Australia has closed off 2022 with huge festivities to celebrate the new year. Millions of people gathered at beaches, riverbanks, and harbors to enjoy the multi-million-dollar firework displays. Sydney and Melbourne had crowd incidents in the hour before the fireworks shows started. In cases like these, it is important to find out whether there are lessons to be learnt to prevent worse in the future.
The city of Sydney dealt with the biggest New Year’s Eve crowd ever, according to authorities, with an expected crowd of more than a million. On December 31st, the city was declared full by 7PM which usually does not happen until 11PM. Just before midnight, a crowd crush emerged when a group of people pushed through an open security gate to enter the ticketed area at The Rocks. This crowd seemed eager to get a better viewpoint of the fireworks inside the ticketed area. Secondly, there were multiple reports of a public transport hub being spilled over with travelers.
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Around half a million people assembled in the central business district in Melbourne to watch the fireworks for New Years. A crowd heading towards the fireworks displays was redirected from Flinders Street to a pedestrian underpass on Elizabeth Street. Between 11PM and midnight, attendees were wedged together in the pedestrian tunnel and unable to move in any direction. People took to social media to express their concerns about the “terrifying” experience, and many referred to it as a near miss.
Seoul in mind
Attendees in both cases felt particularly panicked as the situation reminded them of the incident in Seoul, where 196 people were killed in a crowd crush on Halloween just two months prior. Different comments speak of a “foreseeable” situation, since it was the first post-COVID celebrations.
Evaluate and learn
Incidents like these in Melbourne and Sydney highlight the importance to learn lessons from such incidents and near misses to prevent future events that could potentially have a more serious outcome.
Which improvements are necessary for the crowd management plan? Is there a need for more staff or for better training and education of key staff? Should there me more awareness amongst revelers who go out to such events about their personal safety? What to do when more people show up than the site has capacity to handle?
Questions like these could very well be put central in the evaluations of both cases. Evaluations should help organizers, authorities and advising agencies to get a better understanding of these safety concerns and prevent them for happening in the future. When causes and circumstances become clearer, the right solutions will probably be much clearer too. The city council of Melbourne has already announced an evaluation will take place. Hopefully, the lessons will be shared, to learn, prevent and react better in the future.