The Korea Herald


Halloween partygoers plan for safe night out in much more subdued tone

Seoul adopts CCTV cameras that analyze population density, police to implement safety measures in 16 locations

By Park Jun-hee

Published : Oct. 25, 2023 - 15:09

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A police officer stands on the street in Itaewon on Oct. 31, 2022, where the deadly crowd crush occurred. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) A police officer stands on the street in Itaewon on Oct. 31, 2022, where the deadly crowd crush occurred. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

It’s that time of the year again for a 25-year-old officer worker surnamed Na to revel in the whimsical joy of Halloween traditions like dressing up and getting together with friends.

She plans to go to Itaewon during the weekend to grab a drink and later stay the night with her friend at an accommodation facility in the area -- hoping there won’t be a repeat of the Itaewon crowd crush that took the lives of 159 people on Oct. 29 last year.

Although a somber atmosphere lingers in parts of Seoul as the deadly accident marks its first anniversary this weekend, Na doesn’t feel the need to suppress her enthusiasm for celebrating Halloween this year.

“I’m filled with sorrow about what happened last year,” she told The Korea Herald, recalling how well over a hundred people were killed and injured after crowds were packed into a narrow, sloping alley to celebrate the first post-pandemic Halloween.

Referring to Halloween as a “night for a treat,” not a tragedy, she said the Itaewon disaster shouldn’t restrain people from “having the right to have fun.” However, many are deciding to forego the festivities to honor the victims.

“Some think hitting the streets is inappropriate, as they feel uncomfortable and haven’t fully recovered (from the Itaewon tragedy),” Na said. She emphasized that those who do go out will be on high alert for their safety.

A 22-year-old university student surnamed Chang, along with her group of friends, are also heading to a pub in Hongdae -- a crowded area and famed party district -- in Mapo-gu, western Seoul, for a night out on Saturday.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Chang, as she feared people would perceive her as inconsiderate.

“We have to move on and think about how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again,” she said.

“I heard from news reports that many people are going to (Hongdae) this year. My friends and I will follow the usual safety precautions, avoid large groups or crowded situations, and -- most importantly -- not get overly drunk.”

Safety measures upgrade

While the Itaewon tragedy prompted a second look at crowd control management and security preparations in areas that attract large numbers of visitors, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said earlier this month it would implement a people-counting system that automatically detects population density through closed-circuit television and notifies authorities of danger signs.

A software that analyzes population density in real time will be connected to CCTV systems. When a large crowd is detected, it will notify emergency rooms in each district office, the city government, the fire department and the police. The system goes into effect on Friday, on the eve of the Halloween weekend.

In addition, the city government has designated 14 areas in Seoul that are expected to have large crowds this Halloween: Itaewon, Yongsan-gu; Ikseon-dong, Jongno-gu, the Seongsu-dong Cafe Street in Seongdong-gu; streets near Wangsimni Station, a subway station that serves Line Nos. 2 and 5, Gyeongui–Jungang Line and the Suin-Bundang Line; Konkuk University Station in eastern Seoul; Sinchon, a university district in Seodaemun-gu; the Hongdae Red Road area in western Seoul; Balsan Station in Gangseo-gu; the food street in Mullae-dong; Sharosugil, located at the foot of Gwanak-gu; Sillim Station; Gangnam Station; Nonhyeon Station and Apgujeong Rodeo Street in southern Seoul.

Safety personnel will be dispatched to these areas, and emergency medical support will be found at the site, according to the city government. It will also operate trains flexibly if needed.

On Monday, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said it would implement safety measures from Friday to Tuesday in 16 locations, including the special tourist zones of Itaewon and Hongdae, the shopping district of Myeong-dong, as well as the nightlife hubs around Gangnam Station and Konkuk Station.

In addition, 1,260 personnel from 12 police stations and 10 police squads will be deployed to the areas on Friday and Saturday to streamline high-density alleyways when the largest crowds are expected, while 620 personnel from police stations will be deployed to highly populated areas on Sunday and Monday. Only 83 police officers were deployed for crowd management in Itaewon last year.

The police also plan to place five vehicles with lighting and broadcast functions if crowds need to be broken up, and use police lines to help guide people.

Amid concerns that people could opt for other neighborhoods than Itaewon this year, the Mapo district will conduct special safety management in the Hongdae area from Friday to Wednesday to prevent possible accidents and overcrowding by deploying 2,850 personnel, including 600 officials from the district, 1,750 police officers, 300 firefighters and some 200 civilian workforce.

Seoul Mapo Police Station will also beef up efforts for crowd management and safety starting Friday until Tuesday, as some 40,000 to 70,000 visitors are expected to celebrate Halloween in the Hongdae vicinity.

In addition, the district police will also direct pedestrian traffic at Exit Nos. 8 and 9 of Hongik University Station and narrow alleys. Also, it plans to operate an emergency communication network with the district office, fire authorities and the subway operator to take action in case of accidents, as well as run an AI crowd analysis system to carefully monitor crowd flow.

Yongsan district will install an intelligent crowd detection system that can analyze videos in six locations vulnerable to large crowds, including Itaewon’s World Food Culture Street, the Hannam-dong Cafe Street and Yongridangil near Yongsan Station. The live footage will be simultaneously displayed on the monitoring screen of each district office’s and Seoul City’s disaster situation room.

From Friday to Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior and Safety will also dispatch director-level situation managers to four areas that are expected to see large hordes of people -- Itaewon, Hongdae and Myeongdong in Seoul; and Dongseong-ro in Daegu.

The Interior Ministry will also inspect Itaewon and Hongdae more closely on Thursday and Friday to take preemptive measures against crowd-crush-related incidents.