Duisburg Love Parade Crowd Tragedy 24 July 2010 — written by Prof Ed Galea, 25 July 2010, 14:00

Our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of the 19 people killed in the tragic incident at the Duisburg Love Parade on the 24 July 2010, and our best wishes go to the 340 people who were injured in the incident.

At the time of writing, information concerning the nature of this incident is far too sketchy to draw any firm conclusions.  Hopefully the enquiry will reveal what actually happened and, more importantly, why it happened, so that those charged with the safety of crowds around the world can learn from this tragic incident.

At this point I have two observations I would like to share with you.

(1) What appears to be the situation a few hours after the incident?

Here’s what I know at the moment, based on as yet uncorroborated media reports:

  • The Duisburg Love Parade reportedly attracted a crowd of 1.4 million people — this number has not confirmed by the authorities.
  • The event began at 14:00 and took place in a former railway freight yard.
  • The event has a single entry point, a tunnel located on Karl-Lehr Street. The tunnel is actually a highway underpass. Dimensions of the tunnel are not known, but photographs suggest that it is about 15m wide at the entrance.  Its depth is also unknown; one media report suggested that it was 600m long (Voice of America Online) and another suggested it was 100m long (Guardian).  Photographs I have seen suggest that the tunnel was very long and appears to be made up of several separate underpasses.
  • Photographs appearing in the media also suggest that the crowd outside the mouth of the tunnel and inside the tunnel was enormous.  While it is difficult to get an accurate measurement from the available photographs, they suggest to me that the crowd density was well in excess of 4 people/m2 and may have been in excess of 6 people/m2.  From the photographs there also appears to be no crowd management officials in sight and the random nature of the crowd further suggests that there was little organisation or control in the dispersal of the crowd.  It is not clear when the photographs I have seen were taken, but I assume that they were just before the event or during the event.
  • 19 people were killed in the incident and 340 people were injured.  It is not clear where the fatalities occurred.

I would emphasise again that the information at this stage is sketchy and there are many important details missing.  However, if the little information that is available proves to be correct, I would offer the following observations:

  • A single entry point for an event of this magnitude is not a good idea.  Given the size of the crowds expected, a single entry point was bound to make crowd management more complex and difficult with implications for crowd safety.    
  • I currently have to assume that there was also only a single way out of the event — the entry point.  If this is the case, again it is poor planning for the same reason that a single entry is not a good idea.  I would hope that other emergency exit points were available which the crowd could use in the event of an emergency, but this is currently unknown to me.
  • Another issue with having a single entry/exit point is that it may have to support quite sizeable bi-directional flows as people arrive and leave the event.  If controlled bi-directional flow is planned, this further reduces the effective width of the opening, increasing potential crowd management issues associated with the single entry point.  If the bi-directional flow was not controlled, this could have led to chaotic situations within the tunnel, especially with large flows of people.  From observation of the tunnel layout, I can see no evidence that there was a controlled bi-directional flow environment e.g. barriers in the tunnel to segregate entering and exiting patrons.
  • Having a tunnel, and such a long tunnel, as the only entry/exit point, when large crowds are expected is not a good idea for several reasons.  Perhaps the most significant is that it provides poor visual access to what is happening within the tunnel.  In certain circumstances this will potentially have a negative influence on the behaviour of the crowds as they cannot see what is happening further into the tunnel and so cannot perceive that a problem such as a blockage may have developed within or beyond the tunnel.  Indeed, if one end of the tunnel was closed by crowd management officials, as some reports suggests, it would have been extremely difficult for people within the tunnel, at the other end of the tunnel and approaching the entrance to the tunnel to know this and hence would persist in trying to enter the tunnel or continue moving along the tunnel.  Perhaps more importantly, if the crowd management officials cannot see what is happening within the tunnel, it is more difficult to detect a problem in its early stages, which makes diffusing a minor crowd event and preventing it from developing into a tragic event extremely difficult, if not impossible.  It even makes it difficult for crowd management officials to know with any degree of certainty the number of people within the tunnel.  This is potentially a recipe for disaster.
  • From what I can see in the photographs of the crowds approaching the tunnel from the station end i.e. the entrance, there appears to be no attempt at managing this flow.  It appears that there was no attempt to meter or regulate the flow of people or to channel the flow of people into the entrance.  I assume that the same was happening at the other end of the tunnel i.e. the event end.  From the pictures I have seen, the approach to the tunnel appears to have been a ‘free for all’.  If a small number of people had been expected to utilise the exit e.g. if there had been a smaller crowd or more entrances/exits, it may not have been necessary to provide this type of crowd management at the entry to the tunnel.  However, for an event attracting an audience of 1.4 million with a single entrance/exit, I suggest such measures would have been essential. 

