Eddie Vedder Solution to the Artificially Generated Stampede

come back

Me and my frostitute (she has a thing for cupcakes) are heading to the Pearl Jam concert at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It’s the fall tour opener that falls on October 1, 2014.  My name is Eric Saferstein and I live in Wheeling, West Virginia

I am issuing an open challenge to lead singer Eddie Vedder.

 

I urge you to share with your fans this common sense, public safety information…

legitimate venue emergency evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via your personal cell phone

Any competent incident commander would agree with that statement.  When an evacuation is deemed absolutely necessary, standard procedure dictates you inform everyone all at once with a clear, unified directive.  Cell phones are capable of transmitting and receiving false information.  You do not send out a gazillion text alerts.  You communicate using the public address system possibly in tandem with video screens.

Most people have never given these circumstances any serious consideration.  They’re left perilously in the dark.  Fans have a right to this heightened level of situational awareness – the right to know it would be a hoax.  This is far more than a matter of public safety.  It’s a hypothetical issue in the realm of asymmetric national security, the consequences of which could redefine humanity.  The artificially generated stampede (or worst case scenario dominipede) just hasn’t happened.  Yet.

Why Cincinnati?

In 1979, a human stampede before a Who concert at Riverfront Coliseum claimed the lives of 11 people.

Teva Ladd, 27
Walter Adams, Jr., 22
James Warmoth, 21
Phillip Snyder, 20
David Heck, 19
Stephan Preston, 19
Peter Bowes, 18
Connie Burns, 18
Bryan Wagner, 17
Karen Morrison, 15
Jacqueline Eckerle, 15

I don’t have to remind band members of the Roskilde, Denmark tragedy in the summer of 2000.  Nine fans lost their lives.

I’m calling on Eddie Vedder to exercise his First Amendment rights.  This issue is being purposely ignored by political leadership, sports institutions (NFL, NCAA, MLB, etc.), venue management and the U.S. government as a whole.  There are two major reasons why people won’t touch it — plausible deniability and foreseeable litigation.  These are powerful motivators for concealing information.  Political activism and the truth go hand in hand.  From what I can tell, Vedder has a penchant for speaking the truth and an insatiable thirst for social justice.  He seems like the perfect candidate.

Our planet is not a static environment.  It’s often defined by “black swan” events which result in substantive change.  One of those moments occurred in 1913 — The Italian Fire Hall Disaster in Calumet, Michigan.  Seventy three individuals (mostly children) perished in a tragic stampede.  An accurate list of their names does not exist.

7057_lOne hundred years later, the time has come to divulge the technological, modern  equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  At some future point, there will be a concerted effort to weaponize a stampede.  Here’s the sequence we must prevent.  Mass transmissions are delivered with an electronically deafening silence.  Then.. you see the panicked reaction.  Then… you witness the aggressive movement toward the exits.  Then… you hear the gasping screams of chaos as it becomes impossible to just breathe.  People are either crush asphyxiated or they fall down and get trampled.  There’s nothing to save you.

The melodramatic scenario I’ve described is not a matter of if.  It’s a matter of when.  There’s a discernible inevitability in play.  Stampedes are a global phenomenon.  And the same evolutionarily ingrained herding instincts that existed a century ago are still alive and well.

Pearl Jam occasionally encores with a cover song by The Who.  Baba O’Reilly serves as a poetic microcosm for the artificially generated stampede.  Many people incorrectly know this song as “Teenage Wasteland.”  In a way, it mirrors the same misdirection and confusion that could result if a large, confined crowd succumbed to a VIRAL BLITZKRIEG — the cellular release and saturation of hoax evacuation orders and/or panic-inducing information designed to impact a specific location(s).

Who guitarist Pete Townsend – “This whole notion of teenage wasteland, it’s not about getting wasted, it’s about life wasted.  I take full responsibility for the fact that my generation complained about the state of the world, and did absolutely nothing to change it”.

I would humbly ask Eddie Vedder to reflect on that message.  In a single moment in time, Vedder has the ability to change the world.  He can ignite this conversation by simply sharing the truth.  Perhaps he could broach the subject by calling for a moment of silence, honoring those crushed to death 35 years ago in the exact same building.  Ironic that he could make the case in a venue named after a bank.  Because in a hyper-capitalistic country where money is considered the ultimate solution to almost every conceivable problem, this is one where $$$ has no bearing whatsoever.

Eddie Vedder could follow in the footsteps of a legendary television entertainer.  One with a different style and charisma.  Similar dedication and resolve but a completely different agenda.

Bob Barker, the iconic host of The Price is Right, would close every episode with a compassionate plea.  Help control the pet population.  Have your pets spayed or neutered.  This had absolutely nothing to do with the game show.  Barker realized the moral imperative for preventing the needless suffering of helpless animals.  And he decided to do something about it.  Those two sentences spawned a narrative that improved the course of history.

I would implore Eddie Vedder to seize this moment and alter our collective destiny.  He has the recognition, stature and worldwide credentials.  Somebody, someplace, somewhere, sometime needs to step up and confront this issue.  Preferably BEFORE there’s a disaster.  This requires being PROACTIVE, not reactive.  I’m doing all I can.  But I just need a little assistance.

Mr. Vedder, I am faithful you will help me.

On October 1, 2014, let’s change the world.  Tell them about the potential for artificially generated stampedes.  Just tell them the truth.  Isn’t that what rock’n’roll is all about?

Carpe diem.

 

Roger Goodell, Ray Rice and the Artficially Generated Stampede

goodell1In February of 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice physically assaulted his then fiance in an Atlantic City, NJ casino elevator.  He knocked her completely unconscious with a single blow to the head.  The NFL “investigated” the matter and Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a 2-game suspension after Rice entered into a pretrial domestic violence intervention program that would lead to the dismissal of a third-degree aggravated assault charge.

A video of the actual attack, released by celebrity website TMZ, surfaced on September 8, 2014.  After the public outrage, Goodell came under intense fire for his “slap on the wrist” punishment.  Goodell would later concede, “I didn’t get it right.  Simply put, we have to do better.  And we will.”

Ravens ownership expressed similar sentiment.  “Seeing that video changed everything.  We should have seen it earlier.  We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously.  We didn’t and we were wrong.”

But people wanted to know more.  They wanted to know if Goodell, or anyone affiliated with the NFL had seen the “knockout” video.  Furthermore, they wanted to know why the NFL never tried to get their hands on it.  Keep in mind that Goodell was quick to acknowledge the existence of such a tape.  Wouldn’t logic and mere curiosity dictate a more thorough investigation?

With all their Department of Homeland Security connections… with all their security consultants and former Secret Service/FBI employees… with all their reach and influence… are we really to believe that the NFL could not have secured the videotape?  Or is it more likely they didn’t WANT to view it?

Common sense is a hot commodity these days.  This seems like a case of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

I think it’s fairly obvious that the NFL front office was facing a lose-lose proposition.  The interests of league officials would be better served if everyone remained in the dark.  Hence, they chose to avoid the most damning video evidence.  At the very least, there was a concerted attempt to limit the case’s exposure and ignore the wider social impact of domestic violence.  However, Goodell and the NFL brass are quickly discovering a harsh reality.  In the current age of Orwellian technology (video surveillance, location and data tracking, electronic storage, voicemails, etc.), maintaining an aura of plausible deniability is becoming more and more difficult.

As commissioner, Goodell’s main function is to “protect the shield.”  It’s a term he often uses — a subliminal reference to the NFL logo and integrity of the league.  Regrettably, there’s an asymmetric national security issue that few in the NFL are willing to acknowledge.  It’s a matter of common sense and public safety.  But this one involves a traumatic blow to the psyche of an entire nation… as well as mankind.

I sense some very dangerous parallels with the handling of the Ray Rice incident and the prospect of artificially generated stampedes in NFL stadiums.  I’ve noticed a broad consensus when it comes to “discussing the undiscussable.”  All of my research indicates a collective, unspoken arrangement to steer clear of talking about extremely negative outcomes.  Why you ask?  Two words — plausible deniability.

Simply stated, there are 50,000+ active cell phones in any NFL stadium.  These mobile devices are capable of transmitting and receiving panic-inducing information and phony evacuation orders in an infinite number of ways.  If things take a turn for the worse, it could result in a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous human stampedes).  These aren’t the concerns of anti-terrorism experts or criminal conspirators.  They’re the concerns of an astute 4th grader.

What really worries me here is the NFL’s proven track record, especially when you reflect on the concussion issue.  The league is still reeling from a near billion dollar settlement in the concussion class action lawsuit.  In this case, generating revenue appeared to take precedence over player health and safety concerns.  After decades, the truth about traumatic brain injuries finally came out.  When stalling became an indefensible strategy and denying the problem became a joke in and of itself, the NFL had no other choice but to address the matter.  But they didn’t do it willingly.  They were dragged kicking and screaming by a formidable army of lawyers, players and physicians.

Roger Goodell has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller (2001-2013) to launch an investigation into the NFL’s handling of its own investigation.  Even though Mueller is familiar with the concept of simultaneous disasters (planes crashing into buildings), I’m not sure he’s the best candidate for the job.  In 2012, I took my concerns about artificially generated stampedes to the FBI.  I never heard back from them.

With an artificially generated stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede, you’re not afforded the opportunity to do better or get it right.  There is no second chance.  And there’s no time to consult with your attorneys.  In fact, there’s no time at all.  My chief concern has never been the existence of a single video.  It’s the future existence of thousands of videos.

 

Lizard Squad vs. AA Flight #362 Analysis

American_Airlines_flight_heading_to_San__1943660000_7541075_ver1.0_640_480

On August 24, 2014, American Airlines flight #362 (Dallas > San Diego) was diverted to Phoenix for an emergency landing.

 

Lizard Squad tweet4.jpgThis twitter threat allegedly came from an individual (or group) known as Lizard Squad.
Earlier that day, Lizard Squad claimed responsibility for DDOS attacks on several online gaming systems.  Among them was the Sony Playstation network.  Although the attacks were widely reported as “hacks,” they’re more accurately termed as “distributed denials-of-service.”  Picture how a pizza shop’s business might be impacted if it was bombarded with thousands of fake phone-in delivery orders.

John Smedley, the President of Sony Online Entertainment, was on board flight #362.  He made three separate entries on his personal twitter account.

Awesome.  Flight diverted to Phoenix for security reasons.
I hate American Airlines
Something about security and our cargo.  Sitting on Tarmac.

Lizard Squad carried on, posting a picture of an airline ticket from the flight, a video of 9/11 footage and veiled threats regarding ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq & Syria).

At some point, Smedley became aware that his presence on the plane was directly related to its emergency landing.

Yes. My plane was diverted.  Not going to discuss more than that.  Justice will find these guys.

After the plane was cleared to resume its journey, Smedley’s tweets continued…

I wish the national media would stop letting these DDOS trolls occasional use of the ISIS crap be taken seriously.  Seeing news accounts

that make it sound like that’s serious.  Media please don’t get trolled.  those Isis guys are pure evil and shouldn’t be conflated with trolls.

Finally, when he realized the likelihood of this story being picked up by the national media, there was a meager attempt at damage control.

btw when I was bitching about American yesterday it was simply because I’m tired of paying $25 a bag and $10 for food after the ticket.

One quick note — the mainstream media often refers to any technology mishap as a “hacking” incident.  These characterizations frequently imply a greater level of technological sophistication than is warranted.

Here’s some major takeaway points from the Lizard Squad incident:

  • It’s glaring evidence of how someone can become ensnared and potentially contribute to a real-world crisis.  Just how easy is it to coerce the unwitting participation of an average individual?  And what’s the game plan for thousands of simultaneous threats directed at hundreds of airlines?  From a decentralized social media perspective, I truly doubt any contingency plan would be sufficient (assuming one even exists).
  • If someone wanted to ground an airplane via the internet, they would have a better idea of how to go about it.  It exposed a threshold level of circumstances — specific online activity that can result in the diversion of a commercial airplane.  This could serve as a template/blueprint for future copycats.
  • It illustrates an ability to impact national security and high profile OODA* loops (the scrambling of fighter jets and critical, snap decisions from traditionally bureaucratic organizations such as the FAA and the FBI).

Whether or not the plane’s diversion was justified is well outside my realm of expertise.  Although the threats were layered and multifaceted, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that those in charge suspected they were not credible.  The plane’s emergency landing was more likely executed out of an abundance of caution.  Also, the unfolding of events in the public domain could have been a factor.  Taking no action whatsoever could have been perceived as an act of negligence.

  • Assuming Lizard Squad is a small group or lone individual, it demonstrates a dangerous level of technological super-empowerment.  This fact should not be dismissed just because it’s disconcerting and difficult to address.

The artificially generated stampede represents a far more serious conceptual dilemma.  Cell phones can be used to transmit and receive information including illegitimate evacuation orders and hoax bomb threats.  Think of it in terms of a crowded football stadium.  Fans acting as cars involved in a “wireless demolition derby” with zero distinction between friend or foe.  You either acknowledge the presence of 50,000 – 100,000 mobile devices OR you don’t.  If you choose the latter, the consequences could be devastating (a dominipede).  The general public is not familiar with the prospect of artificially generated stampedes.  They lack situational awareness.  Even worse are the security “experts” — the ones familiar with the overt disconnect in evacuation protocol.  There’s this relentless, pervasive state of oblivious denial.  This isn’t a failed strategy.  It’s not a strategy at all.  When presented with a dangerous hypothetical, they’re choosing the path of intentionally blind ignorance.

Finally, the Lizard Squad incident shows the increasing difficulty in adapting to real-world technological conditions.  Human stampedes can develop instantly consistent with herding instincts and “fight or flight” triggers.  You’re not afforded the necessary time to assess the situation.  So what happens when OODA loops are rendered irrelevant or cease to exist?

I think it’s important to extrapolate a bit.  Could the dispensation of mass information impact widespread personal, physical movement?  The artificially generated stampede resembles a “reverse flash mob.”  Instead of summoning a large group of people, it’s simply an effort to force a sudden evacuation.  It’s not really that complicated.  At the very least, the fact that virtually everyone is in possession of an active cell phone demands a general contingency plan.  Simply put, it’s imperative to physically warn people that legitimate stadium evacuation orders do NOT come from personal cell phones.

There seems to be an outdated, 1950’s way of thinking when it comes to bomb threats.  The industry consensus is that if it happens, it can only be a singular threat.  And that threat will be received and processed by a switchboard operator conveniently located at the main desk.  This is blatantly inconsistent with real-world conditions.  Regarding emergency evacuation protocol, it’s as though every stadium incident commander is operating at a kindergarten level during nap-time.  ALL of them are asleep at the switch.

And here’s the most vexing question.  Why am I the only person concerned about such a generically inevitable national security issue?  Furthermore, why is it my responsibility to fix this mess?  If you have any insight, I’d be very receptive to hearing your thoughts.

 

* OODA loops characterize the manner in which decisions are made.  Observe, orient, decide, act.

 

NCS4 2nd Edition “Best” Practices Guide

NCS4 logoThe NCS4 (National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security) just published the July 2014:

“Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security”  — 2nd Edition Best Practices Guide.

Most of the content provides brief descriptions of widely held industry standards.  Situational analysis and risk management are the common themes.  It’s obviously geared toward college football stadiums but the general fundamentals can be applied to other large venues (motor speedways, ballparks, arenas, etc.).

My specific area of concern deals with outdated emergency evacuation protocol and the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.  I found it peculiar that the word “stampede” exists nowhere in the entire 126 page document.  The closest approximations were “crowd disturbance, rioting and field encroachment.”  Let’s examine some inconsistencies within the NCS4 document.

Below are some subject headings and quotes I found relevant.

Risk and Threat Assessment/Vulnerabilities and Planning

A risk/threat analysis is one of the most important elements of a comprehensive safety and security plan.

Without the assessment one cannot effectively develop and implement a security and safety plan – Because you won’t know what you don’t know!

I agree with the exclamatory emphasis.  I’m all for developing a strategic game plan to deal with emergency situations.  But if formulating one is so critical, why is there no mention of a human stampede and its potential triggers?  Stampedes in the United States are admittedly rare.  But considering the severity of such an event, this should be a priority.

Technology Use/Implementation/Innovation/Information Management
Social Media subheading

build expertise and experience with social media platforms (Text, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.)

Use social media to inform attendees of security, weather or other emergency issues.

While I do agree that social media forums and cellular communications can be an important tool for providing information to event attendees, they need to specifically state that under no circumstance whatsoever would you order a legitimate, real-world venue evacuation through ANY of these channels.  This is a blatant omission of negligence.

Cyber Intrusion/Attack

Develop and implement a security plan for computer and information systems hardware and software…

Many components of today’s facilities are operated via cyber programs that control the components (i.e., HVAC, lighting, PA, video boards, etc.).

It’s extremely troubling that the potential for a cyber-attack is viewed under such a one-dimensional microscope.  At face value, it would seem the NCS4 is only interested in the unlikely possibility of someone sabotaging the public address system or maybe manipulating the jumbotron feed.  While this could be cause for concern, what about all the individual cell phones?

In some football stadiums, there are 50,000 – 100,000 active cell phones.  The majority are smart phones that function as powerful individual supercomputers.  These devices can be used to transmit and receive false information.

Why is there no mention of the deliberate or accidental misuse of campus text emergency alert systems or official university facebook/twitter feeds?

What about information operation campaigns such as BADGER (bulk email messaging) and WARPARTH (mass text messaging), MINIATURE HERO (bidirectional instant messaging and acquisition of contact lists), CHANGELING (spoofed emails) and VIRAL BLITZKRIEG (a bombardment of information designed to saturate a specific location and exponentially spread panic)?

What about STINGRAY technology (a device that functions as a fake cell tower and can acquire real-time cell numbers of individuals in a specific geographic area).  What about the potential for sabotage of reverse 911 platforms and the WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) system.

These considerations hardly scratch the surface.

Maybe I should simplify.  What about lies and hoaxes?  What about hacking?  Unless you’re living underneath a rock, isn’t there a malicious hacking incident on an almost daily basis?

Evacuation/Sheltering

Anticipate that an incident could occur that causes a non-ordered impromptu/panic mass evacuation – consider how you will respond.  This is clearly the most dangerous of situations due to panic.

The 2014 Best Practices Guide references all kinds of potential reasons for an evacuation.  It mentions incident response for severe weather, power or utility failure, active shooters, aviation incidents, structural collapse, earthquakes, hazardous materials, suspicious packages, bombs, bomb threats and even acts of terrorism (nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons).

It identifies a plethora of reasons explaining WHY an evacuation could take place.  But it never broaches the subject of HOW a legitimate evacuation order is delivered.  Shouldn’t fans be made aware of the fact that the initial order to evacuate would NEVER be delivered via cellular platforms?  You use the public address system, possibly accompanied by information displayed on the jumbotron.  This is Emergency Evac 101.  Surely this supplemental piece of knowledge is warranted.

I understand how the government and private industry function with regard to litigation and plausible deniability.  I fully comprehend the scrutiny and blame game that ensues in the aftermath of a tragedy.  However, the information I’m requesting is absurdly generic in nature.

I’ll confess… it’s difficult to plan for every contingency.  It’s another thing to know about a problem and deliberately ignore it.  I’ve sent plenty of emails to the NCS4 staff and had multiple conversations with their director Lou Marciani.  I feel they’ve been adequately briefed on the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.  Their only noticeable response has been to disable my ability to leave comments on their facebook posts.  Perhaps mitigation is a viable strategy after all!  Either they believe my concerns are without merit OR they prefer to bury their heads in the sand and look the other way.  Why do I get the eerie feeling it’s the latter?

Now I’m going to try and play devil’s advocate.  There is this one oddly worded statement that addresses the unpredictability of the cyber-security issue.

In today’s world this has become a greater risk due to its potential for far reaching impacts based upon cyber systems controls over large segments of our environment.

I’m going to surmise that “far reaching impacts” could be a thinly veiled reference to action that might induce a human stampede.  “Cyber systems controls” sounds like it could imply widespread access to the internet and wireless communication platforms.  And “large segments of our environment” probably infers just about everyone and everything (human beings and machines).

The entire guide is plain spoken and relatively straightforward with the exception of that one cryptic statement.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?

In the appendix, over 100 individuals are listed as contributors to the 2014 Best Practices Guide.  You would think that just one of them would have insisted on a detailed explanation of exactly HOW you evacuate a venue.  Especially since the protocol is supposed to be uniform throughout all 50 states.  Then again, the NCS4 is part of the United States government.  I probably shouldn’t be getting my hopes up.

 

2014 MSU Spartan Stadium Bomb Threat

Notre Dame v Michigan StateJuly 2, 2014 was a challenging day for Michigan State University.  Two individuals were charged with phoning in a bomb threat to the MSU police central dispatch.  The threat was allegedly directed at Spartan Stadium.  The venue and surrounding area were evacuated.

Two Lansing, Michigan residents, Cynthia Marie Spade and Anthony Robert Shearer, were quickly taken into custody and arraigned on July 3.

The timing of this incident was curious as it happened over the summer while the campus was relatively empty.

Let’s take a closer look at how everything unfolded.

Police said the threat was phoned in around 3:15pm.  Police swept through the stadium and adjacent buildings telling employees to exit.  A fire alarm was also activated to help expedite the evacuation process.  No explosives were found.

Here’s the statement posted on the official MSU twitter feed:

July 2, 2014
12:47pm (3:47pm Eastern standard time)

MSU Police are investigating a bomb threat at Spartan Stadium. The stadium & surrounding areas have been evacuated. Please avoid the area.

This statement was immediately retweeted 277 times.

Some responded with jokes and quips…

  • Don’t worry; the timer was sure to malfunction
  • scUM fans trying to get that home game back against Sparty
  • But how can I watch the explosion, then?

Less than two hours later, the following “stand-down” order was posted on the official MSU twitter feed:

July 2, 2014
2:38pm (5:38pm Eastern standard time)

MSU Police give all clear after bomb threat at Spartan Stadium. More info: http://www.msu.edu/emergency

One person replied…

  • great job today following protocol and keeping everyone safe.. Thank u

Identical content was posted on the official MSU facebook page:

Wednesday July 2, 2014
12:48pm (3:48pm Eastern standard time)

MSU Police are investigating a bomb threat at Spartan Stadium. The stadium & surrounding areas have been evacuated. Please avoid the area.

However, there was a great deal of confusion expressed in several replies…

  • I expect the President of the University to issue a statement answering the legitimate question of why the entire campus was not notified via cell phones, etc. This begs the question, is there a campus wide notification system in place? If not, why not?
  • I found this out thru our news! It would be nice to be alerted especially to those of us that were near campus! What’s the use of alerts if we never get notified
  • I get a text when someone gets their stuff stolen at night, but not for a bomb threat during the day when I’m actually in class?! Ridiculous.
  • Why am I finding this out through Facebook and not MSU alert
  • If it’s true that student alerts aren’t active in the summer, that’s crazy! There are more students at MSU during the summer than there are at a lot of colleges during the standard academic year!

Now here’s the post from the MSU police department facebook page.  Note the time discrepancy and a greater degree of specificity:

Michigan State University Police Department
21 hrs · Edited · Wednesday, July 2
1:01pm (4:01pm Eastern Time)

  • CAMPUS ALERT: A bomb threat was called in to police central dispatch to report a bomb at the MSU Spartan Stadium. All stadium personnel, Central Service, Running Track, and Tower have all been evacuated to the shelter of Wells Hall and the South Side of Munn Arena. We are asking everyone to stay out of the area until further notice.

Michigan State University Police Department
4 hrs Thursday, July 3
5:45am (8:45am Eastern time)

  • Reference MSU Alert: The early development of suspects led investigators to believe the threat was not credible and therefore did not necessitate an emergency alert. Normal evacuation protocols were followed as a precautionary measure while investigators completed interviews of two suspects that were in custody.

That follow-up “reference alert” was posted roughly 17 hours later.

Here’s an excerpt from the MSU Police facebook page:

Protection, Planning, Response, Recovery, Mitigation

Protection, planning, response, recovery, mitigation are the five phases of managing any emergency or disaster. This is the responsibility of the MSU Police Homeland Security and Planning Division. We accomplish our goals by working across department lines to coordinate the efforts of all those involved in the four phases. This includes working with and preparing all first responders, all recovery efforts, all units of the University and all units of Local, State and Federal government.

This would normally sound like a fine mission statement.  However, in the event of an artificially generated stampede, it’s rendered entirely worthless.  A human stampede is an event that unfolds in real-time where O.O.D.A. (observe, orient, decide, act) loops are nonexistent.  Simply stated, there is no time to assess the situation.  Therefore, it’s imperative to rely on AWARENESS, not mitigation.  You do not mitigate an artificially generated stampede.  You take the necessary steps to prevent it.  In this case, that means telling people that legitimate emergency evacuation orders (specifically for large, confined crowds) do NOT come from personal cell phones.

Now you could make the following argument: what if a presidential terror alert (through the Wireless Emergency Alert system) is the source of a mass cellular evacuation order?  Well, if any individual (president, chancellor, governor, etc.) or government body (DHS, FCC, FEMA, etc.) exercised such a degree of extreme indiscretion and poor decision making, then they would bear the ultimate responsibility for pursuing that course of action.  Until the law specifically states that the federal government can violate the chain of command, usurp the incident commander’s authority and disregard the freedom of assembly provision afforded by the First Amendment, the power to evacuate a stadium should be held exclusively under the jurisdiction of the incident commander and those individuals he/she relies upon to make that final decision.

Steven Beard is a Michigan State Police Officer and functions as a liaison with the Department of Homeland Security.

beardCoincidentally, I had a conversation with Officer Beard about stadium emergency evacuation protocol on June 16, 2014 (just 18 days before this incident transpired).  During our 26 minute conversation he refused to definitively “rule out” the possibility of exclusively ordering an evacuation of the football stadium via cellular platforms (specifically the campus text emergency alert system).  There are other incident commanders who hold this same position.  It was my contention that under NO circumstance whatsoever would you deliver the INITIAL evacuation order via cellular transmissions.  I believe such an action could result in tremendous confusion, possibly sparking a panic.  It would markedly increasing the prospect of a human stampede for the following reasons:

  • Not everyone owns a cell phone.  Of those that do, some might not have them physically on their person when the information is disseminated.  Some might not check their messages or even have them powered on.
  • Many stadium attendees would not be signed up for the campus text emergency alert system or connected to the official MSU twitter feed, MSU campus police facebook page, etc.  These forums are generally opt-in notification platforms.
  • The precise wording of an evacuation would require tremendous care so as not to spook the crowd.  Such a carefully worded statement might not even exist.  If it does, I’d like to see it.  There’s a huge difference between a statement lit up on the jumbotron, available for everyone to see, and a cryptic, simultaneous bulk cellular message available only for select scrutiny and random interpretation.

The most important consideration when issuing an emergency evacuation order is a clear, unified directive.  This is achieved through the public address system, perhaps in conjunction with the jumbotron.  To insinuate that “using cellular platforms is an option” is a serious error in judgement.  It completely defies the context and spirit of an effective evacuation.  You do NOT toy with the emotional status of stadium crowds in the 50,000 – 100,000 range.  You do NOT play messaging games with large, confined crowds.

This is not an appropriate time to experiment with newer strategies, especially since very few stadium attendees have any relevant knowledge about evacuation protocol.  Such matters are held very “close to the vest” as evacuation protocol is a sensitive issue.  Why is this?  Well… because of the potential for a panic resulting in a human stampede.  The possibility of a mass, cellular stadium evacuation order needs to be taken “off the table.”  The notion that anyone handling emergency preparedness would not agree with this assessment is extremely troublesome.  I understand the desire to keep your options open.  I also understand that evacuation protocol and the science governing large crowds is a continually evolving dynamic.  But there are certain things you would just simply never do.  Why?  Because it defies common sense, established precedent and could ultimately be construed as an act of criminal negligence.

When delivering an emergency evacuation for a crowded stadium, a straightforward, focused directive is essential.  You use the public address system.  You notify the entire stadium that the game has been temporarily suspended and ask for their cooperation.  Then, you disseminate a message clearing the field of all players and personnel.  You repeat that message until the playing surface is satisfactorily empty.  Then you disseminate a message to clear the stands.  You repeat that message until the stands are satisfactorily evacuated.  You do not deviate from this approach.

