  • Key structural causes include collapse of a structure such as Barricades, Makeshift Bridge, temporary structure etc.
  • The other reasons which is both a cause and factor contributing to stampedes are narrow and very few entry/exits, absence of emergency exit, and lack proper pathways (such as in cases of many famous religious sites situated on mountain tops, hilly terrain)

2.Fire/Electrical: Major causes include fire from makeshift kitchens in the ‘pandal’, inappropriate use of firecrackers, improper electrical wiring during the event etc.

  1. Crowd Behaviour: In case of stampedes, mostly the trigger is psychological—such as a rumour spreading through the crowd. Some important dimensions of crowd behaviour which trigger stampedes are unruly and irresponsible behaviour, sudden flow of crowd in reverse direction,
  2. Poor Crowd Management:
  3. a) Security related: Major security related factors include understaffed security personnel to regulate to control the crowd, inadequate briefing of security personnel on crowd control before deployment and lack of proper public announcement systems.
  4. b) Crowd Control: Major factors include more than expected crowd, lack of access control, closed/locked exit, reliance on one major exit route, poor queue monitoring etc.
  5. c) Improper coordination between stakeholders: Lack of coordination among various agencies, Poor infrastructure, lack of medical assistance, public transport/parking facilities, and Communication delays.
  6. d) Space:
  • The configuration, capacity, determine degrees of crowding. A major reason for crowd disasters in India is that venues/events are filled beyond capacity with people (10 people per sq.km).

 

Process of a Crowd Disaster:

National Guide on Crowd Management-NDMA

In view of the recurring stampedes at places of mass gathering, including religious places, and typically ad-hoc responses to those, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had prepared ‘Suggestive Framework for Preparation of Crowd Management Plan for Events/Venues of Mass Gathering’.

The major recommendations include:

  1. Understanding venue, visitors and stakeholders:
  • The basic element for event planning and crowd management is understanding the venue, visitors and different stakeholders.
  • It requires understanding of Type of event (such as religious, schools/ university, sports event, music event, political event, product promotion etc.); Expected Crowd (age, gender, economic strata), Crowd Motives (such as social, academic, religious, entertainment, economic etc.); Venue (location, topography of area, temporal or permanent, open or closed), and role of other stake holders (such as NGOs, neighbours of event venue, local administrators etc.)
  1. Crowd Handling
  • Traffic around the mass gathering venues should be properly regulated.
  • There should be a route map for venues along with emergency exits route maps.
  • There shouldBarricade facility to control the movement of crowd queues.
  • Snake line approach should be followed in case large crowd queues
  • The organizers of crowded events/venue managers should discourage general admissions and have plans to handle VIP visitors or, alternatively, refuse entry to VIPs where it adds to safety concerns.
  1. Safety and Security:
  • The venue Organisers should ensure authorised use of electricity, fire safety extinguishers and other arrangements as per the safety guidelines.
  • It suggests use of CCTV cameras to monitor crowds and use of mini UAV incase crowd spread is too big
  1. Communication: A public address system, with loudspeakers installed at all crowded points, to communicate with the crowds.
  2. Medical and Emergency care: Medical first-aid rooms and emergency operations centres to handle post-disaster emergencies should be set up.
  3. Role of Event Managers: The event organizers and venue managers should develop, implement, review and revise the disaster management plan in coordination with others including local administration and police.
  4. Role of Civil society: Event/venue managers can involve NGOs and civil defence in traffic control, people flow control, medical assistance, sanitation and mobilization of local resources in case of disaster.
  5. Role of police: The police should actively participate in venue assessment and preparedness checks and guide crowd and traffic movements.
  6. Capacity Building: Capacity building, conducting drills, periodic assessment of training of security personnel, police is essential to prevent crowd disasters

Concerns:

  1. No crowd management plan: A major issue highlighted by recurring stampedes is the poor crowd management by concerned authorities. The state governments and local authorities have not yet implemented the NDMA guidelines on crowd management.
  2. Rising population: With rising population and rapid urbanization, urban areas are likely to be more susceptible along with places of frequent mass gatherings like temples.
  3. Tolerance to crowd: According to scholar Teressa Moore, large-scale events in India are more susceptible to stampedes because of a greater tolerance for high-density crowds. The higher tolerance for crowded places in India allows for more people to get closer, because they don’t feel uncomfortable until it’s very packed.
  4. Governance and accountability: Stampedes are preventable and highlight the issue of poor governance and management. Agencies responsible for issuing permissions/ licences for mass gatherings, events fail to follow requirements. There is also question of accountability post a preventable man-made disaster like stampede.

Best Practice:

Crowd management during Haj Pilgrimage in Makkah

Saudi Arabia mobilizes its human and material resources to ensure security, comfort and welfare of pilgrims. It has been developing and upgrading its security machinery acquiring advanced equipment and providing training to its officers to ensure security of Hajis and ensure crowd management. The hi-tech Jamarat Bridge in Mina, has won the Hanz Edelman Award for the best applied and operational research in 2015. The bridge was instrumental in crowd management and reducing accidents at the Jamarat, which has witnessed several fatal accidents in the past

Way Forward

  1. Recurring incidences of stampedes call for urgent attention by all States to prepare crowd disaster management plans keeping in view the guidelines of NDMA

Note: A pilot project on crowd management has been set up at Sabarimala in Kerala, which has been drafted keeping the individual characteristics of the pilgrimage in mind.

  1. There should be proper evaluation of the capacity of a location or structure before holding mass gatherings. Existing infrastructural problem should be addressed to avoid mishaps the Elphinstone Bridge tragedy in Mumbai.
  2. Crowd density should be monitored and controlled to avoid crowd disasters.An adequate number of police and security personnel have to constantly monitor (through CCTV cameras, ticketing systems, and on-ground surveillance) and regulate the density of the gathering to curb overcrowding and ensure enough space for unrestricted movement.
  3. There should beadequate medical, communication and security resources on site
  4. Emerging researches show that crowd behaviour in a given situation can be different, and less rational, than individual behaviour. There should public address system, whereby officials can stop rumours from getting out of hand, calm panicked crowds, and help people exit in a systematic manner.
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