A tragedy that occurred over Halloween weekend has left South Koreans shaken.
Over 150 people died and 150 were injured on Saturday as an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets of Itaewon to celebrate the holiday, as Ashley Nash reported.
“People crushed under the crowd were crying and I thought I would be crushed to death too, breathing through a hole and crying for help,” a witness tweeted, according to Axios.
On Monday, Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min said that the police are working on investigating the cause of the incident, per Reuters.
“It’s not appropriate to make hasty conclusions before the exact cause is determined — whether it was caused by a lack of police or whether there is something that we should fundamentally change for rallies and gatherings,” he said.
President Yoon Suk-yeol also called for an investigation while opening the door for reform in current safety measures, such as creating a safety planning committee.
What were the safety measures deployed during Halloween in Seoul?
Typically, if a gathering in South Korea is composed of over 1,000 people, a safety plan is required to request resources from police and fire departments.
Take, for example, the Itaewon Global Village Festival, which took place in Seoul earlier this month. More than a million people were expected to attend, according to The Korea Herald. Throughout the festivities, the traffic flow was redirected by those wearing yellow vests.
But since Halloween isn’t an organized event, with no one designated in charge, local restaurants and bars have their own celebrations.
“Just because it’s not named a ‘festival’ doesn’t mean there should be any difference in terms of disaster management,” Paek Seung-joo, a professor of fire and disaster protection at Open Cyber University of Korea, told Reuters.
“As there was no central authority, each government arm just did what they usually do — the fire department prepared for fires and the police prepared for crime. There needs to be a system where a local government takes the reins and cooperates with other authorities to prepare for the worst,” he said.
Could the tragedy have been prevented?
According to Barrons, authorities admitted that the situation could have been tackled in a better way.
“Police officers on the scene didn’t detect a sudden surge in the crowd,” said Hong Ki-hyun, chief of the National Police Agency’s Public Order Management Bureau, per the report.
According to CNN, a regular number of officers were deployed to the event but after facing backlash, this number evolved to about 137 personnel, more than the security present in other years.
“For this time’s Halloween festival, because it was expected that many people would gather in Itaewon, I understand that it was prepared by putting in more police force than other years,” said Oh Seung-jin, director of the violent crime investigation division at the National Police Agency.
Seung-jin explained that there isn’t a separate manual for when an event doesn’t have an organizer.
More preparedness would have also prevented the mass deaths and injuries, as Seung-joo pointed out. One way to gauge how many people will be in attendance is by issuing tickets instead of allowing unrestricted entry.
“On the day, this would mean monitoring the numbers, at the very least,” John Drury, an expert on crowd psychology at the University of Sussex, told Barrons.