A stampede during Cambodia’s annual Water Festival has left an estimated 350 people dead late last month. It is still unclear precisely what incident led to the crush; however, CNN reported that the military began using water cannons on thousands of people walking on an overcrowded bridge. There is further speculation that faulty wiring caused a number of people to suffer an electric shock, which sparked a mass panic and the ensuing crush.
In the past five months, #*IT Happens has covered the issue of crowd crush four times. As incident after incident leads to further loss of life, it is becoming clear that there are still lessons to be learned.
Factors Leading to the Crush
In June, we looked at the FIST Model of crowd crush – Force, Information, Space, Time – and how it could be used to analyse why a crush occurred. Applying the model to the Cambodian disaster may prove helpful in understand some key factors leading to the incident.
More important, it may also be used as a case study to prevent further future incidents.
- Dynamic crowd movements and excessive crowd densities can create dangerous forces upon the human body.
Thousands of people were crossing the overcrowded bridge in one direction, when others attempted to cross the bridge in the opposite direction.
- If the crowd is not provided with accurate and timely information about the perceived risk, crowd crush is more likely.
A CNN source said the panic of the crowd set in when police began firing a water cannon onto the people on the bridge. It is possible that the crush began because the crowd were simply confused, and panicked.
- The amount of physical space in a venue or section of a venue will play a huge part in whether a crush occurs. Factors may include: venue capacity, configuration, traffic flow and maximum occupancies.
The Economist online has said “The water festival, which sees a city of around 1.2m swell to more than double its normal size, has ever been a disaster waiting to happen.”
It continued: “Every year the entire centre of Phnom Penh is snarled with hundreds of thousands of rural visitors, many of whom sleep in temples, schools and sidewalks during the period of the festival. “
Clearly, Phnom Penh does not have the physical space or infrastructure (including the bridge) to accommodate such a large crowd safely.
- The amount of time exposed to excessive crowd densities will impact on the severity of a crush. A venue can attempt to reduce the periods of intense crowd densities in any one section by staggering post-event entertainment. In addition, staggering public transport arrival times and corralling people through pedestrian barriers will help to slow the flow.
In this instance, one person caught in the panic said “I was stuck in the middle of the bridge among nearly 1,000 people for about two hours.” It is clear that it was the prolonged exposure to excessive crowds that contributed to the crush occurring.