Now if you want to provide FOLLOW-UP information AFTER the initial evacuation order, I have no problem with that.  For example, cellular notifications could be an excellent option for keeping people in the loop (explaining the rationale behind the evacuation, offering good options for shelter, announcing when the game will resume, etc.).  But as far as the INITIAL evacuation order goes… you do NOT use cellular platforms.

This also begs the question of the precise wording of such a message.  If you’re willing to avail yourself of this evacuation strategy, it would require some very specific terminology as to why the order is taking place.  Current protocol generally does not condone offering a reason, whether it be for inclement weather (such as lightning strikes) or a bomb threat emergency.  The general industry consensus is to avoid getting bogged down in a lengthy explanation.  It’s not an appropriate time to engage in untested semantics.

If you were to initiate a stadium emergency evacuation order via cellular transmissions, it’s human nature that people would question “why” they are being told to evacuate.  Many would have no clue what’s going on.  Naturally, they would start asking questions rather than strictly comply.  This could irreparably disrupt command and control.  Once again, a clear, unified order is critical.  And that is why you use the public address system.

Please keep in mind that there’s a substantial difference between a bomb threat “condition” and a bomb threat “emergency.”  It should come as no surprise that just because someone phones in a bomb threat, leaves a menacing note or scrawls the word “bomb” on a restroom mirror DURING a major event… that, in itself, does not necessarily justify a complete, full scale evacuation.  This falls under the heading of “generally known, but undocumented” policy.  The reason is obvious.  PRECEDENT.  An evacuation for a bomb threat condition would be an atrocious precedent and likely encourage copycats.  Situations like these (bomb threat conditions) occur far more often than is known to the general public.  Bomb threat emergency classification requires a much higher threshold of evidence.

During the Spartan Stadium incident, a conscious decision was made to not engage the campus text emergency alert system.  Although the Clery Act (notification of criminal acts and emergency situations on campus) dictates timely awareness, I tend to agree with the decision that was made.  Since emergency responders realized the strong likelihood of a hoax, a decision to utilize the campus text emergency alert system would have likely been counterproductive.

The Clery Act, although well-intentioned, became law in 1990.  It never took into account the possibility of everyone in the stadium having a cell phone — having access to deliberately nonfactual, real-time information, hoax bomb threats and intentionally false evacuation orders.  If confronted with a real-world emergency stadium evacuation, the initial utilization of the campus text emergency alert system and social media platforms is unacceptable (unless of course, the stadium is empty, as was the case with the MSU Spartan Stadium incident).

Regrettably, the federal government has yet to evaluate this issue.  It’s my contention they will remain reactive and complacent until a tragedy unfolds.  What’s ultimately necessary here is taking a proactive stance and the issuance of formal guidelines.

Here’s the final takeaway from this incident.  When specifically dealing with a stadium evacuation, “public facebook responses” and “twitter feedback” can have serious ramifications.  Affording everyone else the opportunity to “chime in” is a breach of established protocol.  There would appear to be a “cheapening” or “degradation” of authority.  Social media combined with the speed of transmission and the potential for false information and/or deceptive humor or deliberately incendiary comments could produce dire consequences.  This is another major reason you would strictly employ the public address system, possibly in tandem with the jumbotron.  These mediums do a superior job of maintaining a calm, orderly evacuation process because they offer a unilateral transmission of information.  The last thing you’d want are random, unqualified individuals offering their opinions or rhetoric.  Misinterpretation and confusion are unacceptable characteristics when dealing with an emergency stadium evacuation.

All in all, I credit the MSU police department for coping with a difficult situation.  Considering the circumstances, this incident likely fell under the general heading of “better safe than sorry.”  This is consistent with the current narrative for how to deal with a bomb threat condition.

This is admittedly difficult to sift through.  I sympathize with the plight of incident commanders because the vagaries of the Clery Act do not address the unique conditions presented by a stadium evacuation.  And that’s ultimately the reason to just start simply telling people… that in the unlikely event of a stadium emergency evacuation, a legitimate order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.  If you were to receive this kind of information, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.  Human beings have a fundamental right to possess this degree of situational awareness.  They deserve access to this generic knowledge in order to adequately defend themselves.  This is a time-sensitive, public safety issue.

I had a previous conflict with Michigan State University regarding this matter.  In 2013, I was sent an email on behalf of MSU President and NCAA Executive Chair Lou Anna Simon.  I believe its content was disingenuous and deliberately deceptive.

Michigan State University’s Spartan Stadium current capacity is listed at 75,005.

 

2014 Drone Incident at PNC Park

pncparkdroneDuring a June 26, 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates game at PNC Park, a “drone” suddenly appeared… hovering in the outfield.  The remote control model aircraft was quickly spotted by fans and announcers.  Local police were notified.  The individual was told to cease its operation.  He willingly complied and was neither cited nor arrested.  A near sell-out crowd of 36,647 was in attendance.  The FAA has launched an investigation into the matter.
http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2014/06/27/man-flies-drone-over-pnc-park-during-game/
Obviously this was not a CIA-operated Predator drone equipped with Hellfire missiles.  It was a small airborne remote control device.  These hobby enthusiast toys have been around for decades.  This is a vexing issue because it’s uncharted territory.  Technically speaking, no laws were violated.  There’s little in the way of FAA regulation or guidelines.  Also, it’s difficult to predict the future societal applications of drone technology.  For all we know, drones (instead of air-propelled rocket launchers) might someday be used to entertainingly dispense t-shirts and hot dogs.
No reason to be alarmed… or is there?  It begs the following question.  Instead of an attached camera, could a small drone (quadcopter) be equipped with bullets or chemical weapons and be used to indiscriminately attack stadium attendees?  And if so, what might happen as an immediate consequence?  Could it spark a human stampede?
In many of my discussions concerning the prospect of artificially generated stampedes, I occasionally heard the following observation — There are other dangerous scenarios that could foment a human stampede.  For example, what if someone lobs a hand grenade over the wall or sprays machine gunfire near a crowded entrance?  How about the deliberate misuse of the jumbotron or public address system?  What if someone starts screaming at the top of their lungs, “I have a bomb!”  Why shouldn’t we inform the public about these possibilities?  How much information must we divulge in the spirit of public safety?  Exactly where does one draw the line?
So why must we tell fans that emergency evacuation orders do NOT come from cell phones?  What makes this situation so much different?
The answer is somewhat nuanced.  First and foremost, the vast majority of fans have never conceived of hoax evacuation orders and cellular induced panics.  There’s simply no situational awareness.  In crowds ranging from 50,000 – 100,000, this is a recipe for disaster.  When a large group witnesses a tangible threat, they collectively discern what’s transpiring.  False information delivered wirelessly is vastly more dangerous because there is no centralized focal point.  Reaction would be “intrinsically personalized” and more diverse. 
Such an attack would be unique, asymmetric and TRANSFORMATIVE.  It would require the conceptualization of timing and information being utilized as weapons.  With other scenarios, we’re afforded the opportunity to visualize the mode of attack.  With an artificially generated stampede, there’s no familiarity.  It’s difficult for people to fathom an attack on a ballpark in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania originating from an apartment in Peshawar, Pakistan (or anywhere for that matter).  It’s challenging to comprehend an act of terrorism, cloaked in a veil of secrecy, initiated from a seemingly ethereal distance. 
The truth… and this is where it starts to sound a tiny bit conspiratorial.  It sets a new precedent in the realm of generational warfare.  Injuries and casualties are inflicted without the use of conventional weaponry.  A stampede becomes the actual weapon of choice.  And this is where you start to “lose” people.  They become leery and skeptical, not because of the implausibility, but because it’s unfamiliar societal terrain.  Americans are hardwired to think of weapons in terms of guns and bullets.  But information?  Not so much.  And of course there’s the more obvious point – It hasn’t happened… yet. 
Perhaps two relevant questions are “could it happen” and “will it happen.”  A reasonable answer to both would be an unequivocal yes.  To make the assertion that an artificially generated stampede will never be attempted is patently ludicrous.  It’s merely the modern, technological equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. 
It’s strikingly similar to passenger planes being hijacked and intentionally crashed into buildings.  Give it some thought from a pre-9/11 perspective. 
  • People were familiar with the notion of civilian plane hijackings. 
  • Planes have been used as weapons (kamikaze pilots).
  • History is replete with suicide bombers and acts of martyrdom.
Unfortunately, we were unable to piece it all together due to the lack of precedent.  As a result of 9/11, everything changed.  Such would be the case with the artificially generated stampede. 
So why does this matter require transparency?  Answer: Because of the potential for a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  It’s just like planes being flown into buildings.  And why would the perpetrator(s) settle for just one venue and a single stampede?  Assuming an inherent progression of malicious intent, it’s painfully obvious that an attack would incorporate multiple targets.  Have you ever heard of the expression “go big or go home?” 
Now I’m not suggesting you alert fans to every conceivable threat that could happen.  I’m not saying you should divulge sensitive details about evacuation protocol.  I’m not asking you to explain the difference between a bomb threat condition and a bomb threat emergency.  I’m not even telling you to reference the possibility of a stampede.  I’m simply stating that at the absolute very least, there’s a moral imperative to tell people… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, a legitimate order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone. 
It seems we’re left with two distinct choices.  One is to do nothing.  This choice is morally negligent.  The consequences of inaction are too extreme.  Or we can do something.  At a bare minimum, why not just tell fans the truth?  An emergency venue evacuation order would NEVER come from your personal cell phone.  Eventually this will become common knowledge (likely in the aftermath of a tragedy).  So why not just be proactive and place this information in the public domain? 
The artificially generated stampede could very well be the most inevitably obvious public safety crisis of this century.  It’s both easily conceived and deliberately ignored.  Why not acknowledge the issue and try do something about it? 
 

Dominipede

DominipedeCover finalOn May 22, 2014, I self-published my second book on the internet.

Dominipede: Book of Fear is a comprehensive analysis of an asymmetric national security threat.

The tragedy I’ve outlined can be averted.  There are solutions.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.

 

 

2014 Kitwit and Kanshasa Stampedes

congo stampedesThe Democratic Republic of the Congo has had its fair share of issues with human stampedes in 2014.  In April, the city of Kitwit hosted a music festival honoring the late singer King Kester Emeneya.  During the concert, two generators supplying power to the city failed.  This resulted in a venue blackout which triggered a panic and a rush to the exits.

The fatality toll was originally listed at roughly a dozen but eventually increased to at least 40.  The provincial government released a statement blaming the stampede on “a rush of enthusiasm due to the audience.”

Although the tragedy was linked to the failure of power generators, I wouldn’t term it an artificially generated stampede.  It’s merely a verbal coincidence.  However, take note of the trigger.  Observers are often too quick to label the cause of a stampede under the general heading of “panic.”

On May 12, 2014 the city of Kanshasa hosted a rival soccer match between TP Mazembe and AS Vita at the Tata Raphael Stadium.  Late in the game, down by a score of 1-0, the home fans became agitated and began throwing “missiles” onto the pitch.  Some claim that police officers on the field were being harassed and pelted with stones.  Security responded by launching tear gas into the stands.  Plumes of smoke temporarily blinded people and caused them to scatter in various directions.  The end result… 14 pronounced dead due to the crush.

Again, take note of the trigger.  On this occasion, it was disruptive fan behavior that escalated out of control.  Different reasons yielding the same result.

It’s tempting to conclude that the citizens of Congo are somehow more susceptible to stampedes.  Observers are more prone to stereotyping residents of central Africa as violent or lawless or less civilized.  These assumptions are dangerous and incredibly misguided.  Human stampedes are a WORLDWIDE phenomenon.

Stampedes are caused by a wide variety triggers.  Claiming that a stampede was caused by panic is similar to a coroner stating that an individual’s death was the result of his dying.  Once a stampede starts, it will run its course.  There are no cases on record where a real-world stampede has been successfully diffused.  It’s a stampede.  It would preclude the very definition.  The solutions lie in awareness and prevention, not mitigation and denial.  At some point in the future, a “cellularly induced” or artificially generated stampede is inevitable.  Wouldn’t it be a wise course of action to anticipate and plan accordingly?  Maybe just start telling people that emergency venue evacuation orders don’t come from cell phones?

 

Malicious Hoax Aboard the MV Sewol

90386d1397764978-south-korean-ferry-mv-sewol-flips-1-2-sunk-shallows-people-trapped-sewol-1On April 16, 2014, a South Korean ferry capsized while carrying almost 500 people.  Roughly 300 individuals, mostly high school students, were reported missing.

This particular tragedy took some unusual twists and turns.  Initial reports claimed the number of survivors to be significant.  But as the truth emerged, the outlook became very grim.  It was an incredibly painstaking process.

Mysterious text messages began to surface from the ship.

“I am still alive… in the cafeteria please help me my battery is running out please believe me”

and

“My phone is not working I am inside the boat I can’t see anything”

These messages quickly circulated and spread like wildfire through social media, well after the boat had fully submerged.  The texts contained sufficient detail purposely designed to prey off the desperation of loved ones.  Predictably, hope soared.

The government abruptly squashed these revelations and announced that all messages were a malicious hoax.  But it should not be faulted because the speculation had been fueled by the media.  Even friends and family members conceivably shared in the blame.  Anyone who posted or shared these messages could be construed as guilty, regardless of their intent.

This in turn sparked violence at Jindo where the bodies were being recovered and identified.  Relatives accused authorities of not doing enough to save the children.  Many believed their loved ones were still alive.  They hurled objects and skirmished with authorities.

The circumstances surrounding the South Korean ferry incident are a prime example of a “viral blitzkrieg” — a bombardment of information designed to saturate a specific location, resulting in an emotional/physical response.

Here’s a question one might ask.  Could the intentional spreading of malicious hoax information have more turbulent consequences in real-time?  For example, could a phony bomb threat or false emergency evacuation order spread through a large crowd… fomenting a real-world panic?  The answer is yes.

The dilemma here is obvious.  In the current technological age, it’s impossible to verify the validity of social media content.  Information can be monitored but not controlled.  The problem worsens immeasurably when trusted, conventional media streams are utilized.  In theory, just reporting the story itself could exacerbate existing conditions on the ground.

Consider the impact of a live, televised human stampede in an NFL stadium.  Would such a unique occurrence be calmly disregarded by everyone?  Or would its transmission and viewing impact behavior in other stadiums?  Breaking news extends well beyond the act of relaying information.  It resonates.  It is a phenomenon.  There are consequences.

Let’s make three reasonable assumptions:

  • The pace of technology will continue to accelerate.
  • Malicious hoaxes will occur in the future.
  • A coordinated disinformation campaign can impact the emotional status of a large crowd.

If you believe these three statements to be accurate, the only logical course of action is to make the following information available to the general public.

People have a fundamental right to know…
that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an emergency evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone…
it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

 

Risk Assessment for the Artificially Generated Stampede

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On April 15, 2014, I submitted the following article for publication with the Risk Management Society.

 

Risk Assessment for the Artificially Generated Stampede

From a risk management perspective, few hypothetical scenarios can match the gravity presented by the artificially generated stampede.  It could very well be the asymmetric national security predicament of the century.  At its core is a simple question.

Do people have a fundamental right to know…
 
that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an emergency evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device…

it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede?

This is obviously a common sense, public safety issue.  It’s merely the generic, technological equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Calling, texting, tweeting, alerting.  Hacking, spoofing, an intentional saturation of information or manipulation of social media.  In the current wireless environment, the ways to perpetuate a real-time, real-world hoax are seemingly infinite.  Everyone is “cellularly susceptible.”  There are no reasonable contingency plans.  Incident commanders (those tasked with the ultimate authority to issue an emergency evacuation) no longer have the same degree of authority and control they once possessed.

And the damage could be particularly severe.  It stands to reason that if someone acted with malicious intent, they’d likely seek to impact additional in-use venues.  I refer to this phenomenon as a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous human stampedes).

So why has this issue never been floated in the public domain?
The suppression would appear intentional.  It stems directly from the catch-22.

If you acknowledge a problem, you own it.  And if it were to happen, you reap the blame.

Too obvious?  Perhaps.  But it does explain the motivational lack of interest on behalf of the NFL, the NCAA and the federal government.  These institutions go to extraordinary lengths to protect fans and citizens.  However, plausible deniability and foreseeable litigation are significant liabilities.  More often than not, culpability and profit trump safety.

Furthermore, this matter involves discussing the undiscussable.  Indiscriminately killing people without conventional weapons is a dangerous precedent in the realm of generational warfare.

Now there are some who would make the case for mitigation.  Surely the government has a handle on this matter.  There must be some top secret communication filtration system.  It’s my opinion that such an assertion is patently ludicrous.  If this were the case, problems arising from bomb threats would have been eradicated long ago.

There’s another inherent problem with relying on the notion of mitigation.  It requires that a reasonable amount of time elapse during the OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop.  Since human stampedes occur spontaneously, each phase is rendered irrelevant.  OODA loops simply cease to exist.

When mitigation becomes an exercise in futility, the only plausible solution can be universal awareness campaigns.  If you give it some thought, the paradox of the artificially generated stampede is similar to the historical dilemma presented by forest fires.  Both require a broader acknowledgment and moral acceptance of the problem.  Only you can prevent forest fires.  Stadium evacuation orders are not issued via cell phones.

So let’s say you’ve made the official determination to begin sharing this information.  From a risk management perspective, how far do you take it?  That’s a good question because it involves delicate social mores.  Many people would offer up the following argument.  What if by putting this information out there, you inadvertently put an idea in someone’s head?  Now this line of reasoning is not entirely without merit.  However, I would counter that it mirrors the same justification used for forest fire awareness campaigns.

The overriding question becomes… is it reasonable to inform the general public about something the majority of incident commanders and industry professionals are already well aware of?  That a legitimate stadium evacuation order would NEVER be delivered through personal cell phones.  Regardless of the sensitivity surrounding emergency evacuation protocol, I believe the time for transparency has arrived.  The seriousness of this issue demands a solution.

Should we be proactive and start notifying people about this hypothetical risk?  Absolutely.  Because there’s a discernible inevitability to an event like this being attempted.  Whether or not it’s ultimately successful is an entirely different question.  It stands to reason that it will be attempted until it is successful.  I base this assumption on the fact that human beings have always searched for innovative ways to kill each other.  If people are willing to fly planes into buildings, it stands to reason they’d be willing to foment stampedes.

The conundrum presented by the artificially generated stampede requires that we take some form of action.  People have a right to defend themselves.  This includes the right to obtain knowledge of potentially dangerous situations.  It’s the same reason we notify ballpark fans of the danger presented by broken bats and batted balls.  The artificially generated stampede just hasn’t happened yet.  However, this has no bearing on the moral imperative to raise awareness.  A dominipede is not an acceptable outcome.

So what’s the best solution?  The most important consideration is balancing the public’s right to know without engaging in unnecessary fear-mongering.  Granted, it’s a fine line.  Therefore, I’d keep the message as simple as possible.

As a matter of future policy, I would encourage dispensing the following information to anyone entering a large, confined crowd (stadium, arena, amphitheater, motor speedway, political convention, etc.).

Please be aware… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, such an order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone or mobile device.

I’d recommend using any means available: the public address system, the jumbotron, ticket stubs and event programs.

It’s a simple, clear message.  But most important, it’s the truth.

 

Vince McMahon Solution to the Artificially Generated Stampede

vince mVince McMahon, Chairman and CEO of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), seems ideally suited to address the dilemma presented by the artificially generated stampede.  Over the past year, I’ve given the matter a great deal of thought — exactly who is well-positioned to solve this foreseeable national security crisis?  I consider him to be a member of exclusive company along with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, President Barack Obama, former NFL Head Coach Bill Cowher, the rock band Pearl Jam and the writers of South Park.

The recent publicity from Wrestlemania XXX gave rise to me examining the possibility of Vince McMahon.  Wrestlemania XXX took place on April 5, 2014 at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.  The attendance figure was 75,167.  Official NFL capacity is listed at 76,468.  There’s a discrepancy due to the additional field seating, but for the sake of argument, let’s just conclude the venue was sold out.

This marquee event is one of the few spectacles capable of selling out a major NFL stadium.  This gives Vince McMahon an unusual opportunity.  One that I believe he might be willing to take advantage of.

The WWE could start routinely informing fans that “a legitimate emergency evacuation order would NEVER be delivered via your personal cell phone.”  With its worldwide exposure, an event like Wrestlemania would be a golden opportunity to get this message out in the public domain.

It has become apparent that the U.S. government, the NFL and the NCAA are unwilling to disseminate this public safety information.  The WWE is in a unique position to fill that void.

To most, divulging this information would just seem like good ol’ fashioned common sense.  But with it, would come tremendous blowback.  You would be indirectly limiting the government’s authority.  You would also be exposing its inability to protect its citizenry.  Furthermore, you’d be leading the charge into an unexplored realm of national security… the prospect of using a human stampede as a deadly, asymmetric weapon.  Killing people without conventional weapons is a big deal.  Very few people are willing to go on the record with this issue.  The stakes are high.

McMahon seems like an ideal choice for several reasons:

  • Vince McMahon has already battled the behemoth U.S. government.  In 1993-94, he repelled federal steroid trafficking and conspiracy charges.  Rather than settle the case, he rolled the dice and went to trial.  He was eventually acquitted.  He fought the law… and HE won.
  • When compared to other billionaires, he has demonstrated a willingness to “bleed for his brand.”  Granted, much of it’s wrapped in theatrics, but it’s nearly impossible to find members of the fiscally super-elite who are willing to endure physical punishment, emotional torment and verbal abuse.  Vince not only talks the talk, he walks the walk.
  • Back in the late 1980’s, McMahon made a conscious decision to “out” pro wrestling.  He chose a bold course of action.  He conceded that the product was not entirely legitimate and more accurately termed as “sports entertainment.”  He decided that the days of condescension were over.  What better an individual to level with the American people?
  • His wife Linda McMahon has demonstrated political aspirations.  In 2010, she ran for a U.S. Senate seat.  Her campaign slogan, “A businesswoman, not a politician, for Connecticut” reflected a desire to shake things up.  It’s reasonable to assume that Linda and Vince share similar visions.  Exposing outdated emergency evacuation protocol for large venues would be uncharted territory, much like a high-profile political campaign.
  • Since 2003, WWE has held a yearly event called Tribute to the Troops.  It has taken place in Afghanistan, Iraq and various military bases in the United States.   McMahon’s desire to entertain our military is more than an extension of patriotism.  It reflects a greater, unwavering commitment to safeguard U.S. citizens as well.
  • The U.S. government, the NCAA and every professional sports organization remain mired in a purgatory-like state of inaction.  As a legendary promoter and marketer, I think McMahon would relish the opportunity to “one-up” these institutions.  But of greater importance, history would vindicate him for taking action and doing what is morally right.

Rest assured, this revelation would send shock waves.  Once the cat’s out of the bag on such a grand scale, there is no turning back.  Vince might even construe it as the ultimate payback for the hell the federal government subjected him to.  But the beauty of it all… this time it would be McMahon who’s on the side of human rights and civil justice.

In the year 2014, Vince McMahon again demonstrated his penchant for risk.

Writer Jonathan Snowden…

At WrestleMania 30, for the first time in decades, the WWE shifted the paradigm.  The risk, as it was in 1985, is huge.  Rather than distribute the show on pay-per-view, a time-honored delivery platform that has made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, WWE has shifted the show onto its new online WWE Network.  The WWE, once again, is on the cutting edge of technology, gambling that its fans are ready for something new.

Regardless of all the hype and shenanigans tied to pro wrestling, people should not dismiss the bravery and tenacity of Vince McMahon.  When it’s all said and done, an ample supply of courage is what’s needed here.  Plain and simple.  For there to be meaningful resolution, a powerful issue requires a courageous individual.

The more I reflect on this matter, the more truly convinced I become.  Vince McMahon is the perfect candidate to publicly broach the issue of the artificially generated stampede.

 

Bill Cowher and the NFL “Heads Up” Program

bill cowher pic

The NFL is conquering new ground with regard to player safety, particularly in the realm of concussion prevention.  Coincidentally, this is coming on the heels of a near billion dollar judgment against the organization.  Go figure.  Sometimes an industry suddenly becomes proactive when faced with effective litigation and colossal financial loss.  It quickly finds its moral center.

The NFL had been warned about player concussion issues for decades.  But now it takes them seriously.  This scenario worries me because it closely resembles my concerns regarding a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous human stampedes likely impacting the 1 p.m. slate of games).

In 2012, I warned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and every NFL owner about the outdated state of emergency evacuation protocol and the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.  Unfortunately, because it remains a hypothetical, there are no immediate consequences for failing to address the issue.  There’s little incentive for taking action.  Plus, the federal government won’t touch it.  The cons outweigh the pros.

So it descends into a dangerous game of intentional ignorance and complacence.  Even worse, the few who have had the courage to engage me often offer flimsy justifications, excuses and ad hominem distractions for their inaction.

“We have an excellent track record when it comes to venue safety.”
“Our stadium cell coverage isn’t that great.”
“The circumstances you’re describing wouldn’t trigger a mass panic.”
“These stampedes you speak of have never happened.”
“If it’s such a big concern, why isn’t anyone else taking action?”

Yes.  All these points could have merit.  But they all dodge the issue.  And they’re all regrettably consistent with the catch-22 that looms over NFL stadiums like a biblical plague.

I’m inquiring about a very specific facet of emergency evacuation protocol — the notion that a legitimate evacuation order would NEVER originate from a personal cell phone.  Some in the industry are aware of this.  Many are not.  But the vast majority of fans have never even considered it.  This makes them incredibly susceptible to the prospect of a malicious hoax.

It has become apparent that no NFL team is going to voluntarily step up and share this tiny snippet of information with stadium attendees.  The real reason is ugly.  Everything is linked to potential litigation and plausibility deniability.  It’s not about life and limb.  It’s all about money.  A lot of money.  The premise is intrinsically embedded in the financial stability and survival of the entire NFL.

Team management, ownership and NFL governance aren’t going to be proactive.  It’s much like they treated the concussion issue: ignoring the problem until they were held financially responsible.

It’s necessary for an individual to come forth and address the issue.

The message could be complex:

  • Explaining how all in-use stadiums are technologically and physically connected through real-time, real-world events.
  • Discussing how people could be manipulated by a viral blitzkrieg (information saturation).
  • Engaging in a frank discussion about widespread panic and herding instincts.

We at AGSAF believe the message is simple:

  • Stadium emergency evacuation orders do NOT come from cell phones.
  • If you get an evacuation order or panic-inducing information, it’s almost certainly a hoax.

Daytime talk show host Dr. Phil has a penchant for saying, “This situation needs a hero.”

On March 24, 2014, a potential hero sent me an email on behalf of the NFL “Heads Up” concussion awareness campaign.  That person was former NFL head coach and CBS analyst Bill Cowher.  I think Cowher would be an ideal choice to broach the subject of the dominipede.  His Super Bowl win puts him in very exclusive company.  He has a strong blue collar work ethic and gritty straightforwardness.  He has bridged the gap from player, to coach, to executive, to television personality.  Most important, head coaches are responsible for making big, final decisions.  They are accustomed to being held accountable.

Whether it’s Cowher or not, this person would need to be unwilling to back down.  Because you’ll likely be ostracized.  Trust me.  Even though it’s a common sense, simple message about public safety, you will be incurring the wrath of the entire U.S. government, private industry and venue management both large and small.  Government is generally averse to major change.  It prefers the status quo.

They call it the status quo for a reason.  The reason being… it’s usually the path of a coward.  Love him or hate him, his name may sound like the word “coward” but believe me, Bill Cowher ain’t no coward.

Let’s parlay the NFL’s recent commitment to player safety and extend that same concern to fan safety.  The concussions that take place on the grassy turf could just as easily occur on the cold concrete.

Let me put this in more tactical terms for any NFL owners and executives within earshot.  The financial toll of a dominipede would easily be in the billions.  If you think the concussion settlement was bad news, I suggest you take a long, hard look at the AGSAF website.  A friendly warning though — it shakes things up a bit.  If you don’t think the material is compelling, you’ll likely need your head examined.

