How to survive a crowd crush

South Korean officials admitted responsibility and apologized on Tuesday for failures in preventing and responding to a Halloween crowd surge that killed more than 150 people and left citizens shocked and angry.

The government is facing growing public scrutiny over whether the crush Saturday night in Seoul’s Itaewon district, a popular nightlife neighborhood, could have been prevented and who should take responsibility for the country’s worst disaster in years.

National police chief Yoon Hee Keun said an initial investigation found there were many urgent calls from citizens notifying authorities about the potential danger of the crowd gathering in Itaewon. He said police officers who received the calls failed to handle them effectively.

The disaster — which left at least 156 people dead and 151 others injured — was concentrated in a narrow downhill alley in Itaewon. Witnesses described people falling on one another, suffering severe breathing difficulties and falling unconscious. They said rescuers and ambulances failed to reach the crammed alleys in time because the entire Itaewon area was packed with slow-moving vehicles and partygoers clad in Halloween costumes.

What is a crowd crush/surge?

A crowd crush is a situation where a group is packed so closely together that no one can move.

Crushes can happen wherever large crowds gather at planned and unplanned events. 

Examples include sports events, religious meetings, political rallies and large concert and festival crowds. All can turn deadly in a matter of seconds.

Experts say that whenever entering a crowd you should consider the potential for a crush to develop. Ask yourself questions like is the event policed enough or does the crowd have the potential to turn volatile? Do you know how you would exit the crowd?

How to avoid one and survive if you get caught

Experts have issued some tips including the following:

  • Note all exits once you're inside the venue
  • Be aware and monitor crowd density and understand where crowd crush happens
  • Use social media to alert other people if the event is looking overcrowded
  • If you find yourself in a crowd crush, make space around your chest as it protects your ribcage and lungs
  • Do not scream or push - both can cause panic. Stay calm and conserve energy and oxygen. 
  • Try to remain upright and avoid falling
  • Avoid walls or any other barriers
  • Go with the flow of the crowd rather than resisting pressure

The crowd surge is South Korea’s deadliest disaster since a 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304 people and exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. Saturday’s surge has raised public questions about what South Korea has done since then to prevent human-made disasters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.