SEOUL: South Korea’s police chief said on Tuesday that officers received several urgent reports of danger ahead of a fatal crush of a crowd at a Halloween event, but their handling was “insufficient”.
At least 156 people, mostly young people, were killed and dozens more injured in a murderous mob on Saturday night at the first post-pandemic Halloween party in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon in Seoul.
Around 100,000 people had flocked to the area, but since it was not an “official” event with a designated organizer, neither the police nor local authorities were actively managing the crowds.
“There were multiple reports to the police indicating the severity of the site just before the accident happened,” National Police Chief Yoon Hee-keun said.
Police were aware that “a large crowd had gathered even before the accident happened, urgently indicating the danger,” he said, acknowledging that the way this information was handled had been “insufficient”.
South Korea is generally strong on crowd control, with protest rallies often so tightly controlled that officers can outnumber attendees.
But in the case of Itaewon’s Halloween festivities, there was no designated event organizer, with people flocking to the area to attend events hosted by individual bars, clubs and restaurants.
Police said they deployed 137 officers to Itaewon for Halloween – but 6,500 officers were present at a protest across the city attended by only around 25,000 people, according to local reports.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Tuesday that the country urgently needed to improve its system for dealing with large crowds in the wake of the disaster.
“People’s safety is important, whether or not there is an event organiser,” he told a cabinet meeting.
He called on the country to develop “advanced digital capabilities” to improve crowd management, but critics say such tools already exist and have not been deployed in Itaewon.
Seoul City Hall has a real-time crowd monitoring system that uses cellphone data to predict crowd sizes, but it was not used on Saturday night, local media reported.
Itaewon district authorities also failed to deploy security patrols, with officials saying the Halloween event was seen as ‘a phenomenon’ rather than ‘a festival’, which would have required an official plan. crowd control.
Overnight, tens of thousands of people thronged a narrow alley, with eyewitnesses describing how, with no police or crowd control in sight, confused revelers pushed and shoved, crushing those trapped in the lane.
Analysts say this was easily avoidable, even with just a small number of police.
“Good, safe crowd management is not about ratios, it’s about crowd strategy – for safe crowd capacity, flow and density,” said G. Keith Still, professor of crowd science at the university. University of Suffolk.
South Korean expert Lee Young-ju said if local police had known they would be understaffed, they might have asked for help from local authorities or even residents or shopkeepers.
“It’s not just numbers,” said Lee, a professor in the University’s Department of Fires and Disasters. Seoul Universitytold AFP.
“The question is how did they manage the limited number (of police officers) and what kind of measures did they take to compensate for that.”

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