The South Korean police chief said on Tuesday law enforcement had received numerous reports of impending danger ahead of Sunday’s deadly stampede in Seoul.
The police knew “that a large crowd had gathered even before the accident, reporting the danger urgently”, estimated the national police chief Yoon Hee-keun, judging “insufficient” the way in which this information was processed. .
At least 156 dead
At least 156 people, mostly young people, were killed and dozens injured in a crowd Saturday night during the first Halloween party since the pandemic in Seoul’s popular Itaewon neighborhood.
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Around 100,000 people were expected, but due to the unofficial nature of the event, neither police nor local authorities actively managed the crowds.
Police said they had deployed 137 officers to Itaewon for Halloween, while 6,500 police officers were mobilized for another protest in the South Korean capital in which only 25,000 people attended, according to local media.
A crowd management system
South Korean security forces are masters of crowd control in a country where numerous and frequent demonstrations are often overseen by more officers than the attendees. But in the case of Halloween parties in Itaewon, there was no designated organizer. Revelers flocked to the neighborhood to attend various events in bars, clubs and restaurants.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Tuesday that his country urgently needs to improve its handling of large crowds after the disaster. “The safety of the people is important,” he said, “regardless of whether or not there is an organizer at an event,” he said at a government meeting. He called on the country to acquire “advanced digital skills” to improve crowd management. But observers said these tools already exist and have not been used in Itaewon.
Disaster could have been avoided
Seoul City Hall has a real-time crowd monitoring system that uses cellphone data to predict the size of attendance at an event, but it was not used on Saturday night, according to local media.
Itaewon district authorities also did not deploy security patrols, with officials saying the Halloween event was considered a “phenomenon” rather than a “festival,” which would have required an official crowd control plan. That night, tens of thousands of people rushed into a narrow alley.
Eyewitnesses described how, in the absence of police or crowd control, bewildered revelers pushed and pushed, crushing people stranded in the alley. According to analysts, this situation could have been easily avoided, even with a small number of police officers. “Good and safe crowd management is not a matter of proportion, but of crowd strategy – for safe capacity, flow and density” of the crowd, said G. Keith Still, professor of crowd sciences at the University of Suffolk. .
According to South Korean expert Lee Young-ju, if the local police knew they were going to be understaffed, they could have asked local authorities for help, or even residents or shop owners. “It’s not just the numbers,” the professor from Seoul University’s fire and disaster department told AFP. “The question is how they coped with this limited number (of police officers) and what kind of steps they took to compensate” for the lack of staff, he estimated.