(2) Subtle blaming of the victims.

As soon as news of the incident in Duisburg began to hit the front pages of the world’s newspapers and websites, familiar terms such as “crowd panic” and “crowd stampede” began to be used to describe the tragic incident in Duisburg.   For example:

  • “Stampede at German Love Parade festival kills 19”

BBC online news 25 July 2010

  • Sky News Headline live to air 25 July 2010 11:00

“Police in Germany have begun an investigation into how a stampede at a music festival left 19 people dead and nearly 350 others injured.  Panic broke out at yesterdays Love Parade event at the city of Duisburg where crowds of party goers tried to force their way through a narrow tunnel and were crushed.”

  • “Stampede at German Music Festival Kills 19”

Voice of America News, 25 July 2010

  • “Officials said the deaths and injuries occurred when panic broke out among huge crowds in a roughly 600 meter long tunnel leading towards the day-long open air Love Parade festival in the German city of Duisburg.”
    Voice of America News, 25 July 2010 
  • “A mass panic resulting in a stampede reportedly led to the deaths near a tunnel at the Love Parade electronic music festival in the western German city of Duisburg.”

The Sun 25 July 2010

  • Love Parade stampede in Germany kills at least 18

Los Angeles Times 25 July 2020

  • “10 killed in mass panic at Germany’s Love Parade”

Business Week.

  • “At least 10 people were killed and another 15 injured when mass panic broke out Saturday in a tunnel at an annual celebration of techno music in western Germany.”

Business Week.

This is the typical media response, and of more concern, the typical first response from officials to fatal crowd incidents all around the world.  I don’t intend to discuss here the lack of understanding that the media, the public and officialdom have of words such as ‘panic’ and ‘stampede’.  Rather, I want to discuss the implications that using such phrases have on the public’s understanding of the event. 

While not directly stated, the implication conveyed when these types of phrases are used is that the incident was the fault of the victims, that it was their ‘unreasonable’ behaviour that caused or substantially contributed to the incident and resulted in the tragic loss of life.  Using such phrases is unhelpful, as it immediately diverts attention from other factors that may have contributed to or indeed been the root cause of the tragic event.  There are many other plausible explanations that may have contributed to this and similar tragedies that must be thoroughly investigated rather than go for the easy option of blaming the behaviour of the crowds.  For example, event planners may have designed an environment (both the physical space and the crowd management systems) that was unsafe for the size of crowds that were expected; approval authorities, charged with ensuring event design and crowd management provision is fit for purpose, may have failed to identify potential problems with the proposed event design and crowd management provision; and finally on-ground crowd management officials, charged with the safety of the public may have been unable to safely manage the crowd or may have allowed dangerous conditions to develop. 

It is all too easy to use these phrases when describing tragic crowd incidents, and thereby pass the blame for the incident onto the victims. In my experience of these types of incidents, it is seldom the victims who are the root cause of the incident, but failures during planning, approval and management of the event.

Keep Safe

Prof Ed Galea, 25 July 2010, 14:00

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One Response to Duisburg Love Parade Crowd Tragedy 24 July 2010 — written by Prof Ed Galea, 25 July 2010, 14:00

  1. Fireworks are very dangerous and should never be sold to under 18s.

    Also it should be a crime to misuse fireworks, set them off near other people.

    Kids were firing fireworks into a pub in North London – it was crazy.

    “fault of the victims” is somthing that needs to be changed unless the victims went out of their way to be in the line of fire.

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