Thursday, January 12, 2006

Another Haj stampede

It seems to be an almost inevitable part of the ritual of the Haj, despite all the efforts (and they've been considerable) of the Saudi government to prevent it: a stampede that kills large numbers of pilgrims.

I wrote this post back in September on the subject of stampedes. The following words are as relevant today as they were then:

On analysis, it turns out there are three main categories of venues that would appear to favor stampedes: the soccer stadium (or other large sporting event); the crowded nightclub in which a fire breaks out; and the religious pilgrimage. They all share the characteristics of having very large and moving groups of people packed into a restricted space...

The situation, as far as I can determine, is a bit analogous to the elements that go into a tsunami, strangely enough. That is, a huge and extremely powerful force (in the case of crowds, the moving people; in the case of tsunamis, the moving water) is initially spread out horizontally. Then, some sort of blockage impedes that horizontal movement and converts it, at least partially, into a vertical one...

It's no accident, either, that [this] stampede occurred on a bridge. Any sort of bottleneck or narrow passage through which the crowd must funnel itself represents a grave danger, because it potentially impedes that flow of horizontal movement.


As soon as I read the details of the present stampede, I suspected it had occurred on the very Saudi bridge that had been featured in my earlier post, here:

This website...is an example of a firm that specializes in...consulting with groups around the world to prevent similar disasters. For example, they were hired by the Saudis to supervise this year's Haj (in particular, they redesigned a certain bridge over which the crowd needed to pass). They seem to have been successful because, unlike some earlier Hajs, this one apparently went off without a hitch.

Unfortunately, this year was not so lucky. Despite an extensive redesign of the bridge and new rules to expand the hours people can participate (the latter negated by fundamentalist Wahabi clerics, however) 345 people are now tragically dead.

17 Comments:

At 1:32 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

The governments of the ME treat their people as cattle, makes sense, they behave so predictably under the aegis of enlightened Islamic rule.

Inshallah, by God's will. No one can know whether a stampede is started because someone yelled fire and used smoke grenades. No, it's just Inshallah.

Life is cheaper than religion to the Wahabbis. And if no one provides an alternative, then that is how that part of the world will go.

 
At 2:03 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Motor 1560 said...

ymarsakar: If you look a little deeper into some societies, esp. rurally based "peasant cultures" you will find that many of them have a "fatalism" component. In many Hispanic cultures the word "fatalismo" is explicitly used. God's Will or Inshallah is cross cultural, I believe. It is similar to the saying, "s**t happens".

In the case of stampedes, it is the atomized nature of the situation that causes them happen. Each individual reacts then acts according to the portion of the spectrum of flight/fight response in operation.

Exogenous factors can turn an orderly formation of troops into chaos in seconds. It is why so much military training takes the form of conditioned response. Which must first break through the atomistic, individual, responses. Think about close order drill, for example.

Also, think about situations in which we want this type of phenomena to happen. We use the physical environment; terrain for example; to channel response in the direction we want it to take. One of the simplest forms of this is the Hammer and Anvil ambush.

We have to cast our nets a little farther than a single culture in this instance. Folks is folks.

 
At 2:21 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Motor 1560 said...

Neo: Your wave analogy is quite accurate. Waves move over the surface of the ocean regularly. It is only when the deepest part of the wave begins to drag on the bottom that the wave begins to break.

Waves deflected from local breakwaters, jetties and etc. have little energy since they are shallow, oceanic waves have more potential energy and tsunami waves; which may be imperceptible at sea; release enormous energy when they begin to drag.

Watching a predator or pack break toward a prey herd or a crowd of demonstrators in action is an order of magnitude different since more than simple physics is involved and vectors become more probabilistic.

 
At 2:49 PM, January 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Water molecules may act this way, but people should be held to a higher standard than that. I'm pretty sure a critical element in deadly stampedes is some factor that causes people to act on an animalistic level.

I remember going to a "penny arcade" day at the local video arcade, where you paid a $5.00 cover charge and could then play as many games as you wanted for a penny a game (normal prices ranged from a quarter to a dollar per game). Of course, a LOT of people showed up, and the arcade's occupancy limit was reached before I got in. So I ended up standing in a long line outside the door, marked by rails hastily set up by mall security.

One thing I quickly noticed was that the people behind me were amazingly pushy. The guy behind me seemed to be literally trying to climb over me, and eventually started demanding that I "move up" on the people in front of me, whom I was keeping a more polite distance from.

I said to the guy behind me, "Why should I? None of us is going to get in any faster by humping the people in front of us."

"Because these ****ers behind me are crushing me!" the guy yelled back.

I looked back, and saw a long line of people pressed together like sardines in a tin. I started yelling back there, "What the hell you people doing? Pushing isn't going to make the line move any faster!"

The pressure stopped for a momemt, then someone in back started screaming, "WHO SAID THAT? I KILL THE MOTHER ****ER!"

Next thing I knew, some huge guy came running around from the back of the line, screaming at all of us that he was going to kill whoever just dissed him. Naturally, everyone pointed at me, and the guy punched me in the face before mall security arrived to drag us both out of there.

In the end, I got banned from the mall for misbehaving, and the other guy got to stay because it turned out he was the 13-year-old star linebacker for the city's junior high football team.

That night, I heard that there was a stampede at the arcade after I'd left that killed one person and injured six. The linebacker's name wasn't mentioned in the report, but then it probably only would have been mentioned if he'd been injured or killed himself.

 
At 4:38 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

Anonymous 2:49: If you follow the links to my previous article and read it (and the links it contains), you'll find that panic or pushiness of the kind you describe is not usually a big factor in stampedes of this sort (this was discussed in the comments section of the previous stampede thread, also).

