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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

New Legislation Needed to Prevent Another Meron Tragedy, Experts Say

Lack of crowd management and poor site planning likely to blame for tragedy.

(The Media Line) New legislation requiring crowd management at mass gatherings could prevent a tragedy similar to the one at Mount Meron from recurring, crowd control experts say.

Some 45 people were killed and an additional 150 injured during a crowd crush at the annual Lag b’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron in northern Israel. More than 100,000 people attended the event, which typically includes bonfire-lighting ceremonies, dancing and prayers.

The event is the worst civilian disaster in Israel’s history and specialists in crowd safety say that it could have been prevented.

Ofer Grinboim Liron, founder and CEO of Crowd Solutions, has decades of experience in security, safety and crowd management at events in Israel and abroad. Based in the coastal town of Hofit, Crowd Solutions works with large-scale events, and will be responsible for crowd control at an upcoming music festival that will take place at Timna Park near Eilat in the fall.

According to Liron, following the Mount Meron disaster one of the main issues that needs to be addressed is the lack of proper national safety legislation.

“To this day there is no legislation regarding the management of mass-gathering events,” Liron told The Media Line. “At the moment we’re relying on police regulation, which is not law.”

What the country needs, he says, is a law that will require crowd management at large-scale events.

Israeli law currently allows for a maximum of 1 person per square meter, or about 10 square feet, at events. Anything more than 4.5 people per square meter is considered to be a safety risk.

Thursday night’s Lag b’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron went way beyond those limits.

“If you were inside the crowd at Mount Meron there were about 7 to 8 people per square meter,” Liron said. “You cannot see what’s happening around you; you just move with the crowd. It’s like a wave in the sea.”

In a crowd this dense, a person can be crushed while standing. Furthermore, if anyone slips – as was the case Thursday night – it can cause a domino effect that leads to a progressive crowd collapse. During such a phenomenon, people who already are pressed so closely to one another fall down one after another and get trampled or suffocate.

Even worse, once this occurs there is little chance of escape.

“It’s very, very dangerous,” Liron stressed. “If you’re already inside this crowd, I’m sorry to say but you just need to pray that nothing will happen. You need to flow with the crowd and take the nearest exit.”

You cannot see what’s happening around you; you just move with the crowd. It’s like a wave in the sea.

Similar tragedies to the one at Mount Meron have happened in Israel before. In 1995, a summer music festival in the desert town of Arad was oversold, causing a huge mass of people to gather at the event’s entrance passages. Three boys were trampled to death in the crush.

Another infamous example of such an event – and one that resulted in a much higher death count – was the Station nightclub fire in 2003 in Rhode Island in the United States. After a fire was sparked from a concert’s pyrotechnics, a mass of people rushed to the exit to escape the flames, resulting in a crowd collapse that claimed the lives of 100 people.

Closer to Israel, the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia has ended in tragedy on several occasions, most recently in 2015 when hundreds and perhaps even thousands – the final count is disputed – pilgrims perished from a crowd crush during the event.

Liron believes that two factors were at play in the Mount Meron disaster.

“Studies from around the world show that crowd crushes, some 90 percent of them, were the result of one of the following: poor site planning and a lack of crowd management. In my view, we’ll reach the same conclusions here,” he said.

Other crowd management experts agree with this assessment.

Guy Kedem, CEO of Guy Kedem, Safety Access Ltd, is a specialist in crowd science, risk analysis and event management. For the past eight years, he has provided crowd management services to InDNegev, an annual music festival that takes place in the Negev Desert.

Kedem is currently analyzing the Mount Meron disaster and will be writing a report about what led to the crush there. He told The Media Line that he was not surprised by what transpired on Thursday night.

“It’s unacceptable that there was no cap placed on the number of attendees,” Kedem said. “Every event in Israel and the world normally has a cap. When you enter an event there’s usually a big sign telling you what the capacity of a given place is.”

To prevent crowd crushes in the future, Israeli authorities must determine in advance what the attendance cap should be, he added. The bigger challenge, however, is to manage the crowd flow during the event itself.

“Someone needs to be put in charge and made responsible” for an event’s safety, he explained. “It has to be a body under a specific government ministry. Afterwards, one event manager with the right experience and training needs to be tasked with running the entire thing and being responsible for safety, security and crowd control.

It’s unacceptable that there was no cap placed on the number of attendees. Every event in Israel and the world normally has a cap. When you enter an event there’s usually a big sign telling you what the capacity of a given place is.

According to Kedem, the main point of failure at the Lag b’Omer ceremony was the exit ramp, which was too narrow for the number of people who were using it at the time. The overwhelming numbers created a dangerous bottleneck.

Kedem also says that a new law should be passed to prevent the same disaster from repeating itself.

“There needs to be a law to regulate the safety of mass-gathering events,” Kedem said. “This law needs to stipulate who is permitted to manage such an event, who must write the safety plan and what kind of training both the event manager and safety manager must undergo.”

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