 

2014 NCS4 Convention

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I received an email on March 18, 2014 from the National Center for Sports Safety and Security.  It contained the itinerary for the NCS4 summer convention to be held in Indianapolis, IN.  Below is an excerpt:

 

NEW! VENUE TOURS
Attendees will have an opportunity to visit sport facilities in their industry.  During the visit, the host will provide a facility safety and security tour and discuss advancements in their security plans.  A discussion scenario will be conducted to enhance best practices.

Lucas Oil Stadium  (Home of the Indianapolis Colts, NFL)
Discussion Scenario: Drone Attack

Bankers Life Fieldhouse  (Home of the Indiana Pacers, NBA)
Discussion Scenario: Power Failure

Butler University (Hinkle Arena)  (Home of the Butler Bulldogs, Division I)
Discussion Scenario: Bomb Threat

Carmel High School  (Home of Carmel Greyhounds)
Discussion Scenario: Active Shooter

Indianapolis  Motor Speedway (Home of Indy 500)
Discussion Scenario: Weather

Victory Field (Home of the Indianapolis Indians of the International League)
Discussion Scenario: Fan Injury/Death – Localized Crisis

Since AGSAF deals with stadiums and the potential for human stampedes, let’s focus on the discussion scenarios scheduled for Lucas Oil Stadium and Hinkle Arena.

First and foremost, I’m under the likely assumption that the choice of venue was designed to mirror the representative threat.  Lucas Oil Stadium would be a dubious location to carry out a drone strike… because the stadium is a dome.  I find it doubtful that any self-respecting terrorist would select this particular target for a drone attack.  Unless of course, you could conceivably sneak the drone into the stadium in fragmented pieces in 12″x6″x12″ transparent plastic bags while avoiding the scrutiny of security and metal detectors.  Then, somehow discreetly assemble the drone without arousing suspicion. That would be a tall order.

But wait a minute!  Lucas Oil Stadium is currently one of three NFL stadiums with a retractable roof.  Yes… I will voluntarily concede this point.  However, it’s rarely used for NFL games mostly due to weather related contingency issues.  And while difficult for me to dissect the mind of a terrorist, I imagine that he/she would be wise enough to discern a better target.  A permanently open-air stadium would seem the smarter choice.

The other discussion panel will focus on the prospect of a bomb threat at Hinkle Arena.  Please note how the word “threat” is singular.  I’ve never studied the bomb threat protocol for Hinkle Fieldhouse (its correct name), but I imagine it conforms to most other indoor venues.

The notion that incident commanders (those tasked with the ultimate authority to order an emergency evacuation) still think in terms of a singular, isolated bomb threat is cause for tremendous concern.  And of course this lone bomb threat would be conveniently phoned in to the venue’s central lobby or main desk so it could be dealt with properly, efficiently and accordingly.

Forgive me for not being a “1950’s safety purist” in the year 2014.  I hate to raise this inconvenient truth… but doesn’t virtually every fan in the venue have an active cell phone?  What about everyone who works for the major broadcasting affiliates in Indianapolis (NBC – WTHR, ABC – RTV6, CBS – WISH and FOX59)?  What about the print media and their employees (The Indianapolis Star, Post-Tribune and 36 other local newspapers)?  What about radio stations and social media?  Could any of these people be the recipient of a bomb threat?  Would all of them simply ignore it?  The last time I checked, cell phones were used for the purpose of mobile communication.

There’s a reason I’ve made a mockery of these questions.  It’s called “discussing the undiscussable.”  And as the threats become increasingly obvious and more pronounced, their “undiscussability becomes undiscussable.”  I know it’s difficult to broach these subjects.  I understand human sensibilities.  But if you’re going to demonstrate a willingness to engage, you must do it realistically.  Or why even bother?  These “discussion scenarios” might be about safety, but emergency evacuation protocol is not a game.  Human stampedes are a very real phenomenon.  Just because they occur less frequently in the United States does not imply that our culture, our people are somehow immune.

The stakes are immeasurably high and I realize it’s an uncomfortable subject.  But now is not the time to “brush off” the problem or “ease into” the conversations or maintain a “civilized tone.”

I do not think it’s wise to inform fans of every feasible threat (drone attacks, suicide bombers, active shooters, etc.).  In theory, someone could parachute into a stadium while simultaneously throwing hand grenades.  Is it wise to explicitly warn people this could happen?  Of course not.  Because it’s unrealistic and entails a degree of excessive fear-mongering.

The difference between those scenarios and an artificially generated stampede is the likelihood and ease of the act being attempted.  Whether or not it would be successful shouldn’t even be the ultimate criterion.

I don’t have all the answers.  But I do know a great place to start.  Just tell fans that legitimate stadium evacuation orders don’t come from personal cell phones.  It’s a simple message and it’s the truth.  Some day this will become common knowledge (in the aftermath of a tragedy).  Can anyone offer a substantive reason for not putting this basic information in the public domain?

It’s 2014.  Technology has changed.  The world has changed.  We must change.

 

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) Deflects Concern Over Stadium Evacuation Protocol

paulryan_04

On December 29, 2013, I sent information to ALL 535 members of the United States Congress.*  Below is text from the letter mailed to 2012 Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI).

 

Paul,

I am deeply concerned about the inadequate state of emergency evacuation protocol at stadiums and arenas in the state of Wisconsin.

People have a fundamental right to know that if they are in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede. 

I would strongly encourage you to explore legislation regarding this issue.  In the interim, please contact those responsible for venue security and request they increase awareness concerning this urgent matter of public safety.

Thank you,

Eric Saferstein
45 Ridgewood Avenue
Wheeling, WV  26003

304-312-1395
info@agsaf.org

Much to my surprise, I received this response.

pryanI respectfully disagree with his contention that this matter falls outside his jurisdiction.  Any American citizen has the First Amendment right to tell others that a legitimate emergency stadium evacuation order would never originate from their personal cell phone.  As a leader and avid fan of the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers, Congressman Ryan would be an ideal choice to broach this subject.

Since the issue is universally applicable, I felt morally compelled to bring this matter to the attention of the entire Congress.

As of March 20, 2014, I have received a grand total of 12 written responses.^  If you wish to view any of this correspondence, please contact me.  I have also been the recipient of phone calls, mostly from congressional aides.

Considering the incredibly generic nature of my concerns and the overwhelming implications for national security, I was truly disheartened that not a single member of the House or Senate would take a moment and give me a phone call to explore the issue further.  I would characterize the overall performance of the United States Congress as “predictably egregious.”

And while I do applaud the diligence of those who responded, there seemed to be a consistent theme of “pass the buck.”  Most informed me that although they appreciate my concerns and would like to help, it was a matter of long-standing tradition and professional courtesy to refer such matters to my own representative.  Please keep in mind that each letter expressed concern for the safety of constituents from their home state.

I am represented by First District Congressman David McKinley (R-WV).

I had provided him with substantial documentation regarding outdated emergency evacuation protocol for large, confined crowds (stadiums, amphitheaters, arenas, etc.).  I quickly got the impression that he was not interested in addressing this issue.

Here’s why this is incredibly troublesome.  Upon being elected, every member of Congress takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  Let’s focus on how the artificially generated stampede impacts the Second Amendment.

The Second Amendment consists of more than the right to defend oneself by owning a gun.  There’s an obvious degree of required knowledge and situational awareness.  It’s necessary to learn how to safely store, correctly load and fire the gun.  It’s vital to be cognizant of the proper circumstances surrounding gun usage (as witnessed by recent “stand your ground” litigation).

People should be aware of the fact that a cell phone, if used to convey panic-inducing information, takes on the potential form of an asymmetric weapon.  People don’t normally view trees as weapons, but if the wood is used to create a spear, you now possess the ability to inflict injury.  Most people never envisioned passenger planes being used as 250,000 lb. cruise missiles… until 9/11 occurred.  These same analogies extends to cell phones and malicious hoax communications being used to create artificially generated stampedes.

I was hoping that just one of our esteemed representatives would have expressed a greater interest.  The notion that individuals tasked with safeguarding the lives of American citizens won’t acknowledge this potential threat to national security is more than alarming.  It’s mind-boggling.

I would encourage U.S. citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights.  At the next town hall or public forum, ask your Representative if he/she believes a scenario exists where widespread cellular technology could directly impact crowd safety.

 

* – 4 letters were returned to sender as undeliverable – Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Congressmen Gus Bilarikis (R-FL), Ted Poe (R-TX) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL)

^ – Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Congressmen George Miller (D-CA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), John Carter (R-TX), Adam Smith (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

 

FPAT (Force Protection Alert Tool)

radiance_logo+

NCS4=

FPAT (Force Protection Alert Tool)

Based on the University of Southern Mississippi campus, the NCS4 (National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security) sprang into existence in 2006.  It was established under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.  The NCS4 is generally regarded as the premiere government liaison to the sporting industry.  Their mission is to support the advancement of safety and security through training, professional development, academic programs and research.  They provide strategic guidance, assistance and advice on critical industry issues.

The NCS4 recently collaborated with Radiance Technologies located in nearby Huntsville, Alabama.  Their chief goal was to determine the effectiveness of a new software technology.  The product is known as FPAT (Force Protection Alert Tool).

The overriding objective was to analyze real-time internet traffic in order to better assess threats to public safety and venue security in a timely fashion.

A direct quote from their recent report:

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have quickly risen to prominence in usage by a large majority of the public.  The nature of social media makes it easy to use these tools as a platform to coordinate and conspire malicious acts and disrupt events and threaten venues and large groups of people.  By monitoring real-world social media, FPAT could be used to enhance situational awareness and detect potential threats that are expressed in unstructured social media forums.

FPAT searches for key words in cellular transmissions: synonyms, root words and derivations of terms that could denote emergency situations and/or criminal activity.

Words like arson, assault, bombing, counterfeiting, kidnapping, riot, stampede, theft, trespassing, vandalism, etc.

Phrases like disorderly conduct, illness-related medical emergency, etc.

If FPAT finds suspicious terminology, it then relays that contextual information to a central command location.  In theory, this should enhance situational awareness and lessen the duration of emergency response time.

On November 23, 2013, NCS4 and Radiance Technologies launched the initial test of FPAT during a college football game at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, MS.  Some key information:

  • The system monitored wireless communications within a 1,000 foot proximity of the stadium perimeter.
  • Twitter was the only social media forum to be monitored.
  • FPAT was utilized during the time frame of 12:30 PM – 5:30 PM.
  • The final attendance was announced at 22,134 out of a capacity of roughly 37,000.  By NCAA Division I standards, this is an admittedly low attendance figure.

Results:

According to evaluators, the experiment worked well.  It met or exceeded expectations with regard to alerting and usability.  However, of great interest should be the fact that even though FPAT met the “alerting criteria,” it failed to provide notifications in a “reasonable time frame” due to a lack of “demonstrable data points.”  There were several incidents where the transmission of information was stalled or backlogged.

Now here’s my takeaway:

I’m not going to even touch on the constitutional aspects of this technology.  To be honest, I’m not sure whether this is even legal.  It’s also not my primary concern.

I’m concerned that someone, in the aftermath of a tragedy, might claim that this was the best technology and means AVAILABLE to mitigate an artificially generated stampede (a sudden rush of people likely the result of panic-inducing information delivered via cell phones or mobile devices).

Such a claim would be downright ludicrous.  The obvious reason being — there is no way to mitigate a human stampede.  The solution lies in prevention and awareness, not mitigation.

I’m also deeply worried that administrators and authorities will remain reliant on this new technology rather than being forthcoming and acknowledging the bigger picture.  At some point you just need to start telling stadium attendees…

If you receive an evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information via your cell phone, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

Adding to this dilemma, there are additional ways to induce a sudden rush of fans.  None of the following transmissions employ suspicious or threatening key words. Any of these statements could result in large numbers of fans suddenly moving in an aggressive fashion.

  •  There’s an old man handing out $100 bills in the concourse outside Section 108!
  • I can’t believe it!  Bruce Springsteen is signing autographs next to the information kiosk!
  • Quaker Steak and Lube is giving away free buckets of garlic hot wings!  They’re testing out a new flavor right now!  While supplies last!

A few admissions:

The last time I was in Mississippi was during the mid 1990’s.  I’ve never been to M.M. Roberts Stadium or visited the University of Southern Mississippi.  I know nothing of trials and tribulations of their campus police department.  And I’ll readily concede that FPAT technology is still in the admittedly formative stages of development.

But here’s what I do know.  The prospect of a stampede ranked very high in the category of “Incident Classification Importance.”  FPAT was used to sense key words like “stampede” and “crowd crush.”  During the course of the evaluation, no keyword searches were returned that dealt with stampedes.

But seriously, what if there had been a suspicious transmission?  Do the creators of FPAT or the USM tactical command really expect someone to announce (via Twitter no less) their intention to instigate a human stampede.  Even more worrisome is the delusional notion that law enforcement could actually prevent an artificially generated stampede.

The concept of utilizing mitigation requires an O.O.D.A. loop.  You observe what’s happening, orient yourself, decide what to do and then take action.  An artificially generated stampede is by definition, an event that transpires in real-time.  You simply would not be afforded the opportunity to make thorough evaluations and assessments.

And even if you could take instantaneous action, what would you do?  Make an announcement over the public address within that precise millisecond?

“Stop stampeding immediately!  Anyone engaged in the act of running for their life could be deemed negligent and tried in a court of law.  Stampeders can face stiff penalties… including potential felony charges, fines in an amount no greater than $10,000 and a maximum term of imprisonment for a duration of no less than 5 years.”

Hailing from West Virginia, I can think of one practical application for FPAT.  And that’s a quicker emergency response to a couch burning.  But an artificially generated stampede?  You cannot be serious.

 

Miami Marlins Step Up to the Plate

miami_marlins_logo_detailOn Monday, February 24 at 2:37 PM, I left a brief voice mail for Miami Marlins Director of Security, Greg Terp:

Hello sir,

My name is Eric Saferstein and I’m calling from Wheeling, West Virginia.

The reason for the call – I wanted to touch base with you on the issue of your emergency evacuation protocol.  I believe the standard used by Major League Baseball is really outdated.

I’m particularly concerned about a scenario where someone tries to evacuate your ballpark without your knowledge or consent, likely a mass cellular hoax, probably an attempt to create a panic which could result in a stampede.

Anyway, I created a website that offers some contingency plans and I’d very much like to share it with you.  I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on it as of late.

If you would, please give me a call me at your convenience.  My number’s 304-312-1395 and my name’s Eric.  Thank you very much and I hope to hear from you.

Mr. Terp did not return my call.

However, on Wednesday, February 26 at 7:44 AM, I got a call from Detective Aschen Brenner with the Miami Office of the Florida Division of the Department of Homeland Security.

Miss Brenner wanted to know why I left a “threatening” message at the Marlins team headquarters.  I explained to her that I have some very tangible concerns about fan safety which stem from the widespread advent of cellular technology.  She then inquired as to what my “intentions” were.  Once again, I explained how my concern for fan safety was universal and it applied to all large, confined crowds, not just the Miami Marlins ballpark.  I had left the same message with several other MLB organizations.

She made the assertion that the DHS is actively addressing this issue “behind the scenes” and they simply cannot make all the relevant information available to the general public.  I explained how the problem can only be ultimately solved through awareness campaigns, not mitigation.  She encouraged me to read about Fusion Centers (extensions of the DHS which operate and handle security issues at the state and local level).

During our 25 minute conversation, her tone and tenor changed markedly.  It actually became a very pleasant back and forth as we touched on various subjects such as emergency evacuation protocol, the hoax culture and cyber-security.  Most important, we discussed the notion that in today’s age of rapid cellular technology, combined with the popularity of social media and the breaking news phenomenon, incident commanders no longer possess the same degree of authority they once had.  Everyone has access to real-time, real-world information.

We then touched on other transformational issues.  If memory serves me correct, the call ventured into topics of emergency preparedness, civil rights, situational awareness and the lingering catch-22 (encompassing the dilemma presented by the artificially generated stampede).  We also discussed the Department of Homeland Security’s “If you See Something, Say Something Campaign.”  Obviously, this could not be more relevant.

In closing, I asked her to share the AGSAF website with her colleagues and explore the possibility of taking action (Simply start telling people that legitimate evacuation orders don’t come from cell phones.  The industry standard is to use the public address system).  Detective Brenner said, “Well, there’s only so much we can do.  Our resources are limited.”  To which I replied, “Well, snippets of knowledge are generally an inexpensive commodity.  Information like “stop, drop and roll” or “look both ways before you cross the street” doesn’t really cost that much.  And on that note, we said our goodbyes.

For me personally, this was a big deal.  I’ve received plenty of calls from concerned, appreciative and sometimes annoyed individuals.  Members of law enforcement and those who deal with emergency preparedness, police chiefs and incident commanders all across the United States.  But this represented my first verbal contact with the DHS.  I originally sent then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano a letter on March 1, 2012, but I never received a response or any feedback.

There is a strange irony in all of this.  Detective Brenner echoed this sentiment during our conversation.  She mentioned how the American public has become irritated with the presence of “big brother.”  And that’s what makes this matter so disturbingly amusing.  I would actually welcome the federal government’s intrusion into my personal life.  They can feel free to monitor my phone calls and emails.  I’ll gladly relinquish ALL of my personal privacy in order to solve the far greater, vastly more urgent, societal issue.

The issues presented on the AGSAF website are transformative.  They will eventually be addressed, likely in the aftermath of a tragedy.  Since the artificially generated stampede is a looming public safety issue with incredibly dire ramifications, it’s my desire for the United States government to be proactive.

Our government goes to tremendous lengths and expenditure attempting to raise awareness on behalf of a variety of public safety issues.

From the big topics — airport screening, forest fire prevention, drunk driving campaigns, anti-smoking initiatives, etc.

To the seemingly trivial topics — requiring the disclosure of the amount of riboflavin in a bowl of Fruit Loops.

And there in lies the catch-22.  If the federal government acknowledges the problem, they own it.  And if a tragedy occurs, they reap the blame.  But it wouldn’t stop there.  An entire administration would be instantaneously delegitimized and rendered completely ineffective.  And while I sympathize with their dilemma, I place greater stock in the protection of innocent life and civil rights over political expediency.

So here’s my request.  It’s pretty straightforward… to Detective Brenner, current Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, President Barack Obama or basically anyone with a concern for public safety and fundamental human rights.

Just start telling people that if they’re in a large, confined crowd (stadium, arena, amphitheater, ballpark, motor speedway, etc.) and receive an emergency evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their personal cell phone… it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

This catastrophe can be prevented.  All it takes is someone brave enough to pose a simple question.  And that very question lies in the center of the cell phone of the AGSAF logo.

logo

 

Event “Safety” Alliance

event safety allianceFounded in January 2012, the Event Safety Alliance is a 501 C-3, not-for-profit, professional trade association comprised of roughly 2,000 individuals.  It mostly consists of people in the sporting, music, leisure and entertainment industry.

Their mission statement is pretty straightforward.

DO YOUR PART TO HELP PUT LIFE SAFETY FIRST

For a nominal fee ($49.95), you can even order the “Event Safety Guide.”  This book is hailed as the first published safety guide directed specifically at the live event industry.  It’s a compilation of the best operational practices currently available.  It covers emergency planning, weather preparedness, crowd control, fire safety and a myriad of other technical issues.  In an effort to provide the best possible information, helpful planning checklists and industry standards are culled from departments within FEMA: NIMS (National Incident Management System) and ICS (Incident Command System).

An excerpt from the ESA website regarding its origins:

“This is a massive undertaking, intended to be transparent and ALL inclusive, it is our mandate to give each individual the opportunity to participate in the process and take part in the peer review that will complete this long overdue work. EVERYONE will have the ability to review and comment on the work and the process as we move forward.”

Thank you for your participation…YOU are the Event Safety Alliance!

Sensing this inviting atmosphere of cooperation, I posted a concern about outdated emergency evacuation protocol on the Event Safety Alliance facebook page in mid-January of 2014.  I wrote about how the ubiquitous presence of cellular technology has fundamentally altered the playing field.  Incident commanders no longer have that same level of authority and control over the dispensation of real-time information.  I posted the AGSAF mission statement.

People have a fundamental right to know…
that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their personal cell phone or mobile device…
it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

From a major event perspective, it’s difficult to fathom a simpler message designated to foster an atmosphere of fan safety and awareness.

I’d be more specific about the exact time and date of the post, but my comment was abruptly DELETED.   But it didn’t stop there.  The ESA, in its infinite wisdom, disabled their whole comment section.  Not just from that one post.  At some point between January 17-20, 2014, they eliminated ALL comment sections from their entire facebook page!  Now nobody can comment on anything.

… YOU are the Event Safety Alliance.  You?  Who??  Me???

You’re probably wondering if I possess definitive proof of my post being the reason for the communication takedown?  Nope.  Let’s just say I have a strong hunch.

Further augmenting the irony, their facebook page still offers the following statement…

“We welcome you and would like you to join us in our mission to make all events a safer place.  We encourage readers to post comments relevant to the original post.”

Talk about sending a mixed message.  We want you to express your opinion.  But technically speaking, we won’t be giving you the option.  How’s that for a paradox?

So here’s the obvious question.  Why would they do this?  Well… it’s difficult to speculate, but I’ll give it a shot.

I think when I posted that single sentence, I opened up a can of worms.  I raised a transformational issue, one which has not yet been dealt with… by mankind.  One that irrevocably alters the established terrain of communications, emergency management protocol and humanity at-large.

The underlying premise for any emergency evacuation is based upon the key notion that the incident commander has direct authority and control over the initial evacuation order.  But wait a minute.  This simply does not comport with real-world conditions.  At some NCAA football games, there are as many as 100,000 active cell phones in the stadium.

Think about it.  Each fan has potential exposure to an evacuation order and/or panic inducing information on an INDIVIDUALIZED basis.  Phone calls, social media transmissions, texts, notifications, alerts, etc.  The notion of a hack or viral hoax is material for a book in itself.

Even if every single person had the cognitive ability to properly assess the situation, dismiss such an evacuation order and remain perfectly calm, wouldn’t it be wise to prepare a contingency plan?  After all, some people get a little skittish when they hear or see the word “bomb.”  Ya know… just in case someone, somewhere on the planet has a nefarious agenda.   I dunno… maybe just let people know the following:

Please be aware… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, a legitimate order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.  

Any competent incident commander would wholeheartedly agree with this statement.

Occasionally looping that one sentence over the public address system would be a good place to start.  That’s all it would take.  A straightforward, no-nonsense acknowledgment that society has changed.  On the other hand, all those ESA industry experts would have to come to some sort of new consensus.  Sounds challenging, particularly when you don’t allow for any outside input.

They’d likely have to publish an entirely new edition of the “Event Safety Guide.”  Even though they’re a non-profit organization, this could prove rather costly.   And it could be embarrassing for a ton of other organizations (NFL, NCAA, NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, IRL, MLS, etc).  And it would present some new challenges for the federal government (DHS, FCC, DOE, FEMA, FBI, NSA, etc.).  That’s a slew of letters and acronyms.  Change is a real bitch!

If any of this concerns you, I’d start by contacting ESA President Jim Digby.  But he doesn’t offer an email address.  And his organization doesn’t divulge their physical address.  They also don’t have a publicly listed telephone number.  Maybe you could inquire in their comment section.  Oops, sorry.  I forgot.  No comments allowed.

Zombie Apocalypse Prank

top-cell-phone-pranksOn February 11, 2013, the regularly scheduled programming on KRTV in Great Falls, Montana was interrupted by a hijacked EAS (Emergency Alert System) message.

“Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living.   Follow the messages onscreen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc60XPCXrh8

This youtube video has been viewed over 1 million times.

The same “zombie alert” happened in other cities as well: Marquette, Michigan and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So how exactly did this happen?  The consensus opinion is that a hacker took advantage of a default password.  This was not the result of technological sophistication.  A decent analogy would be a burglar whimsically entering a house because the front door was left wide open.

Just FYI — it’s ironic how the fictitious alert coincided with a lie detector test.  We have become an increasingly “gotcha” society.  Is it reasonable to assume the “next big gotcha moment” could overshadow the endless parade of lie detector and paternity tests?

The EAS is part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.  It is jointly coordinated by FEMA, the FCC and the National Weather Service.  The Emergency Alert System is generally not lacking in government oversight and compliance.  In other words, it’s tightly monitored.

Now let’s try a hypothetical experiment.  What if something non-zombie related occurred during the NFL Sunday televised slate of afternoon games?

*** FCC Flash Override ***
The FBI has announced an emergency evacuation of the following NFL stadiums:  Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.

How might the general public react to this scrolling message?  I doubt everyone would be dismissive and stay focused on the game.  I imagine they would immediately try to contact loved ones inside the stadium, or for that matter, ANY stadium by ANY means possible.  Keep in mind that a malicious individual could easily conceive of a vastly more threatening message.

Let’s take a trip back to October 18, 2006.  The Department of Homeland Security warned NFL officials in Miami, New York City, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, Oakland and Cleveland about a possible threat involving the simultaneous use of dirty bombs.  The “intelligence” was obtained from multiple posts on an internet website.  Even though an FBI official was quoted as saying the “credibility of the threat was beyond ridiculous,” the U.S. government opted to err on the side of caution.

Of course the mainstream media immediately jumped all over the story.  This incident demonstrates the increasing blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, reality and hoax.  Whether or not the threat was deemed credible, stories of this magnitude tend to resonate in the public conscience.

Now you might make the following argument… well, the government’s surely on top of this matter.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  My personal research indicates a gross level of incompetence and purposeful neglect.

Consider the following: every NFL team has a cellular opt-in notification system that offers fans instantaneous information regarding scoring, coaching personnel, player injuries, etc.  Instead of a routine halftime scoring update, what if it’s a panic-inducing mass text message?

Once a message is delivered, there is no recourse.  Real-time information has real-world consequences.  There is no magical shield to prevent the “bad stuff” from getting through.  The NSA might engage in monitoring and eavesdropping, but as far as I know, there’s no split-second filtration system.  If it had one, the bomb threat problem as we know it, would not exist.

Oh, and just one final, trivial thought.  It need not be a technical hack or insider manipulation.  The viral blitzkrieg scenario involves a simple, blanket saturation of information.  Tweets, texting, bulk messaging platforms, alerts, social media, facebook, twitter, snapchat, emails, phone calls, robo-calls, etc.  It’s capable of being executed, and likely better suited for, a disgruntled teenager.

Not to worry, I’m sure the government has the problem covered.  Up until now, they’ve done a fine job in the arena of hoax prevention.  Though let’s be honest.  There are a few exceptions –  just some minor slip-ups:

AP Twitter account hacked, ‘explosions at White House’ crashes DOW

New Jersey Civil Emergency Alert: Take Shelter Now

Fortunately, the media has their back:

Gore Beats Bush

Gabbie Giffords (D-AZ) is Dead

Supreme Court Reverses Obamacare

Don’t worry.  I’m sure the NFL will provide an exceptional third line of defense.  After all, nothing bad ever happens on this planet.  Nobody important would ever engage in the age-old art of deception.

Bill Clinton – “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

George W. Bush – “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Barack Obama – “If you like your plan, you get to keep your plan.

Call me crazy, but holding 7.2 billion people to a higher standard than these three doesn’t seem particularly wise.  By the way, if you’re wondering whatever happened to the zombie apocalypse hacker… well, I wouldn’t worry about it.  I’m sure the federal government has the matter well in hand.  Worst case scenario: we could rely on the outstretched hands of zombies.  I’ve heard they take a very hands-on approach.

 

Spread Disinformation, Sow Confusion

METLIFE-STADIUM-SUPER-BOWLSuper Bowl XLVIII is less than a week away.  The game’s being played in New Jersey, but all of the spotlight will be on New York.  The Super Bowl Boulevard is located in the Times Square section of Manhattan but kickoff is set for 6:30 PM in the town of East Rutherford.  Still confused?  I would hope not.

 

But if you have an interest in the bigger issues… false flags, foreseeable conspiracies and the future trajectory of technology vs. mankind, please continue reading.

As expected, the level of security for Super Bowl 48 will be unprecedented.

Some excerpts from a recent NBC News report:

This Super Bowl, says Ed Hartnett, former head of the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Unit, “truly defines the word ‘challenge’ when it comes to security.”