Ordiinarily, the people in back keep coming because there's a communication problem: they simply don't know there's a blockage in front.

 
At 5:13 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It's a symptom of the problem.

 
At 10:09 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Harry Mallory said...

Arent these the same guys who's religion compells them to flog themselves?

Just be greatfull that these people are attending this "Haj." There's probably less people being killed in the world by exploding cars.

I know, I know. Im being bad today.

 
At 10:16 PM, January 12, 2006, Blogger Harry Mallory said...

Oh, and one more thing. As long as these guys are trampling themselves to death we can rest assured that at least one asset of this pilgrimage is constructive.

Oooh! Im gonna catch it now!

 
At 8:30 PM, January 13, 2006, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Ordiinarily, the people in back keep coming because there's a communication problem: they simply don't know there's a blockage in front.

Same way a lot of multicar pileups occur. The people at the crash didn't know they were going to have to stop within sufficient amount of time (often because they weren't paying enough attention, mind you, but sometimes simply because there is/was no reason to expect the traffic to be stopping and not moving).

I know I've almost had accidents because someone was slowing down suddenly instead of speeding up, with no visible cause, and it took a moment to realize this.

I often wonder how many theses have been written on standing-wave events on highways.

You know what I mean... traffic on the interstate is moderately dense, so that it is moving at a good pace but very sensitive to the activities of each other -- one driver swerves a bit, and one or more drivers in the lane(s) next to him slows cautiously, which makes the car behind THEM slow... the swervee and his "victim" speed back up, nothing happened... BUT that second car back which slowed now causes another car to slow down... and that car causes another, etc., etc., etc... As all the cars get past that point they immediately speed back up, but the "standing wave" of people slowing down is a ripple event left behind by the original swerving.

1) I'm curious how long such standing waves last on average (probably a function of flow/density-over-time and seriousness, i.e., how much the original cars slowed down relative to normal speed). I suspect it is on the order of many minutes in some cases.

2) I wonder how common they are, and how much they contribute to slower traffic on interstates.

3) I'm curious what, if anything, can be done to lessen them (probably not much beyond increasing the "bandwidth" of the highway).

 
At 5:06 AM, January 14, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

While it's true, as motor said- "folks is folks", and these events can happen in every society, there is a cultural component. An 'Inshallah' culture is more condusive to insensitivity, because, hey, it's all up to Allah in the end, it really doesn't matter what I do...
In cultures such as ours, these events tend to happen under two circumstances- life or death (as in escaping from a fire) when animalistic behavior is to be expected, and events with mainly a youth demographic. I think you see where I'm going with this.
So I have to disagree with Neo- it isn't simply a communication problem, after all, if everyone were considerate, and didn't move forward until the person in front of them moved, there would be no stampede...

 
At 12:15 PM, January 14, 2006, Blogger neo-neocon said...

douglas, try to picture it: everyone in back has no idea there's a problem, and the people directly in front of them (the ones they can actually see) are moving forward. So they do, too.

It's the people further in front, out of sight, who are encountering the stoppage. They are trying to stop--trying to not go forward--but the people in back (the ones who still can't see) are moving forward and exerting an inexorable force on those in front. And the ones in front, who can't move forward any more, have no way to move laterally. That causes the pileup.

 
At 7:51 PM, January 14, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

This motivation to go somewhere, with no understanding of one's personal actions, includes lack of information as well as a lack of understanding necessary to use that information.

Since even if people knew what was going on, they couldn't stop it, since the 255th tier would still be pushing. And if you told the 255th tier what was going on, I don't think they would stop.

The idea that their actions can crush someone a mile away, I don't think that works in a primitive society.

THey obviously know what happened before, on this very bridge. But they probably attribute it to God's will, and don't bother to figure anything out. Which is one reason why a Wahhabist cleric didn't listen to the advice of the contractors, in changing the schedule. This has also happened, as I heard, from US military training Iraqi Colonels. They either mouth off platitudes and tell our US military, that their way is right and ours is wrong. Or they mouth off platitudes that sound like they are agreeing, but then they still keep doing things the old way. Or they listen and use the advice to learn. The third group seems to be very small.

As I picture it, had everyone known what the problem was, I don't think they would have believed it to be true or that their actions were causing. It's either the "other big guy over there" or God, or something else.

 
At 10:24 PM, January 14, 2006, Blogger Temporary said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:11 AM, January 15, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

Neo, picture this, eventually the standing wave backs up, and someone in the back figures if they keep the dogs in front of them moving, the message will move up to the fromt to move, you're in my way. Never mind that it may be impossible to move ahead...y'all are holding me up! Someone in the back is pushing without regard to others or it simply doesn't happen to this extent.

I mean, why are events such as this so rare in polite, queue happy Great Britain?

 
At 1:45 AM, January 16, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

That seems a simple question. Because Britain is full of people that have had their individualism and initiative sucked out of them and placed in the care of the government. Who will never give it back.

It is part of a spectrum. On one hand one has the chaos of the ME and other crazy places. On the other, one has the stagnated Order of Europe.

Absolute Order is the same as Absolute Chaos.

 
At 3:57 PM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

LOL Ymarsakar...

BUT, when tramplings do occur in GB, it is either life or death (i.e. fire), soccer hooligans, or in mainly immigrant crowds.

"Absolute Order is the same as Absolute Chaos. "

Well, not exactly- same result different method... do you want to freeze to death or be burned to death?

 
At 5:54 PM, January 19, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Just more examples of the savage beast that not even government can get rid of in the human condition.

What I mean by Absolute Order is the same as Absolute Chaos, is that the results are the same while the means are different.

The result is still chaos, entropy, as you can see in the crime rate in England, the riots in France, and the suicide bombings.

The means, are different however.

 

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