Another stampede at a religious function in India (at Patna, Bihar state) has killed 33 people, mostly children and women. Religious places have remained notorious for stampedes in which simple faithful coming with piety and love for their deity have been crushed under human weight. There have been three reasons that have been the major causes of stampedes in religious places:
Structural damage - often a bridge or a stage collapses, following which people rush in concentrated directions, to save themselves. As this rush gets worse, stampede begins.
Lack of Security cover - when there are minor skirmishes that suddenly turn into major brawls, people begin to rush for cover.
Rumours arising from real / perceived / wrongly understood threats lead to excess reaction among people - The rumors may arise from events like a power failure, a sound that resembles to be like a bomb, information that some particular routes are blocked etc.
Both public and the media are making lot of noise on the Patna stampede issue. But, can someone do really something to prevent a disaster like this when such disasters happen even in a open maidan (large open ground) like the Gandhi Maidan in Patna where the disastrous event took place? Let us look at preventing stampedes from the other side around: What can stop or minimize stampedes?
ü Availability of space! Space is the key to avoid stampedes. But in a highly charged religious and political gatherings in a densely populated country like India, it is going to be an idea--only to aim at. So, spaces have to be created. The easiest logic for planning could be 3:1, where 3 is the area maximum used, and 1 being the additional space available. Thus, in case of a stampede when 20 - 30 % of the spaces become unusable, the additional space functions as the buffer to avoid or to minimize the damage caused by boisterous crowds. Planning for extra space is essential.
ü Structural Testing. Structures must be tested against pressures year after year. New structures must be put to pressure tests.
ü Educate people not to lose their cool! It is often in panic that people do such stupid things that they face Death head on. The reason why often people jump off buildings, (and die eventually) although there is help at hand is due to non-application of mind during emergencies. Presence of mind can help save many lives. Rumors and excess reaction can be avoided with education on the nature of hazard and presence of mind.