There is no intelligence indicating that terrorists have targeted the game or related events, but Hartnett says that doesn’t mean that threats don’t exist: “I would list them in priority order being a suicide bomber, a vehicle laden with explosives and a mass shooter or mass shooters similar to the Kenyan mall, or the Mumbai incidents,” he said. His concerns are echoed by law enforcement officials overseeing the game.

The above statement reflects the most obvious concern: conventional weaponry.  As a result, security personnel will utilize barriers, expand perimeters and visually monitor geographic locations.

The documents also discuss an emerging threat: computer hacking.  Could criminals use a cyber-attack to hit the infrastructure and control systems for the game?  While not considered likely, officials recall what an accidental blackout did to last year’s game.  Many of the key players in developing this year’s security plan attended the game in New Orleans and learned from the Superdome outage, which delayed the game for 34 minutes early in the third quarter.

It would appear the prospect of “hacking” is officially on the table.  Yet the ramifications of a cyber-attack seem narrowly focused on infrastructure related issues.

Lieutenant Colonel Edward Cetnar of the New Jersey State Police is the man in charge of security at the game itself.  His task as incident commander is to make sure the matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos goes off without a hitch.  That requires planning for a triple threat: “Everything that we’re doing has an air, land and sea concept,” he said.

“Air, land, and sea.”  Once again, this echoes a time-honored, established pattern of thinking.  A predictable approach like this appears geared more toward the allocation of financial resources.  Major budgetary decisions appear grounded in familiarity and precedent.

Law enforcement is also concerned that “hacktivists” – hackers with social or political aims — could exploit social media to “spread disinformation, sow confusion.

This seems to be the only public mention of compromised emergency evacuation protocol.  It is the sole acknowledgement of any concern regarding the potential for an artificially generated stampede.  And at best, it’s incredibly vague.

“Spread disinformation” — Is this about manipulating the line in Vegas?  Is it about intentionally trying to deceive NFL statisticians?

“Sow confusion” — Confuse who exactly?  The coaching personnel?  The players on the field?  The officiating crew?

Let me explain.

“Spreading disinformation and sowing confusion” is a subliminal inference directed at the media and stadium occupants.  But there’s nothing subtle about it.  Super Bowl 48 is the biggest televised event in the United States.  East Rutherford, NJ has a population of roughly 8,000.  On game day, it burgeons to 10x that number.  80,000+ individuals in a tightly restricted area covering 1/15 mile.  Sunday’s game has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a Tier 1 event.  Offering obscure hints and cloaked innuendo about spectator safety is unacceptable.

What’s truly frustrating here is the utter lack of “out-of-the-box” thinking.  Spending millions upon millions in the name of heightened security but failing to acknowledge the simplest aspect of tactical awareness.  People deserve to be cognizant of the fact that legitimate evacuation orders do not originate from cell phones.  Not just in NFL stadiums, but anywhere a large, confined crowd gathers (outdoor amphitheaters, state fairs, arenas, political conventions, motor speedways, mega-churches, shopping malls, etc.).  This is an inevitable civil rights issue.  Denial of information this blatantly apparent is worse than rescinding the knowledge of “stop, drop and roll” or “look both ways before you cross the street.”

Just ask the Super Bowl’s incident commander, Edward Cetnar.  He’ll confirm everything I’ve written.  Although I imagine he’d be more succinct.

As one further reflects, it becomes painfully ironic.  Here we’ve assembled the nation’s top security experts, military personnel with the highest accolades, dedicated law enforcement, the finest emergency responders — and still, nobody is willing to ask the most obvious question.

Maybe if it was posed by a young child…

Instead of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, what if someone texts “bomb” in a crowded stadium?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated and technologically all-encompassing.  But that is the basic essence.

What if Met Life Stadium fell victim to a virtual saturation of bomb threats, i.e., a “viral blitzkrieg?”  What happens when large numbers of attendees simultaneously begin receiving evacuation orders and/or panic-inducing information via their wireless devices?  Now add the ingredient of heightened paranoia due to the extreme security measures already in effect.  And toss in a crowd that’s completely oblivious.  All the security in the world cannot squelch, suppress or inhibit the human emotion of fear.  It’s just that simple.

NFL Chief Information Officer Michelle McKenna Doyle recently said, “Our hope is that this is the most connected live event in sports history.”

And therein lies the paradox.  For if you acknowledge this incredibly generic concept, this black hole of societal awareness — then it is you who will bear the burden of consequence.  If disaster strikes, those in positions of authority will ultimately be held accountable.  It’s just the same old blame game, but with an inhuman, cold-blooded catch-22.

Perhaps my expectations are too imposing.  Is the United States government or the National Football League actually capable of being proactive?  Is this asking too much?  Would either institution really be willing to address this transformational issue?  Maybe the Super Bowl is too grand a stage.  I just wish someone (other than myself) would be bold enough to ask the question.

In the January 28, 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama stated, “Our security cannot depend on our military alone.”  I concur.  He may have been referencing foreign policy abroad, but the domestic implications have never been more time-sensitive.

 

University of Oklahoma “Shooting”

ou-university-oklahoma-shooting-scare

 

 

 

 

 

 

On January 22, the University of Oklahoma’s official twitter feed transmitted the following message:

OK university twitter update

 

 

 

 

Soon after, the shooting was flashed as Breaking News on all the cable news outlets (television and websites).

The sprawling campus immediately went into lockdown mode.  Over the next several hours, additional twitter updates provided seemingly relevant information.

All university operations and classes eventually returned to normal after the true
cause was determined: machinery backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.

When assessing this situation, I think it’s fair to note that a student was shot and
killed a day earlier on the campus of Purdue University.  Purdue University is located in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Fortunately, what resulted from the University of Oklahoma incident was only campus-wide anxiety and inconvenience.  No injuries were reported.  So it would appear that this case of the mistaken emergency alert will likely end up in the virtual dustbin of “texty tweets.”  No harm done.

Allow me to offer an alternative perspective.

During an October 1, 2005 football game at Oklahoma University’s Memorial Stadium, a crowd of 84,501 was enjoying the 2nd quarter when fans heard a “loud rumble” in close proximity to the stadium.  No official explanation was given as to the source of the noise, but fans claimed it sounded similar to a “low-clap” of thunder.

During the intermission, fans were not allowed to exit the stadium.  Many fans remained “anxiously unaware” throughout the remainder of the game.  When the game ended, the public address system was used to convey information regarding closed-off exits and alternate modes of egress.

What spectators actually heard during the 2nd quarter was an individual who blew himself up with TATP (triacetone triperoxide) less than 200 yards from the stadium.  That is correct.  The bomber, identified as OU student Joel Henrichs III, was immediately killed in the explosion.  The FBI and local authorities launched an extensive investigation and determined it to be an isolated incident with no ties to terrorism.

Although initially reported by national media outlets, the story was quickly withdrawn from the mainstream news.  Considering the magnitude of a person blowing themselves up outside one of the largest entertainment venues in the midwest, this raises a series of other questions.  But I’d prefer to focus on the issue at hand.

Have University of Oklahoma officials been properly briefed on the potential consequences of sending out an “accidentally false” emergency notification?  What if their Twitter feed was hacked or intentionally misused?  Even if the information was factually correct, are they aware it could trigger a mass panic resulting in an artificially generated stampede?  The 2005 self-detonation in Norman, Oklahoma occurred well before Twitter became socially relevant in 2007.  Do current models governing emergency alert systems accurately reflect the changes in social media and technological advancements made in the past decade?  Are the Department of Education and Federal Communications Commission on top of this?  What about the Department of Homeland Security?

The Department of Education has been woefully inadequate in addressing this area of concern.  It’s largely due to the sensitive nature of emergency evacuation protocol and difficulty in coping with the other issues that would naturally surface as a result.  This matter clearly falls under the guise of the 1990 Clery Act which governs the timely, public notification of criminal activity on campus.  And it should be addressed by the NCAA Executive Committee as well.  But you cannot address any of the sub-issues without a broader acknowledgement.  Because when it’s all said and done, it’s a civil rights issue.

People have a fundamental right to know that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device… it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

You simply cannot micromanage this degree of awareness.  Not only is it exceedingly relevant, it’s the truth.  Plain and simple.  I’ll even concede that pertinent follow-up information could be delivered via cellular platforms.  But only AFTER an initial evacuation order is delivered in a unified, coherent fashion (through the public address system, and perhaps if available, the jumbotron).  It’s not as complicated as it sounds.  It’s just a matter of current emergency evacuation protocol norms.

I notified OU President David Boren of this matter in multiple 2012 letters and an email sent in 2013.  On all three occasions, he neglected to respond.

The University of Oklahoma has an enrollment of just over 30,000 students.  Official capacity for Memorial Stadium is listed at 82,112.  The largest crowd ever exceeded 86,000 in a 2012 contest against Notre Dame.

Much to it’s credit, the University of Oklahoma staged an emergency drill at Memorial Stadium in 2007.  More than 500 students and emergency responders participated in a stadium evacuation resulting from a simulated gas line rupture.  At the time, it was the first ever drill of its kind in NCAA Division I history.

While I see nothing wrong with performing risk assessment and threat analysis, I would submit the following.  There’s a big difference between a meticulously coordinated drill involving less than 1,000 cognizant participants AND a real-time, real-world unplanned scenario with 80x that number.

 

Cellular Intimidation in the Ukraine

bigbrothercellUkraine has been the scene of recent civil unrest.  Clashes with police in the capital city of Kiev have become commonplace.  Looting, fires, injuries and fatalities are on the rise.  Even the use of catapults has been documented.

Opposition leaders have accused the government of provoking the turmoil by creating violent factions within the protesters.  Sowing the seeds of dissent has long been an effective way to quell large protests.  This strategy incorporates the basic Roman principle of “divide and conquer.”  Nothing new there.

Of particular interest are the recent actions taken by the Ukrainian government.  Laws restricting the right to publicly assemble have gone into effect.  There has been a crackdown on wearing masks and helmets.  Erecting tents and sound systems now require special permits.

But the greatest concern revolves around something that occurred on January 21, 2014.  An ominous, bulk text message was disseminated.  It targeted everyone in the vicinity of the protests.

“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

 lede_image-blog480-v2

From an Orwellian perspective, this is like feeding any hope of a social contract between a government and its citizenry directly into a paper shredder.

Exactly where the message originated from remains a “mystery.”

Three wireless carriers (Kyivstar, MTS and Life) denied any involvement or collusion with the government.  Kyivstar, the largest mobile communication service provider, suggested the possibility of a “pirate” cellphone tower being used to propagate the information.

The phrasing of the message seemed purposely designed to intimidate its recipients.  The specific jargon appears carefully attenuated to echo the sentiment expressed in recent oppressive laws governing the right of assembly.

The ramifications of such an unsolicited, mass text message are designed to set a lingering, menacing precedent.  It doesn’t take a degree in clinical psychology to determine the lasting societal impact.

While this incident is certainly unsettling, it raises an even greater concern as to the prospect of fomenting an artificially generated stampede.  The unfolding crisis in the Ukraine reminds us of just how powerful words can be.  Take a moment and reflect on the consequences of other hypothetical messages and what could happen to unsuspecting crowds elsewhere.

While the mass text in the Ukraine was certainly part of a vindictive agenda, there was still a modicum of restraint.  What would happen if the message incorporated an extreme degree of malicious intent?  An engulfing, blanketing message designed to have a mentally suffocating effect.  If people were to panic, it could get physical really fast.

 

Stampede Dynamics

mosque picThe new year was ushered in by a human stampede in northwestern China.  Fourteen people were pronounced dead.  The January 5, 2014 stampede was allegedly triggered by the distribution of free bread at the overcrowded Beida mosque in the Ningxia region.

Authorities blamed the tragedy on familiar indicators: gross incompetence, poor crowd control measures and a lack of organization and managerial oversight.

As a result, four individuals were fired: the county and township heads, the county’s director of religious affairs and a deputy police chief.  The mosque’s administrator has been detained on a suspicion of criminal negligence charge.  Although this particular stampede was of limited size and scope, I doubt the firings were of much comfort to those who lost loved ones.

We’ve all found ourselves in dangerously overcrowded situations.  Have you ever felt the “push and pull” of fans at a general admission rock concert?  Have you ever been forcibly lifted off your feet by Mardi Gras revelers in the narrow confines of Bourbon Street?  Have you ever witnessed the aggressive mob mentality as shoppers gather on Black Friday?  These are the typical American conceptualizations of a stampede.

Historically speaking, human stampedes are more common in Asia, Africa and Europe.  Americans associate stampedes with combative bargain hunters, unruly protests, flash mobs and celebratory fans tearing down goalposts.  While there may be elements of anxiousness and trepidation, I can assure you that most people are not fearing for their lives.  Their senses may be heightened, but most aren’t anticipating a life or death struggle.

In the aftermath of a stampede, if a lead investigator were to say, “Well… the crowd just panicked.”  Well… that would likely be an insufficient explanation.  People want to comprehend the reasoning behind how and why a tragedy unfolded.  They want answers.  And that’s when you hear the traditional roll out of excuses regarding organization, planning and management.  But I can assure you of one thing.  The essence of ANY stampede stems from one dominant characteristic – human panic.

So what exactly is it that transforms a large crowd into a churning machine of injuries and fatalities?  Let me give you a hint.  It’s called REAL PANIC – the legitimate fear that your life could abruptly end.  When the physiological behavior of the crowd dramatically shifts.  When you hear the screams.  When parents think their children might die.  When you see that first person get knocked to the ground.  When you witness a person tumble head-first down a steep flight of concrete steps.  When any of these things happen, all behavior that’s customary and routine is tossed out the window.  Now take those unscripted, individual emotions and exponentially multiply them by the size of the crowd.

American ignorance and hubris adds a critical dimension to the equation.  The vast majority of Americans have never been impacted by a full throttle human stampede.  They simply cannot grasp a hundred people being trampled or forcibly ejected over the railing of a soccer stadium.  Or far worse, a thousand people suffocating from compressive asphyxiation in a condensed area, such as the 1990 Hajj (a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia), the 2005 Baghdad Bridge stampede or a bomb shelter in 1941 Chongqing, China.  They’ve just never witnessed the raw impact of genetically ingrained herding instincts.  It’s one thing to read about it in a brief newspaper clipping.  It’s entirely another thing to be an actual participant.

As I was explaining earlier, it’s best to put aside your preconceived notions of what constitutes a human stampede.  A legitimate stampede is a unique phenomenon that Americans are simply unfamiliar with.

There’s an enormous difference between:

believing the notion that “those things” just don’t happen here

and

believing the notion that “those things” could NEVER happen here.

There are all kinds of steps you can take to mitigate a disaster, but real-time, real-world panic has a way of instantly transforming the situation on the ground.  All the regulations, all the security, all the precautionary measures — none of it matters, if and when, the panic is genuine.  But the bigger mistake is believing that Americans are somehow fundamentally different or less susceptible to the dynamics that govern human panic.  We aren’t.

 

A Small Step in a Big Direction

imagesIllinois Governor Pat Quinn just signed Senate Bill 1005 into law.  Its purpose is to discourage attempts at creating malicious flash mobs through electronic communications.  It went into effect January 1, 2014.  The bill overwhelmingly passed the Illinois House and State Senate.

The new law calls for lengthier incarceration if you’re found guilty of using electronic communications to solicit or commit the offense of “mob action.”  It seeks to address the growing problem of social media being intentionally used to instigate hostile flash mob gatherings.  Its current focus revolves around issues of looting and random violence.

SB 1005 came about in response to the socially media-driven mobs that spontaneously terrorized Chicago’s famous MAG Mile in March of 2013.  The Magnificent Mile is a prestigious section of Michigan Avenue.  It is home to vast retail stores, museums, restaurants and some of the tallest buildings in the United States.

While this legislation does address the issue of violent mobs, it fails to focus on the more serious prospect of targeted human stampedes.

A little background is helpful.

While I agree with the general sentiment of SB 1005, it fails to take into account the possibility of mass numbers of people falling prey to a deliberate hoax.  The primary concern here is an artificially generated stampede or dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  Hypothetically speaking, if unexplainable human stampedes were to suddenly take place in large football stadiums (say, for instance in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Houston), it’s reasonable to assume that millions of people would head straight to social media, particularly facebook and twitter.  Cities hosting overlapping events would immediately be impacted by the ensuing viral blitzkrieg, or “info-bomb.”

People who embrace social media often fancy themselves as “renegade journalists.”  They’ll post a wide variety of information: celebrity deaths, sports scores, local traffic and weather updates, etc.  But they seem especially drawn toward showcasing anything in the realm of “live” or “breaking” news.  Naturally, if you wish to be the center of attention, that’s where the action is.

Social media is particularly vulnerable to the hoax culture because there’s an inherent level of trust among established contacts.  If such an unfathomable catastrophe were to transpire, I seriously doubt the new breed of social media junkies would stand idly by.  They’d be motivated to take action.  Many would call and text.  Others would post and tweet.  Consequently, the situation would spiral out of control as larger concentrations of people are bombarded with threatening information.  In specific locations, these people would panic… and they would run.

The notion of retroactively seeking punishment against potentially millions of people who unknowingly contributed to real-world human stampedes is a ludicrous one.  I imagine the Illinois courts would have a difficult time determining exactly who, among the millions, acted with deliberate intent.  And while I go to great lengths to avoid the “c” word (conspiracy), I would encourage you to think about it from that perspective.  Nobody knew what was happening, but somehow, everybody was in on it.  SB 1005 is a micro-targeted solution to a much broader problem of tremendous scope and magnitude.

There’s only one universal solution to this issue.  And that’s awareness.  While I salute the Illinois legislature for being proactive, they need to acknowledge that this is but one tiny aspect of a much larger civil rights issue involving the right to defend oneself.  The concept of an artificially generated, or information-based stampede, sets an expansive precedent.  Tentative, piecemeal legislation is not the answer.  Politicians and those in charge of venue security need to acknowledge that the best solution involves an all-inclusive acceptance of how cellular communications, social media and the prospect of a malicious hoax present a dangerously unresolved situation.

Of course it all starts with raising awareness.  People have a fundamental right to know… that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an emergency evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.  A legitimate evacuation order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.  What percentage of the population is currently aware of this?  It’s hard to say.  Tops… maybe an honest 5%?  Do your own research.  Just ask anyone.  They’ll all say the same thing.  “Whoaa… I never thought of that.”

There was a famous rapper who died in 1996, just before widespread cell phone use came of age.  Ironically, his words still resonate in 2014.

Don’t believe everything you hear.  Real eyes, Realize, Real lies. – Tupac Shakur

 

Comprehending the Dominipede

Comprehension_000Sometimes a word or an idea is ahead of its time.  Such is the case with the term “cyberspace.”  It was coined by science fiction author William Gibson in 1982.  He was describing his vision of a global computer network that linked people, machines and sources of information throughout the world.  Gibson was conceiving of a way to navigate through virtual terrain.  This concept would eventually become a universal reality… roughly 15 years later.

A “dominipede” refers to multiple artificially generated stampedes — simultaneous human stampedes likely the result of a mass cellular hoax involving perceived evacuation orders and/or panic-inducing information.  Domino + Stampede = Dominipede.  The term itself does not exist… as of yet.

People often have difficulty comprehending the nature of a hypothetical event.  This is understandable.  After all, how is anyone supposed to accurately predict the future?  Even with the most sophisticated technology, coupled with access and insight into every past event, it’s very difficult to predict “future history.”

Here’s an open admission.  I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t speak with omniscient beings.  I also don’t have top-secret government clearance and access to classified information.  So this leaves me with two basic ways to predict a future hypothetical calamity.  One method involves the common sense approach of “connecting the dots.”  The other method requires “thinking outside the box.”

One way to conceptualize a dominipede is through the prism of 9/11.  When people talk about 9/11 you often hear words like spectacular, bizarre, horrific, unconventional, unimaginable, unfathomable.  Our government termed it an “asymmetric” attack.  But is that really an accurate classification?

Think about it.  We’ll assume that you subscribe to the conventional narrative of 9/11.  People knew that passenger planes could be hijacked.  The worldwide airline industry had witnessed countless hijackings, both successful and unsuccessful.  Additionally, people knew that planes could be used as weapons.  World War II was replete with the legendary heroics of kamikaze pilots.  And the evidence of individuals willing to martyr themselves is overwhelming.  The term “suicide bomber” is virtually synonymous with terrorism.  Let’s connect the dots.

  • Hijackings occur.  That’s a fact.
  • Planes can be used as weapons.  That’s a fact.
  • Acts of terrorism often employ suicide bombers.  That’s a fact.

So when it comes to 9/11, why is it that nobody was able to connect the dots and take preventative action?  There are plenty of specific answers to this question.  But a superior answer lies within the concept of government inertia.  The United States government is a risk averse, massive bureaucracy.  Sometimes a cataclysmic event “must seemingly happen” before government can acquire the necessary momentum to address its underlying vulnerabilities.  This is especially true with regard to acts of foreign and domestic terrorism.  Simply stated, the government has enough difficulty tackling formidable problems in the here and now.  It’s not particularly well-equipped to address consequential hypotheticals.

Now let’s revisit the 9/11 analogy and apply it to the dominipede.

  • Cellular technology and interconnectivity are on the rise.  That’s a fact.
  • The pace of information delivery is accelerating.  That’s a fact.
  • Hoaxes are becoming increasingly prevalent.  That’s a fact.
  • Human stampedes have happened and will continue to happen on ALL continents (with the obvious exception of Antarctica).  That’s a fact.
  • Human beings have a dark history of searching for innovative ways to kill each other.  That’s most definitely a fact.

Another way to comprehend the dominipede involves “thinking outside the box” and grasping its underlying “essence.”  Let’s try and find some relative context.

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake originated off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

tsunamiAs you can see, the tsunami’s impact was felt as far away as the tip of South Africa.  This was admittedly a natural disaster but it helps to acknowledge the “rippling effect.”  When the global ecosystem faces a significant disruption, it’s impossible to contain the fallout.  A massive wall of water could just as easily be a blitzkrieg of information. And from a technological perspective, everything on our planet is spiraling in one direction — rapid interconnectivity.

Powerball is pretty much a national lottery.  It builds upon itself.

powerball-map
Naturally, when there isn’t a winner, more people start buying up more tickets and the payout grows accordingly.  There’s often a feeding frenzy mentality.  Some refer to it as lottery fever or hysteria.  Consider the behavior of your family and friends, coworkers and the media.  Everything culminating toward an exponential build-up, until that singular moment of truth — the drawing.  That one centralized moment impacts every ticket holder, in every single location, instantaneously and simultaneously.

In 2010, the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East and Northern Africa.

arab-spring-mapMany countries experienced civilian uprisings, protests and bloodshed.  Some governments were transformed.  Others cracked down.  Regardless of how everything panned out, the message of greater personal freedom was intrinsically powerful.  It spread in real-time and had real-world consequences.

So what are the underlying characteristics of these three events?  Interconnectivity, emotion and synchronization.  What might happen if you combine all of these ingredients?  And in what direction is the trajectory of society trending?

Major policy decisions are always centered around the dissemination of a message.  When humanity seeks to comprehend substantive issues and events (both inspiring and catastrophic), we rely upon the management of information.  But the dominipede is a hypothetical, so one must rely on thinking outside the box.  Unfortunately, time and awareness are critical components in this equation.

Now here’s the million dollar question — exactly what could happen when you have no time to solve a problem you don’t know exists?  Even worse, what if people know about an impending problem but simply refuse to address it?  As I mentioned earlier, predicting the future is no easy task.  But I do know one thing.

Synchronized fear + large crowds that have no idea what’s going on = a very negative outcome.

I’ve been very reluctant to invoke 9/11 in my writings, but there’s a reason I used it in this article.  Much like intentionally crashing a hijacked plane, the artificially generated stampede is simply another “crack in the system.”  With every passing day, these cracks continue to expand.  If the problem is not dealt with, if the cracks don’t get sealed… the likely outcome is a dominipede.

 

Super Bowl XLVIII Security and the Artificially Generated Stampede

Superbowl 48Super Bowl 48 is quickly approaching.  The big event is set for February 2, 2014 at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.  However, this year is a little different.  Not only is it the first “cold weather” outdoor Super Bowl, but it’s also guaranteed to surpass all prior championship games in the realms of security, media coverage, profit and technological connectivity.

Even though planning for the Super Bowl begins well over a year in advance, it’s difficult to get an estimate on the total cost of security.  Due to its “Level I” security designation by the DHS, federal officials seem reluctant to divulge even a rough estimate.

When you factor in the influx of additional FBI agents, security consultants, outside specialty contractors, mobile command and control, crowd management personnel, military assistance, surveillance equipment, SWAT teams, radiological, biological, chemical and nuclear detection teams and equipment — the costs begin to escalate.  Now factor in a few other federal and state agencies and residual concerns regarding 9/11.  It’s safe to say that overall security expenditures are spiraling in one direction… upward.

One could credibly argue that this will be the “Security Bowl.”

The last three Super Bowls ranked as the most heavily watched programs in U.S. history.  Each game had a total viewership of roughly 110 million individuals.  Unless you live under a rock, you’re likely aware of what’s going on the evening of February 2, 2014.

The Super Bowl is always the center of the media universe.  And by virtue of neighboring New York City being the number one media market in the United States, this means even greater visibility.

I think you can easily make the claim that Superbowl 48 will be the “Coverage Bowl.”

It’s generally assumed that wagering (legal and illegal) on the NFL title game exceeds 10 billion worldwide.  Last year, a 30 second ad sold for an average of 3.8 million.  Official merchandise, consultant salaries, the regional economic impact, etc. — the Super Bowl is always big bucks.

If you renamed it the “Money Bowl,” you’d be on safe ground.

I could comment on the level of technological connectivity at Met Life Stadium, but I’ll just let these testimonials speak for themselves.  They speak volumes.

Mark Lamping, New Meadowlands Stadium Co. President and CEO

“Through the use of technology, we have set the bar for sporting venues in terms of fan interaction, stadium management and our ability to adapt to changing consumer demands.  In working with premier technology brands, such as Cisco and Verizon, we bring to our fans one of the most tailored and unforgettable experiences in sports today.”

John Mara, President and CEO, New York Giants

“Never before has any sports venue integrated so many cutting-edge technological developments.  When fans enter New Meadowlands, they are going to feel like they’re stepping into the future.”

Woody Johnson, Chairman and CEO, New York Jets

“When you’re watching a game at home, comforts don’t stop at the screen and we don’t believe the enjoyment of a live sports event should stop at the field.  We’ve made the New Meadowlands Stadium more information-rich than any sporting venue has ever been — and we’ve made it as comfortable and well-stocked as your dream kitchen and living room.”

Steve Tisch, Chairman and Executive Vice President, New York Giants

“We’re proud to be leading the charge in creating the premiere sports stadium and setting the gold standard for technology use in the new stadium.  Our $100 million investment will allow the stadium to stand the test of time, and our sound technological infrastructure will serve us well today and far into the foreseeable future.”

Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon Communications Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

“As a cornerstone partner of New Meadowlands Stadium, Verizon is helping create a home team advantage for New York Jets and New York Giants fans.  This exciting destination is changing the game for how we engage with sports and entertainment, and is a model for future interactive arenas.”

John T. Chambers, Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

“Cisco is committed to delivering world-class solutions for sports and entertainment, and we are delighted to help New Meadowlands create this state-of-the-art facility, one of the finest multipurpose venues in the world.  This new venue will feature the latest technologies in video and interactive solutions, providing fans with a truly memorable experience.”

I’ll assume these executives know what they’re talking about.  This goes well beyond technological interconnectivity.  It sounds more like technological hyper-connectivity.

Perhaps we should call it the “Connectivity Bowl.”

Now with all these security measures, with all the media coverage, with all the big money interests, with all this hyper-connectivty… has anyone bothered to ask one simple question?

What if large numbers of people in the stadium suddenly receive panic-inducing information or an evacuation order via their cell phones while the game is in progress?

Has anyone warned spectators that it would almost certainly be a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede?  Don’t human beings have a fundamental right to this miniscule chunk of knowledge?

