Panic at Oxford Circus Tube Station: What can we learn?

Oxford Circus

On Friday 24th November 2017 there was a terrorist alert at London’s Oxford Circus Tube station just after 4.30pm. Oxford Circus is one of London Underground’s busiest stations as it is located at the junction of Oxford Street and Bond Street. the heart of London’s shopping area. Added to this Friday the 24th November was also what is known as ‘Black Friday’ where many retailers have sales with many items massively reduced in price and would attract even more shoppers than would be expected in the build up to Christmas.

Oxford Circus 1

Oxford Circus Station on a normal day

At the initial stages it was reported there was gunshots heard in the Tube station and the police, rightly, treated it as a terrorist incident where Metropolitan Police armed officers attended the scene. Those in buildings were requested to remain while others in the street were requested to leave the scene immediately. As a result there was a mass panic and as people were leaving the station and the immediate area some were injured in the panic, with the injuries caused by some people pushing others down onto the floor.

As it tuned out, it was not a terrorist incident, it was two men having a fight in the tube station. There is no criticism of the police action, with the reports coming it was right they dealt with it as a terrorist incident as it is easier to scale an operation down rather having to scale on up. With the attacks that have occurred in London in 2017, it is understandable why we will see this type of police response to an incident.

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Two issues are worth considering in relation to this incident. One is the false rumours spread via social media. Social media is not always a reliable source of information, it is better to receive news from traditional news agencies.

The second issues is how to prevent injuries in an evacuation from an area especially where there is a high number of people to be evacuated. This has to be carried out with maximum safety. At the Parson Green Tube incident in September 2017 were a bomb failed to detonate on a train as people were running to leave the station there was another panic where people suffered crush injuries as a result of being pushed to the ground. The advice to  people in the vicinity of a terrorist incident is to ‘Run, Hide, Tell’. In relation ‘Run’ this is where you can do so safely without causing injury to others also evacuating a scene and in more open spaces this is possible. I have a concern where the incident is in confined spaces such as underground train stations, sports arenas, theatres etc. It is time to re-think and consider the advice to give people when caught up in an incident in confined areas. This will require staff at such venues to assist with the evacuation that must be in a calm and efficient manner that allows for the quickest evacuation possible without causing panic or, importantly, injury to others.

It is understandable when we have witnessed terrorist attacks, where amongst many others, like that seen in Nice July 2016, Berlin Christmas market, December 2016, Borough Market, London in June 2017 individuals do want to literally get away as quickly as possible to save their own life. These are literally terrifying events to be in. As well as the authorities and staff at certain venues having a responsibility to keep people safe, so do we all. I suggest measures re put in lace where there is a large volume of people in confined spaces to ensure an evacuation is carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimise any injury.

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I discuss this in more detail in my interview with the BBC (24th November 2017 2hours 33 minutes 2 seconds in) and Sputnik News (27t November 2017).