Mitigate stampede risk during MRT breakdowns

Current discussions on the frequent MRT breakdowns have focused largely on mitigating measures, such as having more connecting parallel bus services during disruptions, swifter service recovery and engineering initiatives to prevent the disruptions from happening in the first place.

However, there needs to also be a focus on mitigating stampede risks in the stations, especially during large-scale disruptions that occur during peak service hours.

Stampedes usually occur when large crowd movements are disrupted, and the situation gets worse when crowd anxiety rises.

Thus, the authorities and rail operators need to invest in equipment to manage the crowds without raising crowd anxiety.

Bigger, brighter signs, with clear instructions, must point the crowds towards the correct exits, to minimise having commuters stop in the middle of a moving crowd to figure out directions.

Station operators and service staff should also be armed with portable public address devices, in addition to traffic batons, and be trained to issue instructions appropriately without raising anxiety.

Public announcements to communicate situational updates at regular intervals are also essential in raising awareness among commuters, thus reducing anxiety levels.

In addition, plans to rope in shop tenants as additional pairs of eyes to look out for adverse crowd behaviour in various locations in stations and at bus stops would also be useful in reducing crowd risks ("Rail failures: Kampung spirit can help"; Oct 25).

During a stampede at a New Year's Eve party in Shanghai last year, nearly 40 people were killed. This can happen to us as well, should crowd anxiety get out of control during a disruption.

Appropriate measures to mitigate crowd risks in contingency plans are essential to prevent such a tragedy from happening during MRT breakdowns.

Ang Kheng Wee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Mitigate stampede risk during MRT breakdowns'. Print Edition | Subscribe