In the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede, I could envision Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL front office going into damage control mode.  They would claim that even though the tragedy was unforeseeable, they still did everything possible.  After all, the 2008 NFL Fan Code of Conduct specifically states how when attending a game, fans are required to refrain from the following behaviors:

  • Behavior that is unruly, disruptive or illegal in nature.  I believe a human stampede would apply.
  • Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel.  Yet again, a human stampede would apply.

Elsewhere in the guidelines, the NFL puts the onus on team staff to enforce the rules and lays out repercussions for what can happen when fans don’t follow the rules. When asked about whether or not the NFL feels it can do more to create a safe atmosphere, NFL Public Relations Executive, Rich Aiello said, “We can always do more.

Mr. Aiello, as an NFL PR exec, I’m glad you’re concerned about fan safety.  And since you’d like to do more, here’s a thought — how about warning fans that evacuation orders don’t come from cell phones?  Since I doubt this will happen, just promise me one thing.  That in the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede, the NFL doesn’t plead total ignorance.  Trust me on this.  It would be an uphill public relations battle since Commissioner Roger Goodell and every NFL owner was informed of the possibility in 2012.

So exactly what are the contingency plans if fans receive evacuation orders and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phones while the Super Bowl is in progress?  Well let me give you a hint.  They don’t exist.

Truth be told, even after having written this article, I’m not terribly concerned about an artificially generated stampede at Super Bowl 48.  Why?  Well, not because it couldn’t happen.  I just think that any person or organization willing to perpetrate an attack of this nature would likely possess an extreme degree of “malicious intent.”  And this would obviously lead them in the direction of inflicting the greatest amount of collateral damage (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  And that would likely steer them toward the 1 o’clock slate of games.

 

The Impact of Klayman v. Obama

Screen-Shot-2013-12-16-at-3.22.19-PMThe December 16, 2013 ruling of Klayman v. Obama is especially relevant to the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.  D.C Federal District Court Judge Richard Leon, a 2002 George W. Bush appointee, presided over the case.

Judge Leon’s decision jeopardizes a portion of the federal government’s domestic surveillance operation — the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program.  This program enables the all-encompassing collection of massive reams of cellular information (phone call identity, frequency, location and duration).  His decision suggests that NSA conduct is unconstitutional and violates the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of American citizens.  In the post-Edward Snowden leak era, this case is venturing into uncharted territory.  It is complex, controversial and will likely face a lengthy adjudication process.

The government’s position is that the comprehensive metadata collection and storage program serves as a valuable tool in combating terrorism.

Leon countered, “The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”  None of the three cases cited by the government illustrate how telephony metadata can prevent or protect against a terrorist attack involving any apparent urgency.

At some point, it’s reasonable to assume that the federal government will be pressured into providing legitimate evidence of how the bulk collection of telephony metadata can thwart a terrorist attack.  Since the stakes are immeasurably high and most law is determined by factual precedent (not vague speculation), the familiar “this is a classified matter involving sensitive national security which cannot be divulged” explanation will likely be insufficient.  But if pressed, the government could assert how the NSA program has become a necessary component in the safeguarding of “large, confined crowds.”

As it relates to an artificially generated stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede, such an assertion would be intentionally false.  Here’s why.  There is no viable way to control the fallout from a human stampede.  By definition, it is an event that unfolds in real-time.  Critical reactive decisions, such as the issuance of a presidential terror alert or internet shutdown order, could not be orchestrated in seconds by massive bureaucracies.  Furthermore, such actions would likely be ineffective without a prior degree of public awareness.  Most important, the notion that mitigation could serve as a feasible strategy for preventing or lessening the severity of a real-world, human stampede is simply implausible.  It does not make sense.

Now here’s what makes all of this particularly frustrating.  Although the NSA won’t admit to it, it’s “a given” that the agency has obtained cellular location and tracking metadata on crowds of 50,000+.  It’s also reasonable to assume they’ve been doing this since the means became available.  The methods of acquisition are numerous… cell phone tower dumps, mass trilateration (utilizing GPS tracking), Stingray technology (an electronic surveillance device that simulates a cell tower and captures information), season ticket holder lists, etc.

So let’s assume these “cellular footprint lists” exist.  The burden of proof would logically fall upon the U.S. government to prove otherwise.  Here are some relevant questions:

  • Does the federal government have a legitimate need in acquiring this information?  If the current (classified) justification involves the safeguarding of large crowds, this would be a blatant contradiction.
  • Is this information shared with other government agencies (FCC, DHS, FEMA, etc.), corporations and/or individuals?  How long is it stored?  Is it secure?
  • Has this information ever been sold?  Such information would hold tremendous value to those in the corporate arena or anyone with a nefarious agenda.
  • Does the U.S. government acquire metadata of large crowds in foreign countries (soccer stadiums, religious festivals, political protests and conventions, etc.)?

When I speak of artificially generated stampedes, I often use the term “discernible inevitability.”  It’s impossible to know the specifics of an event which has yet to transpire.  With certain aspects, one can only speculate and make generalizations.  But I do understand the “future trajectory” of mankind.  In the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede, whether here or abroad, I think there would be one overriding question.

  • Was there a list?

In the event of a dominipede, I suspect society would ask another question.

  • How could this have happened?

Simple questions like these would be front and center.  So when President Barack Obama reassures Americans that “nobody is listening to your phone calls” and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein tells reporters, “this is just metadata,” I think it’s reasonable to conclude that they’re either oblivious, ill-informed or intentionally trying to deceive.

I’ll eagerly concede that I don’t have all the answers but I do have an important question.  I would implore any reporter to ask administration officials, “Could the metadata itself conceivably be used as an indiscriminate weapon?”

 

DARPA Proposal and the Viral Blitzkrieg

darpa_50th_logoDARPA (the Defense for Advanced Research Projects Agency) is an agency within the DOD (Department of Defense).  It was established in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration in response to the Soviet Union launch of Sputnik 1.  DARPA’s original mission was to prevent technological surprise and ensure that U.S. military technology was superior to that of our enemies.

DARPA often conducts research and development projects in the fields of technology and science.  This would encompass a wide range of disciplines designed to address the full spectrum of national security.  The organization is noted for “thinking outside the box” and avoiding the trappings of government bureaucracy.

In 2013, DARPA accepted bids for a proposal termed “Defense Against National Vulnerabilities in Public Data.”

DoD DARPA SBIR 2013.3 – Topic SB133-002

The objective was to investigate the national security threat posed by public data available either for purchase or through open sources.  In other words, could a modestly funded individual or group deliver nation-state, damaging effects using only public data (open-source information)?

DARPA’s goal was to identify and assess hypothetical real-time vulnerabilities and construct plans to mitigate the potential damage.

Pertaining to the artificially generated stampede, my greatest fear is the potential for a viral blitzkrieg (a bombardment of information designed to saturate a specific location(s) and exponentially spread panic).  The conceptual similarities between the DARPA proposal content and the viral blitzkrieg are textbook.

A viral blitzkrieg:

  • would require very little technical expertise.  Sophisticated computer skills, hacking or elaborate manipulation of communication channels are all unnecessary.
  • would require virtually no funding.  From a monetary perspective, the transaction cost (rate of return) would easily set a new precedent in the realm of generational warfare.
  • could be attempted by a determined, single individual.  The Department of Homeland Security is often preoccupied with “lone wolf” scenarios.  As a foreseeable act of terrorism, there would be little need for a larger organizational structure and traditional command and control operations.

Regarding the viral blitzkrieg, a major concern is the exposure and vulnerability of the traditional media (television, radio and even print).  People in this industry would not likely possess extensive knowledge of stadium evacuation protocol.  Adding to the problem, their established name recognition affords them an automatic degree of implicit trust with the general public.  Furthermore, all their relevant contact information (phone numbers, email addresses, social media accounts) is overtly placed in the public domain.

A viral blitzkrieg would rely heavily on individual, disparate reactions.  A very high percentage of those in the media have smart phones and are actively encouraged to use social media (facebook, twitter, etc.).  Those real-time reactions could have real-world consequences, especially in the event of a hoax evacuation order or perception of an imminent threat.  Good news travels fast.  Bad news travels faster.

As stated in the “Defense Against National Vulnerabilities in Public Data” proposal, the chief goal is to “develop methodology for risk assessment and mitigation.”  The defining characteristic of the artificially generated stampede involves the acceptance that real-time mitigation is a futile strategy.  This juxtaposition makes for a chilling, volatile contrast.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the viral blitzkrieg’s bitter irony.  Incident commanders (those entrusted with the authority to order evacuations) tend to be older individuals.  The speed, penetration and saturation of the information age is something fundamentally foreign to many of them.  Most would be very leery of making any substantive changes to evacuation protocol, especially since current models have functioned successfully for decades.  On the other hand, the younger generation has a far better comprehension of wireless communications and the internet, particularly the instantaneous delivery of information.  Unfortunately, when you take an overview of the industry, you’ll quickly discover that very few young people actually hold these jobs.  And that same dynamic exists with NCAA leadership and NFL ownership.  Yet another direct contradiction.

Sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees.

 

Pearl Jam Solution to the Artificially Generated Stampede

Pearl-JamFor the purpose of this article, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) provides a decent conceptual definition of “mitigation.”

Mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life by lessening the impact of a disaster.  It involves analyzing risk, reducing risk and insuring against risk.  Effective mitigation requires that we all understand risk, address hard choices and invest in societal well-being.  Without mitigation actions, our collective safety is jeopardized.

Real-time mitigation is an incorrect strategy for combating an artificially generated stampede.  During a real-world stampede, OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loops are rendered meaningless because time is a nonexistent variable.  There’s no opportunity to assess the situation and mitigate the disaster.  Any attempt to control widespread panic would be unsuccessful because once a stampede commences, there’s no way to put the “panic genie” back in the “stadium bottle.”  It simply doesn’t work that way.

Human stampedes can develop instantly, consistent with “fight or flight” response mechanisms a/k/a herding instincts.  Since mitigation is not an option, any comprehensive solution would require a certain degree of speculative anticipation and foreknowledge.  Therefore, heightening awareness becomes absolutely critical.  Awareness is the only viable strategy for preventing an artificially generated stampede.

Regarding our country’s largest football stadiums, my research has led me to two inescapable conclusions:

  • the NCAA has identified the problem but is unwilling to publicly address the issue or offer any guidance
  • the NFL has been entirely disinterested and wholly unresponsive

Pertaining to this aspect of emergency evacuation protocol, both are unwilling to alter the status quo.

What desperately needs to happen is a broad awareness campaign.  You must start physically informing people that a legitimate evacuation order would never be delivered via everyone’s individual cell phones.  Whether it’s running a looped message over the public address system, outlining common sense information on the jumbotron or physically handing out literature, neither organization is willing to do what’s necessary — educate the public.  You need to tell them.

Since the stakes are immeasurably high, I devised some alternative methods to prevent artificially generated stampedes.  One was a political solution for the President of the United States.  Another idea was a premise based on the culture of Hollywood.  At its core, the artificially generated stampede is an incredibly generic concept.  It’s simply the modern, technological equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  The same principles that govern stadium safety apply to any locations with large, confined crowds, including arenas and outdoor amphitheaters.  With that in mind, I conceived of another solution involving the music industry.  I’ve termed it the Pearl Jam Solution.

On June 30, 2000, Pearl Jam played an outdoor festival in Roskilde, Denmark.  During the set, nine fans lost their lives in a human stampede near the front of the stage.  The concert was halted as emergency responders dealt with the severely injured and the lifeless bodies of those trampled to death and crush asphyxiated.

When band members speak of the Roskilde stampede, one truly senses the impact felt by such a grotesque calamity.  The following quotes were taken from the documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty.”

singer Eddie Vedder:  “I just didn’t want it to be true.

bassist Jeff Ament:  We’ve gained a “unique perspective on where we’re at and how fragile life is.

guitarist Stone Gossard:  “From that point on, we rethought everything.  I think we kind of quantify everything that’s happened to us as pre-Roskilde and after Roskilde.

Ten years later in a 2010 Berlin anniversary concert, Vedder reflected on the tragedy… “we learn things about ourselves and have an appreciation of life that we didn’t understand before.”  His comments outline the devastating emotional toll of human stampedes. “It’s not like we’re thinking about it anymore today, because it’s really something we’ve thought about everyday.

It’s conceivable that during the Roskilde grieving process (which they admit to be ongoing), band members held themselves personally accountable.  It was originally alleged by Danish police that Pearl Jam “whipped the crowd into a frenzy” and should be held “morally responsible.”  Pearl Jam later issued an official statement.

During a 2013 sold out Pearl Jam concert at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, a severe storm necessitated a weather delay.  Vedder made the initial evacuation announcement.  Although the venues differ considerably, the Roskilde tragedy was partially blamed on the muddy grounds resulting from earlier heavy rainfall.  Judging by his tone and tenor, I believe Vedder has retained a marked understanding of what can happen when you mix large crowds with inclement weather.

Pearl Jam would appear uniquely qualified to broach the subject of artificially generated stampedes for the following reasons:

  1. Their prior involvement with a deadly stampede
  2. The band carries with it an exclusive degree of respect and admiration
  3. Longevity and worldwide popularity (1990 to the present)
  4. Industry relevance and strength of touring — the band routinely plays on all continents
  5. A history of political activism — they’ve been notoriously outspoken on issues involving war, the environment, social justice and fundamental human rights

Rock bands have a distinct perspective on live events.  Once a concert starts, there are no more practice sessions, no more sound checks.  The same notion applies to human stampedes.  By its very definition, an artificially generated stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede, is a “live” event.  History would not offer a dress rehearsal.

Of course any U.S. citizen has a definitive First Amendment right to weigh in on this topic.  But very few will, largely because there’s no financial incentive and it involves morally delicate, hypothetical subject matter.  And aside from the AGSAF website, the issue just isn’t part of the public domain.

Let me remind you of something.  The moral dimension of the artificially generated stampede extends well beyond a single, isolated tragedy.  The looming prospect of a dominipede makes this the least known, most unpredictable national security threat faced by the United States of America.  And one more thing… there are no second chances with multiple, simultaneous human stampedes.  Humanity would not be afforded a do-over.

 

The Problem With Standard Operating Procedure 303

INTERNET-KILL-SWITCH-300x2551In 2006, the NCS (National Communications System) approved Standard Operating Procedure 303.  The content of SOP 303 is not available to the general public.

SOP 303 is commonly referred to as the “internet kill-switch.”  It provides an explanation for the “shutdown and restoration process of commercial and private wireless networks during times of national crises.”  The underlying rationale is that it contains information used to deter the triggering of radio activated bombs or IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

If deemed necessary, such a decision would be ordered by homeland security advisors or individuals within the DHS (Department of Homeland Security).  It would be coordinated through the NCC (National Coordinating Center) based on prior input from the NSTAC (National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee) and other related agencies.  The NCC would be responsible for determining if a shutdown is necessary based on a “series of questions.”

In anticipation of a 2011 San Francisco protest, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) cut off all cellular service inside four transit stations for a period of three hours.  The BART incident has sparked a renewed interest in the government’s power to shut down internet access and other communication services.

In 2011, the White House asserted that the NSC (National Security Council) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy have the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during times of war or other national emergencies.  In 2012, the White House approved an Executive Order seeking to ensure the continuity of government communications during a national crisis.  The DHS was granted the authority to seize private facilities, when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications.  The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is preparing to implement policies governing the shutdown of communications traffic for the “purpose of ensuring public safety.”

In July of 2012, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center) submitted a request to the DHS for:

  • The full text of Standard Operating Procedure 303
  • The full text of the predetermined series of questions that determines if a shutdown is necessary
  • Any executing protocols related to the implementation of Standard Operating Procedure 303, distributed to the DHS and other federal agencies or private companies, including protocols related to oversight of shutdown determinations

In August of 2012, the DHS claimed it was “unable to locate or identify any responsive records” pertaining to this matter.

On February 27, 2013, EPIC filed a lawsuit calling for greater transparency.  The United States District Court for the District of Columbia rejected DHS arguments that its protocols surrounding an internet kill-switch were exempt from public disclosure and ordered the agency to release the records within 30 days.  The court had two overriding concerns:

  • The accuracy of the DHS claim that it would substantially compromise “techniques for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.”
  • The overly broad interpretation of the safety exemption – “encompassing possible harm to anyone anywhere in the United States within the blast radius of a hypothetically unexploded bomb.”

I suspect the DHS will appeal on the grounds that the release of any such information would directly compromise national security interests.

The generally accepted, public consensus surrounding SOP 303 concerns the hypothetical wireless detonation of bombs or IEDs.  While this does represent a legitimate concern, I believe there is an overlooked matter of even greater importance — artificially generated stampedes.  I would implore EPIC, particularly those presently involved with litigation regarding SOP 303, to familiarize themselves with this national security issue.

Concerning the prospect of artificially generated stampedes, mitigation strategies are neither realistic nor viable.  It’s likely the DHS will assert that declassifying SOP 303 protocol could endanger the lives of citizens in large, confined crowds (particularly NFL and NCAA football stadiums).  Please be aware that such a statement would not only be purposely misleading, but patently false.

This ongoing case will involve sensitive, yet very generic subject matter.  It is an incredibly challenging issue, both legally and conceptually.  It’s my contention that the United States government would prefer this conversation not be held in the public domain.  If you wish to discuss this matter further, please contact me.

Eric Saferstein

304-312-1395
info@agsaf.org

 

Remotely Controlled Stampedes

Remote ControlHand me the remote.

Stop scrolling so fast.

Turn down the volume.

When most people hear the words “remote control,” they usually think in terms of changing the channel.  But using a remote represents more than an attempt to determine what’s on television.  It’s an action that results in mental activity and physical movement.  Every single time you hit an arrow button, an OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop occurs.  Most people don’t analyze the underlying process too much, probably because their behavior has become so instinctual and routine.  Needless to say, society has quickly adapted to the concept of remote control technology.

Different types of remote control devices influence decision making.  And they influence physical motion, or a lack thereof.  TV remotes even spawned the term “couch potato” which has a negative, lethargic connotation.  Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 are video gaming platforms.  They require skillful hand-eye coordination and rapid response.  Faster decisions are generally rewarded accordingly.  A garage door opener is another type of remote control device.  It triggers hesitation.  How many times has your spouse hit the button and slowly drifted toward the rising door?  It’s fascinating how so many people have this strange inclination to shave 2 seconds off their entry.  Is this purely a coincidence or is it part of something bigger — some form of subliminal, technological conditioning?

You might not be aware of it, but nearly everyone is carrying a remote control device.  They’re called cell phones.  This technology follows us everywhere and has a substantial impact on our day-to-day activities.  A little perspective is important.  Back in the 1950’s, if you told people that everyone will someday have a portable phone calling device, they would have likely questioned your mental health.  Now tell them you’ll be using that same device to trade stocks, store and play music, send photos, book a flight, activate a dishwasher and cancel your dinner reservations… all without speaking.  Call me naive, but I’m pretty sure they would have questioned your sanity.  Take a moment and reflect on the progression of communication, technology and society.

Cell phones heavily influence our choices and emotions.  A call from the doctor’s office evokes immediate concern.  A call from child protective services is reason for alarm.  A call from a debt collector can elicit irritation, anger and anxiety.  These situations have evolved into social norms.  And our government has helped us along the way.  In case of an emergency, dial 911.

The U.S. government has recently expanded on its ability to remotely contact its citizens.  This public service is called WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts), formerly known as PLAN (Personal Localized Alert Network) or CMAS (Commercial Mobile Alert System).  It’s basically a nationwide mobile emergency alert system under the jurisdiction of the FCC and FEMA.  It can be used to deliver:

1.  Alerts issued by the President
2.  Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
3.  Amber Alerts

All of these scenarios involve the transmission of real-time information.  They can create elements of concern and apprehension, fear and panic — further evidence that cellular technology directly impacts human emotions.

Let’s shift gears for a moment and talk about drones.  Drones are one of the newer, high-profile weapons of war.  Make no mistake about it, the United States leads the way in targeted assassinations from great distances.  Drones are by definition a remote controlled mechanism of modern warfare.

Modern drones came into militarized existence around the same time as another technological innovation, the campus emergency alert system.  When a university deals with a time-sensitive crisis such as a shooting or reported lone gunman, they’ll use this communications medium to rapidly distribute a mass text alert.  In extreme situations like these, the message invariably calls for a campus “lockdown” until the situation can be resolved.  A lockdown is an effective means of restricting widespread physical movement.  It is another method of implementing remote control.

Here’s a good question.  Is it reasonable to assume the opposite could happen — the delivery of intentionally untruthful alerts specifically designed to create a mass panic?

The planet earth has a population of roughly 7 billion.  Currently, there are about 6 billion active cell phones in the world.  The projected number of active mobile phones will exceed the world population by 2014.  Am I the only one who has considered the possibility of cell phones being used as weapons?  I doubt it.  Am I the only person to make an issue of it?  As far as I’m aware.

So is it reasonable to warn the population that cell phones can be used as weapons of warfare, or at the very least, a method of coordinating mass, simultaneous movement resulting in human stampedes?

Should people be aware of this very generic concept?  Of course.
Are they?  Not as far as I’m aware.

We the people deserve that fundamental human right.

 

Tough Questions

tough-questionsWith regard to the AGSAF website and awareness campaign, I’m often asked the following question. “What kind of feedback have you received?”

As of early November 2013, I have accumulated numerous emails, letters and phone calls.^

The NFL has offered no feedback whatsoever.

The NCAA community has demonstrated a considerably different reaction.  So far, I have acquired 42 official responses from 30 universities.*  The term “official” refers to written or emailed correspondence from university presidents, chancellors and their staff, legal counsel, campus police and those responsible for game day management and stadium security.

Many universities (74%) chose not to respond.  I believe this was based on two factors: the degree of difficulty in addressing the issue at hand combined with concerns regarding liability, litigation and plausible deniability.

Of those who did respond, the common elements were:

  • an expression of appreciation for bringing this matter to their attention
  • a declaration of how they take these matters very seriously
  • a closing promise to share and review my concerns

But sometimes when I raise the issue of artificially generated stampedes, people in leadership positions tend to obfuscate.  Whether it’s unintentional or deliberate would be a matter of opinion.  However, I think it’s safe to say that most have difficulty formulating a response.  Since the questions I’m posing are highly provocative, it’s understandable when they try to “dance” around the issue.  It’s troublesome as well.  Troublesome but understandable — a tough combination.

I liken it to a professional boxer who is continuously ducking, dodging and weaving or a skilled politician trying to distract, deflect and pivot.  Rather than directly confront the specific issue of artificially generated stampedes, they choose to engage on the more general topic of stadium security.  They’ll often reference:

  • an emphasis on proper training procedures for ushers and staff
  • a reliance on increased security and enhanced screening procedures
  • the routine testing and review of stadium command and control operations
  • the benefits of reserved seating as opposed to general admission seating
  • the use of evacuation videos with an emphasis on exit visibility
  • a commitment to curbing unruly behavior often attributed to alcohol consumption
  • how their venue construction and architecture adheres to current NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Life Safety Code regulations
  • how even though they have the utmost confidence in their campus text alert system, such a platform would not be utilized in an emergency evacuation scenario

All of these bullet points represent valid stadium security measures.  But they all have one thing in common.  None of them adequately address the issue of cellular technology being used to purposely trigger a stampede.  Every bullet point seems carefully attenuated to either sidestep the topic or substantively alter the conversation.

What I find particularly worrisome is that people seem unwilling to recognize how the terrain of society has shifted.  Cellular technology has altered real-time, real-world conditions.  Officials seem solely focused on their own stadiums, their own security, their own campus alert systems, their own evacuation plans.  None of them seem willing to acknowledge that they are part of the larger NCAA community.  This is very alarming.

It’s my fundamental contention that if a significant tragedy occurred in one or more stadiums, it would most certainly impact other locations.  In today’s age of simultaneous live broadcasts and mobile interconnectivity, just how quickly would word spread of human stampedes?  Good news may travel fast, but I can assure you that bad news travels much faster.

It’s no wonder that people try to avoid the issue of artificially generated stampedes.  Even I am considerably reluctant to throw out hypothetical examples of NFL or NCAA teams, stadiums, cities and time zones.  If delving into these specifics makes me feel uncomfortable, I can only imagine how such forthrightness might dissuade others (especially those who are ultimately responsible for stadium security and fan safety).

One can argue the finer points of stadium security until the fat lady sings (or in this case, until the final buzzer sounds).  But at the heart of it all, there’s a very simple point to be made.

There are police chiefs and incident commanders who are in charge of stadium security.  These individuals are well aware of one guiding principle — that under NO CIRCUMSTANCE WHATSOEVER would you ever conduct an emergency evacuation by transmitting information to everyone’s personal cell phone or mobile device.  That’s just not how it’s done.  Since the vast majority of stadium attendees have never given any consideration to these matters, one can argue that this makes them dangerously unaware.

It’s really not that big of a deal.  Just tell people the truth… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, a legitimate order would NEVER originate from their personal cell phone or mobile device.  This statement will eventually become common knowledge, so why not just get it out in the open.

Football might be a dirty game, but it’s time for the NFL, the NCAA and the federal government to finally come clean.

 

* – University of Cincinnati, University of Missouri, Clemson University`, University of Virginia`, Virginia Tech`, Rutgers University`, Eastern Michigan University, University of Nebraska, University of Southern California`, San Jose State University, University of Oregon, University of New Mexico, The Ohio State University`, University of Washington, Duke University, US Army West Point`, University of Georgia, University of Texas at El Paso, University of Wisconsin, Penn State, Northern Illinois University`, University of North Texas, University of Miami`, University of Arkansas, Wake Forest University, Georgia Tech, University of Houston, Notre Dame University, University of Minnesota, Colorado State University, US Air Force Academy, West Virginia University

` – indicates multiple responses

^ – Phone calls are difficult to measure and quantify.  Therefore, I’ve decided to omit that information.  Feel free to contact me and I will provide a more comprehensive analysis and a list of the additional universities.

 

Why Lou Anna Simon Should NOT Be The Next NCAA President

lou anna simonIn 2012,  I raised the issue of artificially generated stampedes with every NCAA Division I university president and chancellor.  I received a total of 26 written responses.  An overview of that correspondence can be found here.  Michigan State University President, Lou Anna Simon, chose NOT to respond.  This was certainly her prerogative.

On August 13, 2013, I sent an email with the following content to NCAA Division I leadership.

In 2012, I sent you multiple letters regarding outdated emergency stadium evacuation protocol.

Stadium attendees have a fundamental right to know that a legitimate evacuation order would NEVER originate from their cell phone or mobile device.  Such an action would almost certainly be an attempt to induce widespread panic and create an artificially generated stampede.  This transformative issue has still not been addressed by the NCAA, the NFL and the federal government.

I implore you to take a moment and review the content of this website.

http://agsaf.org

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me immediately.
Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Eric Saferstein
45 Ridgewood Avenue
Wheeling, WV  26003

email: info@agsaf.org
cell: 304-312-1395

I received informative responses from the following institutions: University of Notre Dame, University of Minnesota, University of Southern California, University of North Texas, University of Houston, Rutgers University, Wake Forest University, Georgia Tech and The Ohio State University.  I also received a reply from the University of Miami.  If you wish to read any of the above correspondence, please contact me.

In addition, on August 30, 2013, I received an unsolicited response from NCAA representative Janice Whitehead.

REPLY ON BEHALF OF NCAA EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE CHAIR LOU ANNA SIMON

Dear Mr. Saferstein:

Thank you for your email. The NCAA takes security issues seriously, and the safety of our student-athletes and fans is of the utmost importance.  We will share your materials with our security experts for further review.

—–Original Message—–

From: info@agsaf.org<mailto:info@agsaf.org>                     [mailto:info@agsaf.org]

Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:15 AM

To: presmail@msu.edu<mailto:presmail@msu.edu>

Subject: stadium security

President Simon,

 

Stadium attendees have a fundamental right to know that a legitimate evacuation order would NEVER originate from their cell phone or mobile device.  Such an action would almost certainly be an attempt to induce widespread panic and create an artificially generated stampede.  This transformative issue has still not been addressed by the NCAA, the NFL and the federal government.

