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Reflecting on Seoul’s Halloween tragedy

We’re reflecting on the weekend news, which has been dominated by reports coming out of Seoul, South Korea and the tragic loss of over 150 lives.

On Saturday night, tens of thousands of young people flocked to the narrow alleys of Itaewon, a neon-lit nightlife district in South Korea’s capital Seoul. They were there to celebrate Halloween, eager to join the first no-mask-required event in Korea after the end of years of pandemic-induced restrictions.

However, at around 10.20pm local time, celebration turned to tragedy, as crowds surged to unsafe numbers in Itaewon’s narrow streets. The tragedy is centred on a narrow, sloped alley, less than four metres wide, situated near the Hamilton Hotel. As crowds surged, people in the alley lost their footing, tripped, fell, or were pushed over, leading to a domino effect which led to others being knocked down, and people piling up on one another, unable to move.

As of today, the 31st of October, the number of dead is reported to be 154 with those injured by the crowd crush numbering 149.

This is the worst incident in South Korea since the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry off the southwestern coast of the country, which left more than 300 dead, most of them high school students on a school trip. Less than a month ago, in Indonesia, another crown crush incident at a soccer stadium killed 133 people, including more than 40 children.

In response to Saturday’s tragedy, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who visited the scene of the incident on Sunday morning, has called for an investigation into the cause of the deadly crush. The response isn’t restricted to South Korea. Across the sea, Japan’s National Police Agency has instructed police departments to work with local governments to control traffic and prevent crowd crushes like the one in Seoul – large Halloween crowds gather annually in Tokyo’s Shibuya district.

Here at we’re interested to understand the impact the Metaverse and Metaverse technologies might have in avoiding or minimising the impact of crowd crush incidents in the future. We define the Metaverse as: “the hyperconvergence of the physical and digital worlds”, that is, the merging of the real world and virtual worlds to the point at which they become indistinguishable from one another. In a world where a fully-realised Metaverse exists, this hyperconvergence will allow people to visualise information in ways that have never been possible.

The Metaverse will allow us to peel away layers of the physical world to any degree they desire. To this end, people will be able to live in a purely physical world, a purely digital world, or anywhere in-between. Imagine the ability to overlay crowd data onto you field of vision, to visualise potentially crowded areas, to, quite literally, see through walls. This will provide you with the information to make informed safety decisions, like a real-time Waze for pedestrians.

This ability will eliminate the risk of crushing events, with crowds self-managing themselves to avoid catastrophic overcrowding situations. Should the unthinkable happen, first responders will benefit from Metaverse technology to rapidly prioritise casualties. They will be able to overlay individual victims vital signs, such as heart and respiratory rates, directly onto their field of vision and reducing the impact of any crowd crush incident.

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Ciaran O'Brien/Unsplash

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