On the morning of July 24, 2010, there was no indication of the impending disaster in the city of Duisburg, Germany. It was a sunny morning when the Love Parade electronic dance music kicked off. Just a few hours later, there were 21 dead and more than 500 wounded. The fatalities, aged 18-38, were suffocated or trampled to death when the parade passed through a narrow tunnel, where the only exit was blocked by a crowd and thousands continued to pour in from the entrance.
This is not an isolated case, unfortunately. Ninety-six people were killed in the 1996 Hillsborough Disaster, more than 2,000 worshippers were crushed to death in Mecca in 2015, and dozens of people were killed at the funerals of Stalin and Qassem Suleimani. History is rife with disasters in which hundreds, sometimes thousands of people were killed in similar stampedes and crushes.
In the past, these events were typically attributed to human behavior in escape and stressful situations. Today, however, it is clear that suitable planning and preparation for events prevent these situations or significantly minimize injuries, says Tamir Velner, Head of the Emergency and Disaster Management Department at Sdema Group. Velner, who holds a master’s in Emergency and Disaster Management from the Tel Aviv University School of Medicine, highlights a number of conditions that should occur at mega-events like the celebrations at Mount Meron. These conditions would likely have saved the lives of the 45 victims, or at least significantly reduced the casualties:
- Appointment of an Event Director: A mega-event should have a single director rather than multiple organizers responsible for different parts of the event. The latter situation creates gaps between areas of responsibility, allowing important issues to fall between the cracks. Appointing the director and defining their specific duties is mandatory, and they must be fully responsible for the event from A to Z. The director should lead the event planning, approve plans, coordinate between functionaries and organizations, and most importantly, oversee and manage the event in real-time.
- Event Planning: The planning phase should begin well in advance and include a number of key milestones: a kick-off discussion, on-site coordination meetings, on-site tour, creation of an event-plan, and senior-level approval of plans. A crucial step is learning from past experience, both from the event in question and from other events of similar characteristics and scale. Reports by the State Comptroller of near-misses at Mount Meron in previous years, as well as the 1995 Arad Festival disaster, should have been studied and learned from.
- General Rehearsal: As part of the planning and execution of the event, emphasis should be placed on the general rehearsal, during which the key elements of planning for the actual event will come together.
- Director Location: The event director must be positioned in critical locations during each and every stage of the event. For example, during the initial entry to the compound, the director should be stationed in the public entrance area; during the lighting of the bonfires, they should be in the bonfire area; when the general public disperses, the director should position themself along the departure routes, and so on. Under the event director, assistant directors or managers should be assigned responsibilities for everything that happens in the compound (i.e., parking lot, public entrance area, bonfire area, etc.)
- Planning the Complex (Sufficient Exits Per Number of Attendees): There is no need to “reinvent the wheel”; it is sufficient to use the standard defined by the Standards Institute of Israel, which designates that an event of up to 1080 people should have three exits. If 3000 people attended the lighting of the Toldot Aharon Yeshiva’s bonfire, where the tragedy occurred, five or six exits should have been arranged. (There is a question of whether the bonfire complex is considered an enclosed space or an open space, with fewer exits needed for open areas.) All exits must be at least 2.2 meters (7.2 feet) wide, well lit, and clearly marked. In other words, if the required number of exits at Mount Meron had been available instead of a single narrow and deadly tunnel, human lives would undoubtedly have been saved.
- Walking Surface: It is critical that the floor be a surface suitable to be walked on by hundreds and thousands of people, with a coefficient of friction high enough to prevent slipping and falling. According to reports, the walkway at Mount Meron was smooth, leading some people to slip and set off the disastrous chain reaction that resulted in a crowded rush down the tunnel.
- Scenarios and Responses: As part of the event planning stage, the event director and assistant directors should formulate a plan with specific responses to various scenarios. Formulating a plan and preparing for these scenarios improves reaction and response to actual incidents during the event. Velner emphasizes that there will always be disparities between execution and design; the goal of thorough, professional planning is to minimize unplanned incidents and their effects in real time.
The field of emergency and disaster management is relatively new both in academia and among public and private institutions. The field has gained particular importance over the past year, during which the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic forced many organizations to regroup. Many organizations today have determined that managing emergencies and disasters requires specialized learning and are equipping teams to preserve organizational resilience and functional continuity in the event of an emergency or disaster situation.