I implore you to take a moment and review the content of this website.

http://agsaf.org

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me immediately.
Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Eric Saferstein
45 Ridgewood Avenue
Wheeling, WV  26003

email: info@agsaf.org
cell: 304-312-1395

As you can see in her response, the opening sentence from my initial email was deleted.  This sentence was crucial because it offered vital context and information.  It’s my contention that President Simon chose to intentionally delete this sentence.

This is very disturbing for three distinct reasons:

  • In the event of an actual stadium stampede, it’s a meager, premeditated attempt to assume a position of plausible deniability and purposely lessen future culpability.
  • The prospect of an artificially generated stampede is a matter of national security. Failing to respond in her capacity as President of Michigan State University demonstrates an inability to address a serious issue and one in which there could be a foreseeable conflict of interests.
  • It demonstrates either a lack of situational awareness or an exceptional degree of naivete.  Surely President Simon was aware that an identical email was sent to over a hundred of her peers.  For her to knowingly alter such correspondence, or for that matter any correspondence, constitutes a reckless decision.

It is possible that President Simon is completely innocent of this accusation.  It is conceivable that Janice Whitehead, who authored the response, sensed that information contained within the original email could be damaging to Simon’s current standing or future career aspirations.  And therefore, Janice Whitehead knowingly altered it of her own volition.  But this scenario seems highly unlikely.

The President of the NCAA wields enormous power and influence.  If NCAA Executive Committee Chair Lou Anna Simon has any intention of seeking this particular leadership role, the concerns I’ve raised call for an immediate explanation or at the very least, a greater level of clarity.

If you can shed any light on this matter, please contact NCAA President Mark Emmert.

 

South Park Solution to the Artificially Generated Stampede

peg1-stars-hollywood-signIn 2011, I made a personal commitment to raise awareness regarding the prospect of artificially generated stampedes.  I wrote a book about the topic.  The following year, I arranged a meeting with the FBI.  I informed them of my decision to initiate an extensive letter writing campaign.  I took my message to the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Education as well as the NCAA, NFL and several other organizations.  Results have been mixed.  I’ve documented many of my findings and observations on the AGSAF website/e-newsletter.

It has always been my contention that mitigation is not an effective strategy for combating an artificially generated stampede.  Awareness is the key element.  This would entail extending a specific degree of knowledge to the general public.  The essence of that message is best described in the AGSAF mission statement.

People have a fundamental right to know…  

that if they are in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation order
and/or panic inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device…

it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

Furthermore, I believe that all human beings deserve to know that in the unlikely event of a stadium emergency evacuation, a legitimate order would NEVER initially originate from your personal cell phone.  It’s as simple as that.

But as you might expect, an overriding catch 22 keeps getting in the way.  For if you acknowledge or draw attention to a problem, you own it… and if it happens, you’re to blame.  A familiar analogy is the infamous “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” memo from August of 2001.  In the aftermath of 9/11, this memo’s leak was very damaging to the credibility of the Bush administration.  When attempting to asses hypothetical national security issues, the spread of knowledge and information can become a critical, future liability.  And even the tiniest paper trail can result in a bureaucratic train wreck and a public relations nightmare.

Much like the circumstances surrounding 9/11, very few are willing to acknowledge that artificially generated stampedes are an inevitable national security issue.  Here’s a question you might ask yourself.  Which action seems easier to perpetrate — the spreading of a mass, cellular hoax OR the execution of multiple hijackings and intentional crashing of passenger planes?

Even though the artificially generated stampede is a simple matter of public safety, the federal government is disinclined to be forthcoming.  Our government is in a difficult spot.  It’s faced with two bad choices.  Either acknowledge the catch 22 and brace the notion of accountability OR choose to remain intentionally ignorant to the point of woeful neglect and gross incompetence.  Neither is an enviable option.  And without a clear directive or any substantive guidance from the federal government, the NFL and NCAA are far less likely to broach the subject.  So everything remains in a dangerously extended state of limbo.

In my continuing effort to heighten awareness and inform the general public, I began to explore one additional strategy.  I termed it the “Hollywood Solution.”  I’ve often envisioned the possibility of a high profile Hollywood producer creating an epic movie documenting a full-blown dominipede (a cascade of simultaneous human stampedes most likely impacting the NFL).  The movie itself would venture into the undiscussable nature of human stampedes — why they happen and how they’re triggered.  If you have a powerful, urgent message, cinema is a great medium for conveying information.  Everyone might not be well-read, but just about everyone watches movies.

With the recent passing of Tom Clancy, I revisited this idea.  Clancy was well-known for his national security, political action thrillers such as Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, The Hunt for Red October and most notably, The Sum of All Fears.  He seemed like the ideal candidate.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my concerns could be more easily addressed in a 30-minute South Park episode.  The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have a satirical format that encapsulates various types of humor (dark, surreal, ironic, shock, etc.).  And their syndicated cartoon has considerable worldwide reach.  My hunches tell me that creating an artificially generated stampede episode would be right up their alley.  The South Park founders have demonstrated an inclination for:

  • engaging in controversial political discussion
  • bashing organized religion
  • discussing taboo topics and showing unusually graphic and distasteful imagery

With these bullet points in mind, I created a narrative for a future episode.  Instead of writing an actual script, I’ve provided a brief synopsis for each scene.  A couple of the scenarios I explore may seem absurd, but the triggers are intrinsically linked to the concept of artificially generated stampedes.  They also resemble themes expressed in past South Park episodes.

South Park Solution

South_Park_Season_14

Scene 1:  The local church in South Park is raffling off a block of tickets to the upcoming Denver Broncos game at Sports Authority Field.

Scene 2:  The winners are selected.

Scene 3:  Everyone boards the bus for the journey to the big city.

Scene 4:  During the trip, everyone is obsessed with social media.  Every passenger has this overwhelming, insatiable desire to tell the world that they’re heading to the football game.  Texting, tweeting, sending pictures, calling, hacking, vining (the creation of short looping videos), selfies, instagram posts, continual facebook status updates, check-ins, etc.

Scene 5:  This self-absorption and narcissism continues during the game.  Nobody seems concerned about the action on the field.  They’re all engrossed in their cell phones, receiving and transmitting as much information as they possibly can.

Scene 6:  All of a sudden, bomb threats and evacuation orders simultaneously overwhelm large numbers of cell phones resulting in a mass panic.  An artificially generated stampede rips through the stadium.  People are screaming and crying, tripping and falling.  Naturally, many fans are crush asphyxiated or trampled to death.  Some are forcibly ejected off the spiral rotunda.

Scene 7:  The following day back in South Park, a church service and candlelight vigil are held.  The pastor explains the mystery of why bad things happen to good people.  It’s all part of God’s master plan.  We’ll learn from this incident and move forward.  In keeping with this theory, the pastor announces another church sponsored Broncos ticket raffle and another chartered bus trip.

Scene 8:  Once again, the bus leaves for Denver.  Some on board appear a bit edgy, but the majority are still preoccupied with social media platforms (more of the same behavior exhibited in scene 4).

Scene 9:  During the game, everyone’s cell phone begins conveying information that Miley Cyrus and Erik Estrada are holding an impromptu wedding reception on the lower concourse.  They’ll be twerking and signing autographs.  The entire stadium becomes gripped with an instantaneous case of celebrity, hero-worship.  And of course, another stampede ensues.  But there was no marriage.  It was all just a deliberate hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

Scene 10:  Another solemn memorial service is held, and sure enough, the pastor invokes the relentless human spirit and themes of 9/11 (we will never forget).  And in the repetitive South Park tradition, he offers up a defiant cure — the recurring Denver Broncos getaway.

Scene 11: This time during the ride, people are considerably more hesitant to embrace social media.  They demonstrate a little more discretion but eventually throw caution to the wind.  Outside the stadium are newly constructed warning signs that illustrate how fake celebrity weddings can be used to induce stampedes.  The public address system is running a looped message that disputes the possibility of other unlikely couples (Chewbacca & Cher, Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky, Sally Struthers and Meatloaf, etc.)

Scene 12:  Once inside the stadium, people are engulfed with information via their cell phones.  This time it’s about free hot dogs being offered at the concession stand.  Of course, this sets in motion yet another human stampede.

Scene 13:  Back at the church, another day of grieving is upon us.  The pastor’s sermon is the same established narrative.  Once again, he references the indomitable human psyche and how there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.  If we stand united, we’ll make it through these horrific tragedies.  And of course, he offers up another Denver Broncos excursion.

Scene 14:  But on this occasion, the townspeople are beginning to ask themselves, “Why do we keep falling for these malicious hoaxes?”  First it was bomb threats, then it was celebrities and now it’s hot dogs.  Needless to say, everyone’s on pins and needles.  They’ve all grown very leery of social media.

Scene 15:   The periphery of the stadium has more warning signs posted and looped messages concerning the potential dangers of free food.  Not only hot dogs, but also hamburgers, nachos, cotton candy, etc.

Scene 16:   Once again, stadium attendee cell phones are flooded with information about a free hot dog giveaway.  However, on this occasion, everyone has wised-up.  They know the hot dog messages are a sham.  It’s just another lie designed to create an artificially generated stampede.  As they’re congratulating each other for not being foolishly swept into another panic, a follow-up message comes across their cell phones.  This time the hot dogs will have MUSTARD!   The lure of the condiment proves too powerful an incentive.  And of course, another stampede breaks out.

Scene 17:  The next week people are walking aimlessly outside the stadium, mired in fear but still with a look of resolve and grim determination.   In the background, the public address system is warning fans about the dangers of condiments.  As the credits role, the list extends beyond mustard and includes other perceived condiments… ketchup, relish, chili, mint jelly, mini-marshmallows, pencil shavings, glue, etc.

END

Philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) coined the following phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  There are several other variations, but I think this one pretty much sums it up.

An artificially generated stampede can be sparked by a seemingly infinite number of triggers.  It cannot be solved through mitigation.  At some point in the future, likely in the aftermath of a horrific but preventable tragedy, the federal government will summon the inertia to inform its citizenry and openly discuss tactics of prevention.  Any core strategy will be centered around simple awareness campaigns.  I’m not a seasoned philosopher or political scientist, so I’ll just ask the most obvious question.  Why do we have to wait for the government to get its act together?

NFL Stadium Emergency Evacuation Videos

emergency-evacuation1National Football League stadium emergency evacuation videos are a touchy subject.  Simply stated, evacuations aren’t supposed to happen unless the circumstances are exceptionally dire.  Further complicating the matter, it’s difficult to candidly broach the subject when much of the rationale and many of the underlying components are held under a veil of tight-lipped secrecy and innuendo.

 

There are 2 basic reasons to stage an evacuation:  dangerous activity or the perception of an imminent threat.

With regard to inclement weather, such as lightning strikes, the NFL consensus seems geared toward delaying start times and temporarily suspending games.  It’s a reasonable and viable means of avoiding an evacuation scenario.  NCAA football stadiums seem to exercise a little less discipline.  They’ve exhibited a greater willingness to engage in full scale evacuations when dealing with extreme weather.  Such was the case during several college games in early September of 2011.

http://thesportdigest.com/2011/09/stadium-evacuations-spotlight-the-importance-of-risk-management/

In the 2013 Baltimore vs. Denver NFL season opener, the kickoff was delayed 34 minutes.

broncos statementIssuing a voluntary evacuation statement could have unintended consequences.  Giving a sold-out crowd of 76,000+ the opportunity to make their own decisions is a potentially dangerous course of action.  But I think it signals something else.  There seems to be a league-wide reluctance when it comes to ordering full scale evacuations.  I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the NFL is deeply concerned over the notion of setting an “evacuation precedent.”

In week 2, there were additional lightning related weather delays in Tampa Bay (Attendance: 60,870) and Seattle (Attendance: 68,338). The games were suspended as players and personnel were cleared from the field, but no evacuation was ordered for the fans.  Some fans even chose to remain in their seats.

seahawks statementIn all three weather delays, it appears that officials handled the situation well.  They exhibited a reasonable amount of cautionary discretion.  However, it’s more anecdotal evidence that the NFL is less inclined to stage complete evacuations.

Emergency evacuation protocol is sensitive material.  At the core of everything is the notion of distinguishing a bomb threat condition from a bomb threat emergency.  For obvious reasons, this is a highly nuanced dilemma.  It should not come as a surprise to know that just because someone phones in a bomb threat or leaves a menacing note at the concession stand… that in itself, is likely insufficient reason to stage an evacuation.  A bomb threat “emergency” invokes a much higher threshold of evidence.

Let me be very blunt.  There is ample documentation of multiple NFL stadiums receiving bomb threats while games were in progress.  But no evacuation orders were issued.  And the reason is obvious – it would set an atrocious precedent and likely encourage copycats.  The evacuation of any NFL stadium due to a bomb threat “condition” would likely be viewed in hindsight as an abject failure.  In cases like this, the best evacuation is simply NO evacuation.

Yet, amidst the confusion, NFL stadium emergency evacuation videos are becoming increasingly visible.  Of the 32 NFL teams, a total of 16 have videos posted on their official websites (Arizona, Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans, New York Jets, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis).

Sixteen NFL teams do NOT have evacuation videos posted on their official websites (Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota, New England, New York Giants, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Washington).

This is noteworthy because it demonstrates a lack of meaningful guidance from the NFL front office.  Unfortunately, when the subject matter is taboo and emergency preparedness norms vary, it can produce mixed results.  Some teams seem willing to promote these videos in the interest of fan safety.  Others appear more reserved about venturing into uncharted territory.  Some might even think that evacuation videos do more harm than good.  A clear directive on this matter from the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would seem advisable.

Now just because a team opts to forgo displaying a video on their official website doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t created or shown evacuation videos.  It’s merely a determination to not post the video.  Also, many teams opt to employ written statements concerning evacuation protocol.  For example, both New York teams share Met Life Stadium.  The NY Jets display an evacuation video on their official website whereas the NY Giants do not.  The Giants just have a series of carefully worded statements.  Same stadium but different teams.  Different organizations.  Different people.  Different interpretations and approaches.

I viewed the 16 NFL stadium evacuation videos.  All of them are roughly 1-2 minutes in length.  The majority of each video clip is devoted to providing a detailed explanation of how fans should exit the venue, specifically by level and section.  But oddly enough, NONE of the videos reference exactly how the instructions for an evacuation would be disseminated.  That is correct – none of them. There’s simply no mention of utilizing the public address system or the jumbotron.

Of the 16 videos…

None of them discuss the possibility of an artificially generated stampede.  This is wise.  It’s best not to delve into hypothetical scenarios as it would likely become a slippery slope.  Exactly where does one the draw the line?  Raising such an issue could also be viewed as imprudent fear mongering.

Nine of the videos (56%) reference a reliance on obtaining assistance, information and direction from ushers and staff members.  Seven (44%) make no mention of this.

This is a noteworthy discrepancy because in the event of an unanticipated emergency, such dependence on “lesser authority figures” could actually lead to a heightened state of confusion and the potential for a greater degree of unpredictability.  A successful emergency evacuation relies heavily on the delivery of a single, unified, coherent message.  Further augmenting the problem, most stadiums run their evacuation public service announcements during generally “low impact” moments, particularly as fans are filtering into the stadium.  This would appear to be a monetarily driven decision designed to not interfere with the game or high profile advertising.

Thirteen of the videos (81%) stress the importance of how fans should remain “calm” and/or exit in an “orderly” fashion.  Three (19%) made no reference to any human emotions or behavior regarding an exit strategy (Carolina, New Orleans, and St. Louis).

Twelve of the videos (75%) mention that escalators and elevators are not to be used in the event of an emergency evacuation.  In fact, the New Orleans Saints video references the non-use of escalators and elevators on 4 separate occasions.  Four (25%) made no mention of escalators or elevators (Kansas City, Green Bay, San Diego and Seattle).

The big overriding question… from a risk assessment/management perspective, is it REASONABLE to tell people that they would never receive a legitimate evacuation order from their cell phone?  Even though none of the 16 videos reference how an evacuation order is disseminated, I believe it is both appropriate and necessary.  Any competent incident commander (the individual with the authority to order an evacuation) will readily concede that under NO CIRCUMSTANCE WHATSOEVER would you launch an evacuation by transmitting information to everyone’s individual cell phone.  Because it could jeopardize the entire process.  It’s the one issue where there would be unanimity.  In an industry filled with difficult judgement calls and ill-defined parameters, this is the one assertion where there would be total agreement.  But nobody is willing to acknowledge or address the fundamental issue of outdated emergency evacuation protocol.  So the entire discussion remains dangerously underneath the radar.

Stadium safety and security is a continually evolving issue.  The NFL is currently immersed in its new “clear bag” policy.  Although the NFL won’t overtly disclose why the clear bag policy was implemented, I think it’s fair to assume that a major reason is to discourage and prevent attendees from bringing any kind of weaponry into a stadium.  The discharge of a weapon is one of those circumstances that could necessitate a full scale evacuation.  And full scale evacuations just simply aren’t supposed to take place.  If you think about it, it’s really kind of ironic.  Because while security is inspecting the trinkets and cosmetics in a “12 x 6 x 12″ zip lock bag, many fans are physically raising a cell phone in their other hand.  Needless to say, the hand holding the cell phone doesn’t receive as much scrutiny.

 

Duck and Cover Analogy

images-6If you need a good chuckle, just take a look back at the U.S. government’s “Duck and Cover” campaigns of the 1950’s.  Obviously, in the event of a nuclear attack, the wisest course of action is to hide under your desk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqXu-5jw60

You might make the argument, “Well, back then, we just didn’t know any better.  People, society, the world… it was simply a different time.”  There was an understandable, pervasive naivete.  Think about it.  In those days, the biggest problems in the classroom were fidgeting, chewing gum, cheating and truancy.  These days we’re concerned about bullying, teen pregnancy, sexual assault and gun violence.  It appears that society has “grown up” and is more willing to acknowledge its shortcomings.  Nowadays, we confront the difficult issues directly.  Because we have no choice.

I disagree.  As it pertains to emergency bomb threat evacuation protocol, the duck and cover ideology is alive and well in 2013.  It’s governed by a singular, all-encompassing assumption… that every bomb threat will be properly phoned in to a central authorized location.  So it can be dealt with in a way that is appropriate, efficient and orderly.

At face value, this appears to be a fine plan.  But there’s one critical, overlooked component.  And the dilemma is painfully obvious.  Nearly everyone in the stadium has an active cell phone.  This makes every stadium attendee individually susceptible to panic-laden information.  Current emergency evacuation protocol does not take into account this inherently evident, irrevocably altered dynamic.

Sixty years later, we’re dealing with the same “duck and cover” problem all over again.  There exists a societal intransigence, an unwillingness to discuss the undiscussable.  Anyway you look at it, the prospect of an artificially generated stampede is a very generic idea.  Instead of a single threat, there’s a myriad of threats.  It’s really that simple.

Since mitigation is a futile real-time strategy, there would appear only two options.

  • Do nothing and remain at risk.
  • Acknowledge the compromised state of emergency evacuation protocol and address the matter head on.

If you really think about it, at least “duck and cover” was a demonstrable course of action.  Back then, at least our government made a feeble attempt to address the matter.  What we’re currently faced with is a protracted state of dangerous inaction, rising to a blatant level of moral, and possibly criminal, negligence.

Public Address Message

speakerartificially generated stampede – a sudden rush of people likely the result of panic-inducing information delivered via cell phones or mobile devices

I have a concrete, common sense way to combat the artificially generated stampede.  In all honesty, it will likely not be enough to avert a tragedy.  But it’s certainly worth a shot.  The effort to raise awareness needs to start somewhere.  The other option is to do nothing.  In my opinion, that choice is morally negligent.

Now you might argue, is it all worth it?  And the answer is most definitely.  Because even if the stampedes don’t happen, the issue will eventually become front and center when some person or group tries to maliciously stage an evacuation(s).  Whether or not they’re successful shouldn’t even be the big question.  Think of it in these terms.  Has anyone ever intentionally pulled a fire alarm without cause?  This scenario just requires a greater degree of effort.

Let’s use a little deductive reasoning.  We’ll examine the issue from the perspective of large football stadiums.

A.  There are individuals (police chiefs, incident commanders, stadium managers, etc.) who possess the ultimate authority to issue an emergency evacuation.  People who hold these positions are cognizant of the fact that a legitimate order would never be initially disseminated via mass cellular platforms.  It would be delivered over the public address system, perhaps in concert with the jumbotron.

B.  The vast majority of event attendees have never thought about these issues.  Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude they are dangerously unaware.

The question becomes, “Do event attendees deserve the right to possess this same degree of knowledge.”  Even though evacuation protocol is sensitive subject matter, it’s my contention that they do.

So here’s my recommendation.  Utilize the public address system at all major events (football games, auto racing events, concerts, etc.) to broadcast the following message in a looped format as fans enter the venue.

Please be aware… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, such an order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.

Let’s dissect it.

Please be aware – denotes a polite, pleasant effort to bring the issue to everyone’s attention.  Awareness is paramount.

I use the “…”  to enhance the pause inflection and allow the speaker to inhale.

unlikely event – infers an important acknowledgement that an unanticipated evacuation would not be the norm.

emergency evacuation – use of the word “emergency” is both reasonable and necessary.  A hoax threat would almost certainly be characterized or cloaked under the general guise of an unexpected emergency.

such an order – “order” infers it would likely come in the form of a highly suggestive declaration or overt command.

would NEVER originate – emphasis on the word “NEVER.”   Unless the federal government, particularly the Federal Communications Commission or the Department of Education under the auspices of the Clery Act, acknowledges that it has the legal authority to execute large scale evacuations through mass SMS (short message services) delivered via cellular platforms, I believe the word “never” to be accurate.  It seems highly unlikely the federal government would preemptively assert control and assume responsibility for these hypothetical situations.  However, in the aftermath of a tragedy, I think it’s reasonable to believe the government (both federal and state) would seize a more substantive role.

“originate”  – implies a variety of communication techniques (emails, phone calls, text messages, etc.) and methods (intentional misuse of an opt-in notification system or wireless carrier, sabotage of a text alert system, spoofing, any type of concerted hack, a viral blitzkrieg, etc.).

personal – the word “personal” helps reinforce the notion of disparate, individual reactions rather than an all-encompassing, orderly, collective response.

cell phone – It could also be appropriate to add the phrase “or mobile device.”  But at this point in time, I think the term “cell phone” is sufficient.

So let’s read it one more time.  Please be aware… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, such an order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.

This statement is consistent with current emergency evacuation protocol.  I have several other variations, but I believe this one sums it up as succinctly as possible in a relatively plain and straightforward fashion.  I believe it would be counterproductive to offer excessive justification or use more aggressive terminology including buzzwords like “bomb, panic, stampede,” etc.

I tried to pattern the statement after a familiar, automated airport security warning.

“Passengers… do not leave your belongings unattended.  Luggage or bags left unattended will be seized by airport security.”

Both are highly suggestive recommendations designed to create situational awareness.  It’s important to note that the recently adopted airport security warnings have evolved into “routine policy.”  You might not regularly hear this warning, but society has witnessed the gradual extension and application of this policy into other realms (schools, trains, courthouses, shopping malls, etc.).

My objective is to spread awareness with regard to the artificially generated stampede.  This same degree of situational awareness would obviously apply to arenas, auto-racing facilities, political conventions, county fairs… any location with large, confined crowds.

Other than the obvious “what if you put an idea in someone’s head” argument, there are two foreseeable downsides to using this message.

A.  It’s an open, honest admission that a situation could arise in which the host venue does not have complete control of the evacuation process.  The implication is subtle, but could have legal ramifications in the aftermath of a tragedy.  People might argue that the warning wasn’t sufficient or “strong enough.”

B.  It disqualifies the federal government from claiming the authority to launch evacuations of large venues via cellular platforms.  At some point in the future, especially in the aftermath of a dominipede, it’s highly likely the U.S. government would wish to demonstrate greater control over the ability of citizens to congregate in large gatherings.

I’d even be willing to concede the following… that there could come a future point in time where legitimate evacuation orders are exclusively delivered via cellular directives.  But as a society, are we there yet?  Is that where the current societal expectation lies?  Absolutely not.  It’s not even a close call.

I think it all comes down to a simple question.  Does providing this one sentence for public consumption do more harm than good?  Is it reasonable?  With regard to the artificially generated stampede, I believe there’s a certain “discernible inevitability” of it being attempted (whether successful or unsuccessful).  Therefore, I believe the warning message is a wise and necessary measure.

 

The Prevalence of Cell Phones

cell-phonesCell phones are generally regarded as the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world.  According to the 2013 PEW Research Center Internet & American Life Project, American adults that own a cell phone hit a record high of 91%.  Of that percentage, 56% have “smartphones.”

 

A smartphone is a mobile phone that includes advanced functionality beyond making phone calls and sending text messages. Most smartphones have the capability to surf the web, display photos, play videos and check and send e-mail.  As with most technology, as the costs of production becomes less prohibitive, smartphone ownership will likely continue to increase.

A 2012 Cisco Systems marketing video showcases the future of this technology.  Regarding the evolution of fan interaction with mobile technology, one might say that we’re still in the early stages.

http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/sports/index.html

This 2 minute, sleek production provides an excellent backdrop for my larger concerns.  Most major entertainment venues are searching for ways to augment their cellular coverage while avoiding jammed networks and system disruptions.

Two words – maximum connectivity.

It’s difficult to find any reliable data on what percentage of people bring their mobile devices into major sporting events.  But a simple, cursory look at the fans will lead you to the conclude that very few purposely choose to abandon their cell phones.  And unless my eyes deceive me, plenty of people are using their techno-gadgets while the games are in progress.

cell imagesOn a related note, most stadiums have gone to extraordinary lengths in the name of fan safety: enhanced screenings, the NFL’s newly instituted clear bag policy, curbing alcohol sales in the latter stages of the game, etc.  They’ve even established “narc” lines which enable people the opportunity to discreetly report unruly fan behavior.  Not to dismiss any of these concerns, but in this era of ubiquitous mobile technology, isn’t it about time we take a fresh look at emergency evacuation protocol?

Call me naive, but wouldn’t a cellular-induced, human stampede fall under the jurisdiction of event safety and security?  Considering the fact that an ever-increasing number of fans have instant access to real-world information (both accurate or tainted), I think the mission statement for AGSAF has never been more relevant…

People have a fundamental right to know… that if they are in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

 

Asiana Airlines Hoax

asiana-flight-crew-names-hoax-video The July 6, 2013 Asiana Airline Flight 241 en route from Seoul, South Korea crashed landed in San Francisco, CA.  It was the worst major U.S. aviation disaster since 2009.

In its aftermath, a news anchor for Oakland’s KTVU fell victim to an age-old, tasteless prank.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GNQt578qHQ

Of course, this was just an incredibly shallow, but ultimately successful practical joke.  I doubt too much thought or deliberation went into it.  But let us examine the red flag concern:

*  Nobody caught it before it aired

You’re probably asking yourself, “How could nobody have caught it?  Was everyone working on this news package a stoic, seemingly mesmerized zombie?”  Well, perhaps.  But here’s what’s odd.  This prank went undetected, not only by the anchorwoman, but also by individuals in multiple departments (including assignment editors, producers, graphics, editors and directors).  Real human beings spoke these fictitious names and wrote them as well.  And here’s what’s really scary.  The phony names were then verified through a government agency.  The NTSB blamed the mishap on a “summer intern,” but their apology speaks for itself.

NTSB statement on erroneous confirmation of crew names

July 12, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board apologizes for inaccurate and offensive names that were mistakenly confirmed as those of the pilots of Asiana flight 214, which crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6.

Earlier today, in response to an inquiry from a media outlet, a summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft.

The NTSB does not release or confirm the names of crew members or people involved in transportation accidents to the media. We work hard to ensure that only appropriate factual information regarding an investigation is released and deeply regret today’s incident.

Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.

Office of Public Affairs


490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW


Washington, DC 20594


(202) 314-6100


Kelly Nantel

Just an aside – isn’t it peculiar that an anonymous, summer intern could function as the NTSB’s liaison for the worst nationwide aviation disaster in the last 4 years?

