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Rush and Risk: The Unraveling Phenomenon of Human Stampedes

A human stampede is uncontrolled concerted running as an act of mass impulse among herd animals or a crowd of people in which the group collectively begins running, often in an attempt to escape a perceived threat.


What would you do if you found yourself caught up in a ‘human stampede’?

A human stampede

How do you think you would handle that same situation? Some time ago, I found myself, my wife, and our two children caught in a stampede of people in Penn Station, New York City. A scary situation that we managed by staying calm. 

Various factors and situations may trigger a human stampede or a fatal crash. Something as innocent as a Black Friday sale has led to crowd crushes in places as simple as a department store.

Ever seen a Walmart video of those things? Riot police firing water cannons or tear gas can cause a crowd to suddenly converge to a compressed point resulting in a human stampede.

Wave of Chaos: What Really Causes a Human Stampede?

A crowd crush or human stampede can happen wherever crowds congregate. The crowd size can be large or small from huge sporting events, concerts, or riots, or smaller venues like nightclubs, churches, subways, or worse—an escalator.

Panic is the primary problem, and many situations can panic a crowd: A fire, an active shooter, flooding, or any other event perceived as a threat. History records thousands of tragedies where people have suffocated, trampled, or buried under bodies as a relentless flow of people moves together without escape.

Caught in the Surge: The Anatomy & Survival of a Human Stampede

When push comes to shove…..pun intended, it is wise to remain calm and have a mental plan in place to survive the moment.

Know Your Exits

Avoiding a human stampede

Look around you and understand your exit points. They are usually clearly marked. Most people try to exit from where they entered. Look for alternatives and understand your options.

Sometimes, a venue is a temporary structure for a sporting event or concert. At those times, exits won’t always have clear markings or identification. Take the time to consider your options for an exit.

Keep Your Arms Up

The best defensive position during a human stampede is with arms folded across your chest. This will give you the opportunity to push out slightly so you can breathe and give you a way to wedge yourself through the crowd. If your arms are hanging down at your side, you may never be able to get them up.

Keep Moving

Go with the flow. Trying to go against the crush could cause you to fall. As you advance with the crowd’s direction, begin to work at an angle toward an exit point you’ve identified.

The best time to make this diagonal move is based on crowd theory. Studies have shown that a crowd typically pushes and pulls, and those lulls in the crush can allow you to make diagonal progress.

Avoid Choke Points Whenever Possible

Chokepoints are locations where a wide area narrows to a doorway, hallway, or other narrow passage. Avoid them and look for a hidden exit around a corner or through a hidden door. If you must, break a window.

You Must Remain Calm

Panic is contagious. Ask people to please move back or back up. Yelling only spreads panic in a human stampede.

Try To Keep To Higher Ground

One of the greatest dangers is falling to the ground. When someone falls, it creates a vacuum that is soon filled. Look for anything that can get you up and away from the crowd. If you drop your wallet or purse, leave it. If you fall, assume a fetal position on your side and protect your head with your arms. Don’t lie on your back or stomach.

In the Throng: A Personal Story From a Survivor of a Human Stampede

Let me say first: Don’t Lose Your Humanity

If someone falls, try to help them up. Remember, women and children come first. The more people help each other; the more others will get the idea and help to resolve the problem rather than make it worse. If you apply these principles and remain calm, you will most likely survive a crowd crush or human stampede.

help during a stampede

I’ve been in one situation with my family where people were crushed. The key was the diagonal movements after I picked up my youngest child.

Pointing elbows out but giving me breathing space. I did not look around. In one case, I had my daughter put her hands on my shoulders, and we moved as one.

We pointed ourselves toward the furthest wall/ free space behind the crowd and walked assertively. I continually said, “Excuse me.” “I am going to throw up” also helps.

Crowds will part to get you behind them if they think they can get closer to going the way they choose. I don’t think I would put my arms up—better chance of getting squeezed.

It was one scary moment.

Very Scary.

Preparedness: Your Lifeline in the Midst of Chaos

In the unpredictable swirl of a human stampede, knowledge becomes your anchor.

It’s not about fearing the crowd but understanding how to navigate it. As you move forward, your first step?

Commit to memory the tactics we’ve shared. Knowledge like this isn’t just to store away; it’s your shield against the unexpected. Remember, with the right mindset; you can transform panic into poise.

So, the next time you find yourself amidst a dense crowd, feel empowered, prepared, and ready. Equip yourself with this wisdom, share it with loved ones, and stand resilient in the face of any rush. Ready to face the crowd with confidence?

Dive in, prepare, and let life’s unpredictability never catch you off-guard again.


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