The Asiana Airlines prank should evoke great concern for two reasons:

A.  The scale and magnitude of the story

Major U.S. airline crashes always qualify as breaking news.  All the factual information is already in the public domain.  Accompanying details should be easily vetted.  Falling prey to this type of “low-brow” hoax is a bad omen.  It speaks directly to the inability of trained professionals and their ability to discern fact from fiction.

If a major city’s network affiliate could be duped…  If the National Transportation Safety Board could provide erroneous information…  Now remember, this singular incident likely originated with one individual and then spun out of control.  But what would happen if something much bigger transpired which had real-world consequences?  What could happen if someone was dedicated to carrying out a prank with an extreme degree of “malicious intent?”  What happens when thousands upon thousands of targeted hoax threats make it through the system at large?

B.  It speaks to the “finish first at any cost” mentality currently pervading the news industry

It’s always about being first.  First to break the story.  First on twitter.  First to be heard.  First to be noticed.  This incessant compulsion to “make” or “break” the news, rather than “report” the news is a very dangerous precedent.  How many times have we witnessed the media get it wrong?  And they’re often huge stories, not just the material you’d find buried somewhere in the lifestyle section:

  • Gore beats Bush
  • Supreme Court overturns Obamacare
  • Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) pronounced dead

With the normalization of the 24/7 breaking news cycle, we’ve come a long way since Dewey defeated Truman.

Harry TrumanThis leads us to another question.  Has the United States ever experienced a widespread cellular hoax that could have had dire ramifications and placed innocent lives in jeopardy?  The answer might surprise you.  The 2011 “Civil Emergency: Take Shelter Now” text message was disseminated through three counties in heavily populated, central New Jersey.

civil emergencyAside from the confusion it created (what happened, what should we do, why must we take shelter), the 911 system was flooded with calls and temporarily rendered useless.  In the event of a real emergency, this would not bode well.

Here are some relevant questions one might pose:

  • What if something comparable happened during a professional football game in East Rutherford, NJ?
  • Would people have behaved differently if they received this message at 12:26 am instead of 12:26 pm?
  • Although apologies were issued, why has nobody stepped forward and accepted ultimate responsibility?

Hoaxes and cellular devices make for a dangerous combination.  It’s not a matter of if there will be a next one, it’s a matter of when.  When will the United States government take the hint?  Will it be another stock market nosedive?  Will it revolve around a politician’s shame or a celebrity’s embarrassment?  Or will it inevitably result in bodily injury and loss of life?

So here’s the question – will the U.S. government take action before or after the next major calamity?  Considering the stakes, this question should not be a rhetorical one.

 

Think Before You Run

AGSAF logoGood parents and teachers make children learn common sense safety measures.  When we’re young, we often hear phrases like “stop, drop and roll” or “look both ways before you cross the street.”  My father had his own notorious favorite – “Get your shoes outta the middle of the floor!  I almost tripped and broke my neck!”  These command statements usually deal with motion and the ability to protect oneself.

 

In the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede or dominipede, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that society will witness the emergence of a new phrase.

“Think before you run.”

This straightforward instruction would apply to the prospect of receiving panic-laden information delivered via cell phones.  It would also encompass any cellular directive instructing a person to physically engage in an act of movement (likely regarding a hoax evacuation order).

If you think about it, our lives are governed by signals.  A yellow light at a busy intersection forces you to make a choice.  Speed up or slow down.  The opening bell on Wall Street sends traders into a flurry of activity.  Watch the collective reaction of soccer fans when the referee blows the final whistle.  These events are commonplace and people generally react accordingly.  There’s virtually no expectation of bodily injury or loss of life.

Such is the case when large numbers of people simultaneously use their cell phones.  Because of the routine frequency, there’s no expectation of these individual acts culminating in mass hysteria.  There’s no precedent.  We’ve seen it all before.  Notions of fear and panic just aren’t part of the current equation.  And there’s certainly no prognostication for a human stampede.

But widespread cell phone use has introduced broader implications for society at-large.  It has added a new, previously unexplored variable into crowded situations.  Eventually, this issue will have to be addressed.  Human beings will be forced to alter their previously defined expectations.  And it will also become necessary to reprogram our societal behavior.

Generally and historically speaking, there’s only one way to summon inertia for transformative change.  Regrettably, large numbers of people usually have to unexpectedly die.  There just hasn’t been that one defining moment… yet.  A singular moment in time that galvanizes society to recalibrate, change its perception and move forward.

I’m viewing all of this over a long-term event horizon.  It’s all part of the game.  The game called life.  And every so often, it becomes necessary to change the rules of the game.  Cellular technology has permanently changed the rules of the game.  That’s why the forest fire analogy is so appropriate.  Fires have been around since the dawn of man.  But in the 1940’s, things finally reached a tipping point.  And with that tipping point, government made a collective decision to do something about it.  It launched awareness campaigns.

Our modern day equivalent is the implementation of enhanced airline screening procedures in the wake of 9/11.  The circumstance of multiple planes flying into buildings introduced a different set of variables and dictated a new approach.  Government abandoned the outdated airline screening protocol.  Similarly, rapid advances in communication and technology are literally beckoning for a new approach.  We just haven’t reached that tipping point… yet.

The main difference between the fallout from 9/11 and a dominipede – it doesn’t necessitate spending trillions of dollars.  Instead of money, it all hinges on awareness.  This is a good thing because snippets of knowledge and wisdom are generally an inexpensive commodity.

But our federal government is unlikely to adopt a sweeping, new policy unless there’s a massive allocation of financial resources.  Adding to the problem, unless politicians “have their feet held to the fire” or think they’ll be personally held accountable, our government isn’t inclined to undertake a major course of action.  Now let’s factor in the current climate of partisan acrimony and congressional disfunction.  And finally, making the matter even worse is the overriding catch-22.  If you acknowledge a problem, you own it.  And if it were to happen, guess who reaps the blame?  Four big reasons why it’s so critical to defy the entrenched status quo.

So why can’t we make this major adjustment BEFORE an easily predictable tragedy takes place?  Are our societal expectations so low that we simply cannot adapt and grasp the concept of prevention?  I know what you’re thinking.  But It’s all based on a hypothetical.  The problem I have with that argument – when the outline and conceptual nature of the future tragedy reaches the threshold of being so blatantly obvious and inevitable, it becomes necessary to take action.  If the prospect of a dominipede doesn’t evoke concern…

I’ll readily concede that I don’t have all the answers, but I will assure you of one thing: adherence to the current path is unsustainable.  We’ll never have all the relevant information.  The who, what, when, where and why will remain unavailable… until disaster strikes.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young summed it up best.  Teach your children well.

“Pay attention.”  “Keep your head up.”  “Watch where you’re going.”

Society will have its new slogan, likely sooner rather than later.

“Think before you run.”

Why not make it sooner?

 

Bridge Stampedes

New River 1On June 28, 2013, a young man identified as Douglas Henrique de Oliveira died after he “fell” from a viaduct (a small bridge) in Belo Horizante, Brazil.  His death came during protests that have engulfed much of Brazil during the Confederations Cup soccer tournament.  His “falling” was likely the result of a sudden rush of protesters in which he was involuntarily pushed over the edge.  Or he may been impacted by tear gas or rubber bullets in clashes with police.  Regardless, it reminded me of past stampedes involving bridges.

Historically speaking, bridges can be dangerous.  Countless have died during the construction and demolition phases, particularly in times of war.  Vehicular accidents on bridges often introduce unusual elements of danger.  These structures are sometimes an instrument of suicide as was evidenced in the 2006 documentary film “The Bridge.”  It examined a rash of such incidents at California’s Golden Gate Bridge.  When most people think of major human stampedes, they immediately think of stadiums and religious festivals.  However, due to their inherent nature, bridges are sometimes the location of tremendous carnage.

Brooklyn 1
In 1883, the much anticipated Brooklyn Bridge was opened to the general public.  It linked Manhattan to Brooklyn over the East RIver.  On the day of the grand opening, an estimated 150,000 people flocked to the bridge and paid the penny toll to walk across it.  A week later, a large crowd was walking across the bridge when someone allegedly yelled, “the bridge is collapsing.”  A panic immediately ensued and 15 people were trampled to death.

Baghdad 1
Fast forward to 2005.  The Al-Aaimmah Bridge stampede killed an estimated 953.  This event represented the single, biggest loss of life during the U.S. led occupation of Iraq (2003 to the present).  During a religious procession, pilgrims had to cross the bridge over the Tigris River in order to reach a shrine in Baghdad.  Tensions were already running high based on earlier mortar attacks that day.  Although difficult to substantiate, rumor of an impending suicide bomber quickly spread through the crowd and triggered the crush.  Most were trampled to death or asphyxiated.  Some of the victims drowned to death as they were forcibly ejected into the river below.
Cambidoa 1
Fast forward another 5 years to Phnom Penh, Camboida in 2010.  The capital city attracted a huge crowd for the annual Water Festival.  An estimated crowd of 8,000 gathered on the bridge for the festivities.  It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what triggered the panic.  There could have been multiple factors.  Some have blamed police for firing water cannons which may have led to accidental electrocutions.  Many claim that the natural sway of the bridge combined with soaring temperatures and overcrowding led to the panic.  Truth be told, it was probably a confluence of several things.  But the inevitable result of all this pushing and shoving was one of the worst disasters in the history of Cambodia.

Pertaining to the Baghdad and Phnom Penh stampedes, it’s not difficult to notice an eerie similarity.  The aftermath of litter – shoes and clothing literally ripped from the bodies of the victims.

In 2012, my girlfriend and I attended Bridge Day in Fayetteville, West Virginia.  This annual event is held in late October and commemorates the completion of the New River Gorge Bridge.  The span is temporarily closed to vehicles as crowds (estimated in the 80,000 range) gather to watch as people BASE jump into the New River Gorge.  It has been held every year since 1980, with the exception of 2011, when it was canceled due to concerns regarding 9/11 and the possibility of a terrorist attack.

New River 2
While I seriously doubt that Bridge Day in central West Virginia would be a likely terrorist target, the event does raise some practical and logistical concerns.  I made a key observation that day.  People seemed to have problems with cell reception.  Lots of unavailable service issues and plenty of dropped calls, likely due to an extreme increase in cellular traffic.  It’s also a mountainous, rural area with a low population density.

But even with the poor cell coverage, I still wondered… just how many festival-goers, law enforcement officials and emergency responders have ever been briefed on the potential for an artificially generated stampede?  Other than my close personal friends in attendance, I’d predict that number to be statistically insignificant.

Observations from Former Ohio State President Gordon Gee

images-9In 2012, I notified every NCAA Division I president and chancellor of my concerns regarding the potential for artificially generated stampedes.  Out of those 119 individuals, only one of them responded not once, not twice but on three distinct occasions.  This indicates more than a high degree of courtesy and professionalism.  I believe it to be a safe assumption that former President Gordon Gee of The Ohio State University viewed my concerns as credible.

The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University 2

The Ohio State University 3

A 2012 article in The Lantern, Ohio State’s widely circulated newsletter, outlines some of my wider concerns.  It details a move toward increasing cell phone coverage at Ohio Stadium.  OSU is not the only major university moving in this direction.

And don’t forget that Commissioner Roger Goodell has made this a matter of policy for every stadium in the National Football League.

Police Chief Michael Cureton oversees security for the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, the second largest college venue in the state of Ohio.  He echoes my broader concerns in this letter.

University of Cincinnati

I’m sure that both Gordon Gee and Michael Cureton would agree with following statement: that under no conceivable circumstance would any responsible party ever launch an emergency evacuation by notifying fans directly and/or exclusively through their cellular devices.

This begs the obvious question… what would transpire if someone with a nefarious agenda decided to set in motion their own evacuation(s)?

If questioned about the potential for human stampedes, I imagine that you might hear about a somewhat archaic system that alerts those in charge of security to immediately allow fans access to the field.  Although this represents a step in the right direction, it does not adequately address the underlying problem presented by the artificially generated stampede itself.  It’s merely an attempt to lessen the severity of a potential calamity.  Mitigation is not a solution.

The state of Ohio boasts an unusually large concentration of NCAA Division I football stadiums.

Dix Stadium, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Doyt Perry Stadium, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio
Glass Bowl, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio
Peden Stadium, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Yager Stadium, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium, University of Akron, Akron, OH

But none of these venues are comparable to the awesome size of Ohio Stadium.
Ranked in the top 5 of all college football stadiums, The Horseshoe broke its previously established attendance record in an October 6, 2012 meeting against the University of Nebraska (106,102).

Other university leadership ultimately accountable for providing a safe game day experience also acknowledged my concerns.  I received an additional 6 responses which reflect oversight on behalf of some of the largest college football stadiums.

President Rodney Erickson, Penn State, Beaver Stadium  (106,572)
President C.L. Max Nikias, University of Southern California, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (94,392)
President Mike Adams, University of Georgia, Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Chancellor Harvey Perlman, University of Nebraska, Memorial Stadium (92,000)
President Jay Barker (2), Clemson University, Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium (81,500).

Reflections on the 2012 University of Pittsburgh Bomb Threats

pitt bomb threats image-1During March and April of 2012, the University of Pittsburgh experienced what could only be termed a bomb threat epidemic.  During that span, roughly 150 bomb threats resulted in creating a climate of fear and continuous disruption.  Making matters worse, there seemed to be no discernible pattern to the bomb threats.  Dormitories, classrooms, off campus facilities and even vacant buildings were targeted.  Threatening communications were delivered to individuals, the university, local television and print media outlets, the Pittsburgh police department and other miscellaneous organizations.  They would occur randomly, at any time, on any given day.  Aside from the financial costs, it is nearly impossible to quantify the anxiety and havoc wreaked by the sporadic barrage of bomb threats.

A self-described intelligence analyst known simply as “Andrew” decided to set up a blog in an attempt to consolidate all the pertinent information.  This person claimed to have no affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh.  His motivation appeared to be purely altruistic.  And let me be honest, if you examine his entries, you’ll quickly discover an unparalleled level of professionalism.  He also exhibited ample discretion with an incredibly sensitive topic.  I believe the stopthepittbombthreats blog is the superior, defining source for factual, public information related to the 2012 University of Pittsburgh bomb threat plague.

His blog contained a wealth of information.  There’s far too much to adequately sift through and analyze.  So instead, I’d like to take a look at his final comments and offer some additional insight.

Concluding Remarks

It is absolutely imperative that law enforcement both locally and nationally take a long, hard look at this case. With bare minimal resources, the perpetrators managed to create a disproportionately high level of disruption. If these kinds of anonymous cyber “attacks” are executed at the macro level, the level of disruption could be off the charts. So four important takeaways to consider:

  1. Re-evaluate the warning-response threshold concerning bomb threats,        specifically on the campus of educational institutions.
  2. Law enforcement and university policymakers must establish “best practices” concerning anonymous threats. This series of events has shown beyond a doubt the homeland security instructions on how to deal with bomb threats are grossly insufficient in the cyber age.
  3. Social media is a powerful tool to collect and disseminate information to the public, especially in situations where the media is unavailable to perform its duties (if indeed it is ethical to even do so).
  4. Social media is also a tool a perpetrator can use to collect counter-intelligence. Perpetrators can also use social media to analyze and manipulate public emotions.

I wholeheartedly agree with these recommendations and observations.  Let’s take a closer look at the statement in his preamble…

If these kinds of anonymous cyber “attacks” are executed at the macro level, the level of disruption could be off the charts.

I have a hunch that Andrew may have been referring to the potential for artificially generated stampedes, in particular, a dominipede delivered via a viral blitzkrieg.

In 2012, I initiated a comprehensive letter writing campaign to alert the federal government about the potential for a dominipede.  I contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then wrote to the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Education.  Of these three agencies, I received only one response.  It was in a letter dated April 12, 2012 from the United States Department of Education, Office of Post Secondary Education.

Dept. of Eductaion
Now here’s my takeaway.

It’s my contention that the DHS and FCC do not respond to civilian concerns regarding hypothetical national security threats.  But not only did they fail to address my concerns, they wouldn’t even acknowledge receiving my correspondence (likely a result of the catch-22 – if you acknowledge a problem, you own it and if it happens, you’re to blame).  This would appear to contradict the DHS “If you see something, say something” campaign.  The federal government seems to be saying, “We desperately want to hear your concerns, but we will neither confirm nor deny them.  Furthermore, in certain cases, we won’t even acknowledge them.  Because in the event you’ve touched on a plausible concern, a tangible paper trail could eventually be a source of extreme embarrassment, exposed incompetence and severe political repercussions.”

I think it’s a safe assumption that in the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede, not only would the public demand answers but there would also be some very high profile resignations.

So why did the Department of Education respond instead of the other more seemingly relevant agencies?  I believe the letter from the DOE (which appears to have been meticulously crafted) was composed in error.  It should have neither been written nor sent.  The DOE is likely not in the habit of receiving inquiries regarding sensitive, hypothetical national security issues.  Their written response was likely the result of a procedural lapse or omission in policy.  Regardless, I do appreciate their effort even though I feel it failed to adequately address the essence of my concerns.

The 2012 University of Pittsburgh bomb threat saga is a real-world microcosm.  It represents a defining precursor to the legitimate concerns I have raised regarding the prospect of artificially generated stampedes.  This issue must be addressed by the federal government.  The only remaining questions are when and how.

When will the United States government acknowledge this looming asymmetric threat: before a tragedy or after a tragedy?  I cannot answer this.  But based on past government tendencies and behavior, I suspect it would be after.

How could the federal government go about acknowledging this issue?  This one’s a little tougher.  I would implore President Barack Obama to read an article I wrote entitled, “The Obama Solution.”  At this time, I believe it’s the best viable solution from a national policy perspective.

On a final note, perhaps we need an overhaul in the manner by which our government assesses asymmetric national security issues, particularly those in the realm of communications and technology that fall under the jurisdiction of cyber warfare.  At some point, it could be necessary to create an independent organization outside the scope and bureaucracy of the federal government.  Their sole purpose: to analyze “easily identifiable yet untouchable” issues and directly report them to the highest levels within the presidential cabinet.

We the people, as a nation, cannot exclusively rely on the federal government to adequately protect its citizenry, especially in a situation like this where there appears to be a proven disinclination to acknowledge the existence of the problem in the first place.

Daytime talk show host Dr. Phil pretty much sums it up… “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

Drunk Driving Comparison

imagesThe issue of drunk driving rose to nationwide prominence in the 1980’s.  California resident Candace Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving when her daughter was hit and killed by a recidivist drunk driver.

People might think existing laws are too harsh or possibly too lax, but there’s a general consensus that drunk driving is a legitimate public safety issue.  But what’s interesting is the degree to which it has become micro-managed by the federal government.  We’ve seen a gradual strengthening of existing laws regarding what constitutes an unacceptable blood alcohol level.  From 1.0, to .08 and now it has been suggested that it be further reduced to .05.

If you can approach the drunk driving issue with such a degree of specificity (down to continual modification of the decimal point), then I think you can make a blanket case for disseminating the AGSAF mission statement to the general public.

People have a fundamental right to know that if they are in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation notice and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device… it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

This is simply a matter of knowledge.  It may be an uncomfortable discussion, but it’s still a basic issue of public safety.  When compared to the prospect of an artificially generated stampede, to hold the DUI standard to such a higher degree doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

The government can be incredibly precise and proactive with laws governing other activities deemed harmful.  Fines for speeding in a construction zone are often double the amount.  With regard to the sale of illegal narcotics, there are stiffer penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or playground.  How about aviation screening procedures?  Exactly what constitutes a knife, a blade or an acceptable amount of a liquid substance?

The federal government often goes to great lengths when it specifies exactly what action and behavior is considered to be “dangerous.”  Is it really asking that much to make the AGSAF mission statement available for public consumption?  It’s certainly something the overwhelming majority of the public would agree with.  It might be a touchy subject, but it’s neither confusing nor complex.  People have a fundamental human right to know the truth.  Knowledge is power.

Is the Artificially Generated Stampede a Black Swan?

black swanNassim Nicholas Taleb, a prolific writer and economics professor, popularized the term “black swan.”  It refers to an epic event that comes as a surprise (to the observer), has a significant impact and is rationalized in hindsight.  An event like 9/11 would be a prime example.  Although conceivably foreseeable, it was difficult to predict and virtually impossible to prevent.  In the aftermath of a black swan, you’ll likely hear the obvious comments “how could this have happened” and “we should have known better.”

Black swan theory refers exclusively to unexpected events of magnitude and consequence.  These events often play a dominant role in history, molding public opinion and shaping future policy.

So could you classify an artificially generated stampede as a black swan?  Most definitely.

It easily meets the first criterion.  The United States has witnessed countless stadium sporting events.  But there’s virtually no expectation of a human stampede because it simply isn’t the norm.  So to watch people suddenly run for their lives would come as quite a shock: to stadium attendees, the television viewing audience and society at large.

It also meets the second criterion of incredible significance.  From a generational warfare perspective, this is uncharted territory.  Absent are the customary tools of war.  Smart phones and information become lethal instruments.  Harnessing the power of a human stampede and using it as an indiscriminate weapon of terror would be a considerable advancement in the realm of asymmetric warfare.

The third criterion (rationalization in hindsight) is where things get a little interesting.  This may come as a surprise, but artificially generated stampedes are nothing new.  In 1941, a stampede in Chongqing, China killed roughly 4,000 people.  It’s widely regarded as the worst stampede in the history of civilization.  During a prolonged Japanese aerial bombardment, scores of Chinese looked for coverage in a bomb shelter.  Upon hearing the all-clear siren, many went back above ground only to hear the warning siren sound again.  The massive crowd rushed back upon itself resulting in thousands being asphyxiated and trampled to death.  It could be argued that the trigger, an ill-timed blaring siren, was artificial in nature.

I think it’s a safe assumption that an artificially generated stampede triggered through cell phones is at some point, inevitable.  Texting “bomb” in a packed stadium is merely the 21st century equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Take an objective look at the multitude of internet related hoaxes that are readily adaptable to cellular platforms.  Hacking, phishing, catfishing, spoofing, swatting… the list continues to grow.  Remember when you were guaranteed a financial windfall from a wealthy Nigerian diplomat providing you send him the necessary funds to bribe a prison guard.  The world has come a long way in a short span.

But all these hoaxes and fraudulent schemes are nothing new.  And it doesn’t take a social engineering genius to realize the end game.  It’s not personal shame or fiscal damage.  It is bodily injury and loss of life.  For this reason, I believe an artificially generated stampede would be easily rationalized in hindsight.  What I doubt humanity is adequately prepared for is the potential for multiple stampedes, a/k/a the dominipede.  I just don’t believe it’s conceptually on the radar.  All the relevant data are out there, readily available but unaccounted for in risk management programs.  The problem stems from an overall lack of government accountability and societal disengagement.  It’s that same old catch-22.  If you acknowledge the problem, you own it.  And if it were to happen, guess who gets the blame?

Nassim Taleb once stated, “A small number of black swans explains almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.”  Taleb was not in the business of predicting black swans.  His desire was to encourage societal awareness and accountability while at the same time building resilience and robust strategies against negative outcomes.

One day, I suspect you’ll hear all three terms (artificially generated stampede, dominipede and black swan) referenced in the same sentence.  What will the human race learn as a consequence?  It’s hard to say.  But I do know one thing.  In the aftermath of a dominipede, a cataclysmic event so ominous yet easily predictable, I’d suggest Taleb ditch his teaching career.  Maybe he and I could open a consulting firm and teach the federal government how to better safeguard the lives of its citizens.

The Obama Solution

images-15Pertaining to the artificially generated stampede, is it reasonable to assume that the United States federal government has in place a massive communications kill-switch?  And is it plausible to claim that if they do, they also have a top secret, reactive speech in place for the President to address the entire nation in the aftermath of its use?  One that explains how the government came to everyone’s rescue just in the nick of time?  Then, an additional explanation outlining how they’ve been anticipating the possibility of an artificially generated stampede and will now institute these “awareness” campaigns in the name of public safety.  And furthermore, there was a contingency portion of the speech in the event of a dominipede that explained how it was “a necessary evil” to sacrifice innocent lives at one or more select venues in order to preserve the greater, overall public safety.  We wanted to tell you, but we couldn’t.  We knew it could be bad, but our objective was to make sure it didn’t end up being THAT bad.  Does any of this make sense?

Even more bizarre is an assumption that the government has some type of all-encompassing, real-time monitoring and filtration system.  Every text message, every e-mail, every phone call, every potential hack.  I’ve already touched on this subject many times, the notion that mitigation might serve as a comprehensive strategy to combat the artificially generally stampede.  If and when OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loops are nullified, any response plan would be rendered useless.  How could mitigation in a pre-artificially generated stampede society be considered a viable strategy?

Call me naive, but I just don’t see it.  I simply don’t buy it.  You’d basically have to sell me on the following premise… that the SECOND the stampedes originate, someone in the highest position of ultra-authority, acting on behalf of the U.S. government, yet unaffiliated with the U.S. government, can issue the “kill-switch” order.  Once again, call me naive, but this seems conceptually ludicrous.  Since I’m the only person (that I know of) to broach the topic of the artificially generated stampede, I consider myself to be a confident spokesperson on the subject.  And as a self-professed “expert,” it’s my contention that no such master plan is currently in existence.  And even if the telecommunications kill-switch specifically existed to combat the artificially generated stampede, it would be impossible to effectively activate, monitor and properly control a desirable outcome.

I often speak of the need for immediate awareness campaigns.  It’s one thing to make that assertion.  It’s another thing to explain the actual process.  Since we’re talking about a fundamentally transformative topic of immense magnitude, this requires a more thorough explanation.

The artificially generated stampede is far more than a problem requiring the allocation of money.  You cannot simply ask the FCC to issue new guidelines and order the construction of warning signs at relevant venues.  Due to the nature of the dilemma, it necessitates a vastly bolder approach.

The most practical, superior solution would entail the President of the United States,  Barack Obama, stepping up to the plate and demonstrating REAL leadership.  In this case, I’d recommend an address to the nation.  Perhaps he could relay his concerns in the form of a 21st century Fireside Chat and reference the “only you can prevent forest fires” analogy.  Radio was an effective format for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Not only did it help conceal his physical deterioration due to his ongoing battle with polio, it also allowed him to explain the reasoning for social change, both slowly and comprehensively.  Maybe Obama could launch this unprecedented announcement via social media, possibly streaming it over the internet.  Obama could highlight some of the personal death and injury hoaxes he has endured while in office.  He could use these incidents to personalize the issue and sell the American public on the concept of awareness campaigns.

I would also encourage him to issue an open challenge to a one-on-one debate with any high ranking politician that feels this is a poor idea (anyone that virulently opposes awareness campaigns).  Considering the anecdotal evidence, the direction of history as well as the mounting urgency, I find it hard to believe that anyone would accept this debate.  Even though the artificially generate stampede is a hypothetical, if you are a proponent of deductive reasoning, you should be able to sift through this mess and coherently explain all aspects.  Any challenger overtly taking potshots or using propaganda would not fare well, especially if a debate was held in an interactive, town hall format.

I realize this defies convention wisdom, but sometimes you must evolve beyond the confines of the established socio-political structure.  With the security of American civilians at stake, this is one of those times.  The terms of peril dictate a break from the pattern of business as usual.

I do sympathize because this would open up Obama to vicious, rehearsed attacks from the general opposition.  You would certainly hear accusations of fear mongering and the claim that he thinks Americans are too stupid to know the difference between reality and a hoax.  He would be portrayed as a condescending elitist and patronizing professor.  There would also likely be claims of further government intrusion into our everyday lives. The general public is incapable of protecting themselves.  We, the nanny-state government, must do it for you.  These narratives are all too predictable.

This is not an easy case to be made.  It’s very challenging to issue warnings based upon hypothetical scenarios.  Inevitably, there would be political blowback.  The only upside is that Obama doesn’t have to worry about running for the presidency as his term will expire in 2016.  So the only thing at stake is the reputation of the Commander-in-Chief and the executive branch versus a future scenario where innocent people die.  Quite the paradox.

So here’s one option.  Do nothing.  Just wait for the natural course of events to unfold and hope for the best.  Pray that it’s isolated in scope and the death/injury count remains low.  Until the American public actually sees an artificially generated stampede transpire, they’ll likely go about their daily drudgery in a collective state of ignorance and/or denial.

Unfortunately, having studied stadium stampedes in other countries and also factoring in the spiral rotunda, excess amenities and the general difficulty in obtaining entry and exit due to ironically enhanced security procedures, I cannot help but think that any hypothetical scenario is a grave one.  Factor in a perpetrator’s “progression of malicious intent,” and this substantially increases the potential for an extremely negative outcome (a dominipede).

And here’s the other option.  Carpe diem.  Seize the moment and confront the issue.  Which choice seems wiser?  I’m admittedly biased, but I prefer the latter.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) Acknowledges the Artificially Generated Stampede

images-10Joe Manchin, the recently elected senator from West Virginia has often been viewed as someone who brings a common sense approach to big government.  His town hall meetings throughout our state have been well received.  He has demonstrated a penchant for listening to the problems of everyday Americans.

Senator Manchin addressed my concerns regarding the potential for artificially generated stampedes in this letter.

joe manchin response
Not only did Manchin acknowledge the problem, he demanded answers.  Here is an official response from Joe Thornton, Director of Military Affairs and Public Safety for the state of West Virginia.

Joseph Thornton response
Joseph Thornton response page 2

From his days as a state legislator to his six years as Governor to his current role, Senator Manchin has always been committed to a philosophy of “retail government” – in other words, connecting with all of his constituents and making service to them his top priority.  I can attest to this having personally attended one of his town halls at West Virginia Northern Community College in January of 2011.  This particular stop was labeled as a “Call for Common Sense” with a focus on job creation.  His intention was to hear from citizens outside the beltway.  Manchin, like many others, realize that the mammoth U.S. government bureaucracy is ill-equipped to handle all future challenges.

Manchin has exhibited a willingness to take unpopular stands.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, he demonstrated a desire to craft stricter gun legislation.  He reached across the aisle to Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) pushing for enhanced background checks.  Although the bill ultimately died, it was a bold effort championed by the freshman senator.

This came on the heels of an emphatic endorsement from the gun lobby.

Fairfax, Va. – The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) is endorsing Joe Manchin for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.  “Joe Manchin is committed to protecting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms guaranteed to all Americans,” said Chris W. Cox, chairman of NRA-PVF. “His strong dedication and voting record have earned him an “A” rating from the NRA-PVF, and we proudly endorse him for re-election to the U.S. Senate.”

I believe Joe Manchin would be an ideal “point-man” to broach my concerns in the halls of Congress.  Based upon the following:

  • Manchin’s common sense approach to solving problems mired in big government bureaucracy
  • his decision to risk an “A” rating and directly oppose the NRA’s stance on background check legislation
  • his willingness to engage in bipartisanship
  • his determination to buck public sentiment in a very pro-gun state and likely face the backlash and future political consequences

Publicly acknowledging the artificially generated stampede would appear to have a
very limited upside, especially in the realm of political capital.  Considering his
track record, I believe Senator Manchin may be more receptive than his peers in
acknowledging the potential to asymmetrically deliver mass casualties via the
induction of mass panic.

If a politician who became nationally famous for the campaign ad “Dead Aim” is willing to firmly oppose the NRA, he would seem like an ideal candidate to support putting human safety ahead of the government’s entrenched status quo as it pertains to established, outdated stadium evacuation protocol.

Please consider contacting Senator Manchin and airing your concerns regarding this matter.

Senator John Rockefellor who announced plans to retire at the end of his term did not respond to my concerns.

Ticket Stubs

wvu-pitt ticketTicket stub disclaimers are quite the anomaly.  Even though they often account for 50% of the surface area of the actual ticket, the vast majority of event-goers never read them.  However, they contain some powerful information.  Let’s focus on the fine print from a sporting event.

The most prominent section deals with rules governing ticket refunds, admission, transference, forfeiture, etc.  There’s also a clause which permits the use of your identity.  And there’s often a waiver of consent to be searched prior to admittance.

With regard to liability, you’ll often see the following statement:  Ticket holder assumes all risks incident to the game or related events, including the risk of lost, stolen or damaged property and personal injury.

On baseball ticket stubs, they take it one step further.  There’s a specific warning encompassing the danger presented by broken bats, batted balls and other objects that could be thrown into the stands.  They go the extra mile with this disclaimer because it is a reasonable expectation based on historical precedent.  The routine frequency of broken bats and foul balls represent a situation unique to the sport of baseball.  Thus, it necessitates a higher standard of waiver liability.

In the aftermath of a high profile artificially generated stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede, I would expect to see new government mandated warnings on the back of ticket stubs.  Considering the gravity of such an event, I cannot envision any scenario where this would not quickly become the law of the land.  This new ticket stub disclaimer would exist across the board.  My hunch tells me it would apply to all sporting and entertainment venues, even those with a capacity as limited as 1,000.

For ticket stubs:

“If you receive an emergency evacuation notice and/or a panic-inducing message on your cell phone or mobile device, it is almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.  Always wait for official confirmation from the public address system.

I could envision similar disclaimers making headway into the cellular industry when an individual purchases a cell phone or enters into a contract with a retailer or wireless carrier.

For cell phones:

“By entering into this contract for cell phone services, or using this or any cell phone, the purchaser acknowledges the risk that cell phones can be used to generate dangerous situations, such as mass panics or stampedes, through the use of intentionally false, disseminated information.  The purchaser knowingly and voluntarily assumes all risks, including but not limited to the risk of sustaining serious bodily injury and death, that are in any way related to such cell phone-related dangerous situations.”

I suspect at some point, this waiver might even be elevated to the status of a separate contract, similar to a HIPAA privacy form.

Can you convince the entire population to voluntarily leave their cell phones behind before entering a venue?  Call me a cynic, but I just don’t see that happening.  Even in the aftermath of one of the worst human tragedies, the notion of everyone voluntarily giving up the “right to bear” a cell phone does not seem realistic.

Not to play the role of a psychic, but I could foresee some future societal implications.  Many people would use the excuse of a stampede in order to avoid attending major events.  “I’m not going to that concert.  What if there’s an artificially generated stampede?  I’m not going to that game.  What if there’s a dominipede?”

Since I’ve been analyzing hypotheticals for the past couple years, here’s another one.  The hypothetical litigious fallout from a dominipede would be indescribable.  Just who would bear the greatest burden of liability?  The venues, for not providing a safe, stampede-free environment?  The cell phone manufacturers, for neglecting to inform the general public that their devices could be used as weapons?  The wireless carriers, for allowing the transmission of dangerous information?  The people, who unknowingly exacerbated the panic?  The federal government, for failing to adequately protect its citizenry?

It all sounds like one hypothetical big mess.  Until it were to happen.  Then it would instantly become one REAL big mess.

AP Twitter Account Hacked

images-13

On April 23, 2013, the Associated Press twitter account was hacked.

images-26

That message was sent to approximately 1.9 million AP followers.  It was then immediately retweeted approximately 4,000 times.

This sent the New York Stock Exchange into a temporary $200+ billion nosedive.  Automated trading bots recognized key words from information sources deemed legitimate and it was instantly determined that there “could” be a national emergency.  History has demonstrated that a perceived national crisis will have a negative impact on the broader markets.

“It was unprecedented in terms of how fast liquidity disappeared and trading activity pegged at extreme levels,” said Eric Hunsader, founder of Nanex. “When you value speed over everything else, you end up with algos that will shoot first and ask questions later, There’s simply no time for them to do any fact-checking.”

Shortly thereafter, traders realized the AP account had been compromised and the whole thing was a hoax based on a bogus tweet.  But the damage had already been done.  Oddly enough, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended up 152 points at the close of trading.

Stephen Ward, Director for the Center of Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, succinctly echoes my greater concerns in a front page USA Today article.  He claimed that a hoax tweet had the potential to do far more than just financial damage.

“It could have had people trampled, real injuries. This is the world we live in now. And in light of this, news organizations have to certainly increase security procedures so that they can’t be hacked easily. … (If it was phishing that led to this), that is not proper security. They’ve got to review the security procedures. We can’t control non-professionals or individuals using social media. But as news organizations, we have to hold the line here.”

Dr. Ward seems cognizant of the wider problem.  Even if we install better security procedures and fine tune the rules governing the media, it’s impossible to control the population at-large.  It’s just a matter of time before someone with an evil agenda decides to disseminate panic-laden information while a real-world event is in progress.  The possibility of a viral blitzkrieg could even outweigh the dangers presented by a concerted hack.

“When you have the ability to get a newsworthy event in 140 characters or less and you can instantly move a market, you know what this means. You’re going to bring out a lot of people who know they can move a market,” said Todd Schoenberger, managing director at LandColt Capital. “How can you regulate it? You really can’t regulate it.”

“The hack attack demonstrates the perilous position in which we find ourselves with social media and technology,” Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said in a commentary for CNBC. “It also may well have been illegal.”

I’m sure there will be thorough investigations by the FBI and the SEC.  While it’s comforting to know that they’ll allocate the necessary resources, I would encourage them to parlay what happened into a mandate to conduct hypothetical assessments of other potential real-world hacking scenarios.  This would surely lead them to the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.  In the aftermath of such an event, or worst case scenario dominipede, government investigations would be of little or no comfort to the actual victims.

Smokey the Bear Analogy

images-14The catch-22 presented by the artificially generated stampede is best understood through the lens of another famous government awareness campaign.

Only you can prevent forest fires.

Its origins date back to 1944.  The United States Forest Service decided it was necessary to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires.  So the United States government created a marketing campaign featuring an endearing mascot, “Smokey the Bear.”  This was more than a practical decision.  It was a moral one.  Forest fires represented a threat that would never subside.

Most people think that 9/11 was the first ever coordinated airborne assault on the continental United States.  Technically speaking, this is not the case.  Prior to the ad campaign, the Japanese Empire launched the Oregon Lookout raids in 1942.  It was an attempt to set ablaze rural, coastal areas.

With the potential for wide scale forest fires, discussion of the weather became an incredibly sensitive topic.  Immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, an emergency wartime agency came into existence.  Under the expansive guise of national security, the “Office of Censorship” monitored weather reporting in order to protect the war effort.

In 1944-45, Japan renewed their war effort by launching roughly 10,000 “fire balloons”  into the jet stream off the Pacific coast.  Only a tiny percentage caused actual damage.  Still, these hydrogen balloon bombs were reportedly discovered in 17 states as well as Mexico and Canada.

Surely some of our legislators had mixed emotions about the Smokey the Bear forest fire campaigns.  What if, by publicly displaying our trepidation, the Japanese seized upon those fears?  What if they prepared military strikes intentionally designed to ignite forest fires and wreak devastation?  The fact that the Japanese followed this exact course of action must have caused many Congressmen to second guess their budgetary allocations.

The Japanese fire campaigns were generally regarded as an abject failure.  Regardless, we can learn a great deal.  Because there’s a potential upside and downside to any course of action… and inaction.

There are some eerie parallels with what happened then and what COULD happen in the here and now.  I would encourage you to examine the anticipated trajectory of where we’re heading regarding the future of the First Amendment.  How might those freedoms be impacted by an artificially generated stampede, or in the worst case scenario, a dominipede?  Just something to think about.

Emergency Evacuation Simulations

images-17Stadium evacuation simulations are popping up on the internet.  Though with some of them, you might feel inclined to question the level of realism in the event of an actual emergency.  Call me crazy, but I’m not sure these colorful robots adequately portray any sense of anxiety or urgency.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AZQ4lFLcb4

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there’s great value in simulating emergency evacuations.  I just think the creators of this video confused the terms “exiting” and “departing” with the conceptual nature of an emergency evacuation.  I’ve seen countless videos of human beings in a panicked state.  In the event of a real, human stampede, I don’t think it takes a doctorate in physics to conclude that this reenactment would hold little scientific value.

On the other hand, here’s a simulation of a bomb explosion on the lower level 3rd base line at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA.  This video was produced by Redfish Group, a software company based in Santa Fe, New Mexico focused on studying crowd movement and evacuation dynamics.

PNC Stadium Crowd Dynamics Evacuation

Since its opening in 2001, I have attended over 40 events at PNC Park (the vast majority were Pirates games, a 2005 Rolling Stones/Pearl Jam concert and even a wedding reception).  As fans will attest, the ballpark has some tremendous sight lines offering spectacular views of the field and the city.  I’ve made it a point to sit in virtually every section.  As a common spectator, I believe I have a fairly decent grasp of this venue.

The first thing I noticed about this experiment was the accuracy of the attendance figure.  Redfish could have performed a simulation using the ballpark’s maximum capacity (38,000+), but they settled on a more realistic figure near 15,000.  This lends a great deal of credibility.  PNC Park does approach sold-out status a few times a year, but it’s hardly the norm.

I also believe, in the event of an actual explosion, their estimates of people being trampled seem reasonable.  Notice how some of the simulated individuals run onto the playing field in a desperate attempt to flee the explosion.  It’s difficult to fathom how everything would play out under real-world conditions, but I think it’s safe to assume that the Redfish reenactment is vastly superior to the conditions portrayed in the soccer stadium evacuation in Dusseldorf.

Now you’re probably thinking… “Hey, wait a minute.  But there’s an actual bomb in this video.  It’s based on a real bomb going off.  Of course people are going to run for their lives.  And a slew of people are going to be trampled.”  This is true.  Next you’ll make the assertion, “People would never behave like that if the threat wasn’t overtly visible.  Information delivered via cell phones would never result in everyone simultaneously running for their lives.”

I strongly disagree with that statement.  It’s critical to note that human stampedes can result from a wide variety of triggers.  An artificially generated stampede might not come in the form of a “bomb” threat.  It could simply be an urgent evacuation order from a reliable source.  It might be relayed in the form of free food or heavily discounted merchandise.  It could be reports of a famous celebrity who appeared and is spontaneously signing autographs.  A command to evacuate could even come from a family member who’s concerned for your safety and well-being.  What if it was a phone call from your spouse who’s sitting at home 30 miles away watching a televised breaking news segment?  A stampede could stem from anything that encourages people to aggressively move toward an exit or concourse.  Anything that results in an unanticipated, sudden rush of the crowd.

The most important lesson here is this.  Nobody voluntarily participates in a stampede.  Nobody opts to willingly join a stampede.  Until it happens.  Until you find yourself engulfed by one.  This is Stampede Dynamics 101 with an emphasis on herding instincts.

The last time I checked, the scenarios I’ve presented simply aren’t on everyone’s “radar.”  And until this issue is brought to the forefront and becomes available for public consumption, the general population will remain dangerously ignorant.

Since I already referenced my hometown baseball team, here’s a final thought.  On the back of all ticket stubs is an “assumption of risk” disclaimer.  This waiver absolves liability resulting from injuries inflicted by broken bats and foul balls.  The United States federal government mandates these warnings.  I would implore legislation augmenting those disclaimers to include the following…

Cellular communication devices can be used to create artificially generated stampedes.  If you receive panic-inducing information or a message demanding an immediate evacuation, wait for official confirmation from the public address system.

Twitter Confusion

images-5On April 9, 2013 the following twitter hashtag #nowthatcherisdead made its rounds through social media.  It was intended to reference the death of Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of England.  However, some people fell victim to misinterpretation.  They incorrectly assumed it conveyed the message “now that Cher is dead.”  Needless to say, there was no correlation between the deceased leader and the living singer/activist.

A similar incident occurred following the death of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il.  In 2011, twitter was abuzz with reports that “Lil Kim is dead.”  Due his diminutive stature, the tyrant was sometimes condescendingly referred to a “Little Kim.”  But many people mistakenly assumed it was a reference to Lil Kim, the female rapper.

Twitter has a 140 character limit that governs its short message service.  It’s a unique social medium because it seemingly promotes the usage of ad hoc abbreviations, urban slang and often a disregard for proper punctuation.

Consider the following scenario.  A famous celebrity is attending a game at a newly built stadium.  He/she has a massive twitter following and sends out the following tweet.

“This stadium is da bomb!”

In this case, “da bomb” would likely denote luxury and excessive amenities, not an incendiary device.

“Did you see that bomb?”

In the second case, a “bomb” is a reference to a 50+ yard touchdown throw.

Although unlikely, in the age of twitter there’s always the looming prospect for potential confusion.  In theory, these real-time hypotheticals could have severe ramifications.

The stadium is being evacuated.
The stadium is being evacuated?

Note how a single question mark can alter the inflection, interpretation and potentially a course of behavior/action.  The first statement is declarative.  The second statement encourages one to ask the question why.

Through electronic messaging, particularly in the twittersphere, brief snippets of information can grow exponentially.  It’s as simple as hitting a retweet button.  Notions of censorship and content filters are a mere afterthought.

High profile information can be distributed faster than televised breaking news.  In the 2012 Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, details outlining each count of the verdict were made available via twitter nearly 2 minutes before anything was reported by the major networks.  The Penn State independent student-run blog, Onwardstate, correctly reported the entire verdict: 45 out of 48 guilty counts.  Every cable news outlet was on site and had tremendous resources at their disposal, but it appears as though Twitter beat them to the punch.

Society has witnessed an increasing trend in the inaccurate reporting of breaking news (Gore wins the presidency, Obamacare overturned by the Supreme Court, Congresswomen Gabby Giffords is dead, etc.).  Perhaps, in an effort to obtain more factual information, we should take a fresh look at the all-encompassing manner in which society acquires and delivers breaking news.  And another question must be asked.  Do Twitter and other social messaging sites conform to established levels of journalistic standards and procedures?  At the very least, these issues require closer scrutiny.

1993 University of Wisconsin Stampede

images-8One of the worst stampedes in U.S. history took place on October 30, 1993 at the University of Wisconsin.  Fans rushed the field following a 13-10 upset victory over the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium.  There were no fatalities but the final injury count was 73, with 6 listed as critical.

This video highlights the waning moments of the game, the crowd surge and accompanying celebration.  This particular human stampede had the necessary force to tear steel railings directly from a concrete foundation.

It’s interesting to note that the force of less than 10 people pushing in the same direction can generate up to 1000 lbs. of force – enough to bend steel and topple brick walls.  When most think of human stampedes, they envision people being trampled to death.  However, the vast majority of individuals die while remaining upright through a process called crush asphyxiation.  It’s the equivalent of suffocation or drowning in air.

Chief of Police/Vice President Susan Riseling addressed my concerns in a letter dated May 7, 2012.

University of Wisconsin

She referenced several policies and procedures for enhanced stadium security, but failed to address the most perilous, lingering concern: the prospect of an artificially generated stampede.  Still, it’s difficult to assess blame or responsibility when no other NCAA Division I schools have acknowledged the issue.  And of course, the federal government has failed to offer any viable input or solutions.  They’ve also neglected to offer any guidance moving forward.

The capacity of Camp Randall Stadium is 80,000+.  When full, it becomes the fifth largest “city” in the state of Wisconsin.

If you have concerns regarding fan safety at Camp Randall Stadium, I would suggest contacting these individuals:

Governor Scott Walker
Senator Ron Johnson
Senator Tammy Baldwin

Roger Goodell’s WiFi Initiative

Roger Goodell has served as the Comissioner of the National Football League since the retirement of Paul Tagliabue in 2006.  He has often been referred to as “the most powerful man in sports.”  That’s quite a distinction.  Whether or not you agree with his positions on dispensing fines, player safety or labor relations, most would concur that he has taken a very bold “hands on” approach to many aspects of the game.

One of his recent policy positions involves the WiFi initiative introduced at the May 22, 2012 NFL owners meeting in Atlanta, GA.

Some excerpts from the transcript:

On WiFi fan initiative:

The initiative is to get WiFi in all of our stadiums both for mobile devices including telephony. We want to make sure fans when they come into our stadiums don’t have to shut down – they can bring their devices. We want them to have access to the same amount of information, have access to our RedZone channel, have access to highlights, and be able to engage in social media including Fantasy Football. When you come to our stadiums, we want to make it a great experience. That is what it is about.

On how expansive it would be:

That is the trick. We want to put it in all 31 stadiums. We want to make sure the same service is provided and the same technology is there for the fans. The costs vary from the different proposals we have. It is part of the reason we are looking for new technology partners that can help us address what I consider pretty complex problems.

On if it is realistic to expect it to be in for 2012:

No. It is possible we could get a stadium or two stadiums in, but it is a pretty big undertaking.

On if he would want all stadiums to launch at the same time:

Not necessarily. We have talked about a pilot. We have talked about New Orleans – we are in New Orleans this year having the Super Bowl there. That might be a good start. But there are several teams that are very aggressive in this area that have some very good technology available in their stadiums. We are learning from that, and our fans are engaging with it, which is the best news for us.

Goodell’s WiFi expansion initiative is often referred to as the “living room” experience.  This objective of affording everyone in the stadium the opportunity to remain fully connected would seem to juxtapose the red flag concerns I have raised regarding the potential for artificially generated stampedes.  To offer every fan this degree of hyper-connectivity and unfettered access to cellular communications would seem to violate the “essence” of emergency evacuation protocol.  Evacuation protocol requires a singular, carefully scripted message.  The potential for thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of random directives would not bode well in a calm and orderly evacuation.  Assuming the perspective of a viral blitzkrieg, this WiFi initiative would appear to trend in the worst direction possible.

I notified Roger Goodell and every NFL owner of my concerns in correspondence dated May 1, 2012.  Unlike the flood of responses I received from NCAA leadership, there was no acknowledgement whatsoever from anyone affiliated with the National Football League.  This alarming contrast constitutes a red flag and highlights the possibility of divergent agendas.  Is it reasonable to conclude that NFL ownership is more fundamentally driven by economic factors (to the detriment of overall fan safety) than its NCAA counterparts?  I believe this would be a fair characterization.

I’ll concede that if your goal is to offer stadium fans unlimited access to the NFL Red Zone package, video replays, fantasy football stats and other real-time experiences associated with the game, then the WiFi initiative would appear ideal.  But from an outlook of fan safety under extenuating circumstances, it could have particularly dire consequences.  Goodell often tells people that as NFL Commissioner it’s his job to safeguard the integrity of the game or as he puts it “protect the shield.”  I’d encourage him to take a moment, reflect and think outside the box.  The grim realities of the game: the injuries, concussions and jarring hits, could someday extend well beyond the playing surface.

Department of Homeland Spelling

images-18In 2008, the United States Department of Homeland Security released a report concerning stadium security.  Other than the individuals who wrote it, I think it’s safe to say that very few have read this comprehensive dossier.

https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=30626

The report basically outlines every conceivable threat to stadium security.  I hate to sound pessimistic, but I get the sense it was written for the following reason:

to elaborate on every potentially fathomable problem so that in the event something unfortunate did happen, an official could reference the content buried somewhere in this exhaustive account.

They could point to evidence in the report and claim they were in the process of addressing the matter.  But until then, they were neither derelict nor negligent.

On page 41, there’s even a reference to the possibility of food borne illness obtained from mayonnaise left out in the sun.  Oh, and by the way, they misspelled “mayonaise.”  On the same page, they speak of the accidental release of chemical, biological or radiological weapons.  This sounds a little more pressing.  I’m not trying to nitpick, but shouldn’t it be an “intentional release.”  And by the way, I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but they misspelled “accidential.

On page 44, they break down the stadium population into various sub-groups (grandstands, suites, offices, even the concessations).  Yep, you guessed it.  I think they meant concessions.

Perhaps among its numerous directives, the Department of Homeland Security should issue some kind of revamped bureau-wide spellcheck policy.   I do believe it would fall within their restrictive budgetary constraints.

My apologies if this post came across as flippant or purposely offensive.  Rest assured, I take matters concerning stadium security very seriously.  I think that’s why I’m left a bit flabbergasted.  Read the official report.  It touches on every potential hazard, every conceivable previously explored threat known to man.
With one major exception… the potential for an artificially generated stampede.

One would think that a hypothetical scenario which completely eviscerates existing emergency evacuation protocol might be worthy of a paragraph or two.  Then again, that would likely open up a can of worms.  It would necessitate exploring more challenging concepts and likely result in a much longer report.  Most importantly, it would be a concrete admission of a real-world problem that requires a universal solution.

Regarding the artificially generated stampede, I’ve often spoke of the overriding catch-22.  The notion that if you acknowledge the problem, you own it.  If a lead official is properly briefed, they become accountable.  And if a disaster happens, the administration would reap the blame.

Perhaps this explains my cynical tone.  With the prospect of a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes) and a hypothetical injury and death count which boggles the mind and irreparably alters the course of humanity, our Department of Homeland Security has chosen to focus on an entirely different threat… an accidential mayonaise spill at the concessation stand.

Stampede Perceptions

images-2Human stampedes only happen in third world countries.  Human stampedes only take place at religious festivals and soccer stadiums.  They’re more likely to occur in nations which assign less value to the lives of their citizens.  The United States is a wealthier, more sophisticated culture.  We’re more concerned about the welfare of others.  We have superior standards regarding public safety.  Stampedes don’t happen here because we’re a more “civilized” society.

I’m not so sure.  This footage from the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium’s 2010 Electronic Daisy Carnival might make you reconsider any previously conceived notions.

When most people think of stampedes, they conjure up images of people being trampled to death.  Though by and large, this is inaccurate.  The vast majority of people perish while remaining upright through a process called compressive asphyxiation.  You suffocate from the crush.  It’s the equivalent of drowning in air.

Now you might be inclined to think, but this was a rave!  Aren’t these electronic music festivals flooded with alcohol, ecstasy and other dangerous amphetamines?  The majority of these kids must be under the influence of something.  Perhaps.  I have no evidence to the contrary.

But what about the recurring scene of some of the world’s deadliest stampedes, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia?  Fatality counts during the Hajj boggle the imagination.

Recent estimated death totals from the Hajj:

July 2, 1990 – 1,426
May 23, 1994 – 270
April 9, 1998 – 118
March 5, 2001 – 35
February 11, 2003 – 14
February 1, 2004 – 251
January 12, 2006 – 346

As you might expect, the injury tallies are considerably higher.

I think we can generally rule out drugs and alcohol as contributing factors.  Is it wise to blame religious extremism?  Probably not.  Finding inner peace and humbling oneself are the main reasons for participating in the Hajj.  The cold hard truth – it’s all about logistics.  Crowd turbulence coupled with the induction of panic results in tragedy.

But here’s something else to consider.  In the first minute of the Electronic Daisy Carnival footage, everyone is physically stuck in an open-air stairwell.  Fortunately, most are eventually able to break free from the human stranglehold.  But what if there had been a locked gate and/or an enclosed exit?

Such was the case during the 2012 Egyptian soccer stampede that killed 73 and injured hundreds.  Originally, the fatalities were considered to be the result of fan-on-fan violence and clashes with Egyptian security forces.  But what if I told you that the majority of people died in human stampedes?  What if I made the assertion that the stampede WAS the violence?  Would it shock you to find out that the majority of bodies were recovered at one of the stadium exits?

My point is this.  Stampedes are blamed on all kinds of factors: barricades, narrow corridors, hooliganism, drugs and alcohol, mismanagement of security, etc.  It’s easy to assess blame in the aftermath of tragedies like these.  But at the heart of everything, it’s always a matter of panic and physical logistics.  It’s really that simple.  Anytime there’s a large mass of people in a confined location who wish to suddenly relocate, tragedy can strike.

Here’s the moral of this story.  From a historical perspective, a culture or nation may have experienced a small number of human stampedes.  Some countries may never have experienced one.  But this makes them no less vulnerable to the prospect of a stampede, or in the worst case scenario, a dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  I believe the United States government should be more cognizant of this unprecedented hypothetical.

USAFA Superintendent Understands the Stakes

images-2 I received a response from Lieutenant General Michael C. Gould, Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy dated March 24, 2012.  It reaffirmed my concerns regarding outdated emergency evacuation protocol in U.S. football stadiums.

Air Force Academy

His handwritten notation of thanking me for “having the courage to step forward” meant a great deal.  As an individual with a seemingly endless resume of achievements, awards and decorations, those words had a special resonance.

As a pilot with thousands of flight hours under his belt, he may have been in a better position to sift through and weigh the underlying content of my letter.  He has surely grown accustomed to witnessing the ramifications of action… and inaction.  At some point, all that real-world experience with OODA loops (observe, orient, decide, act) begins to add up.  It would certainly have an impact on comprehending the difference between a false flag and a red flag.

Truth be told, Falconi Field in Colorado Springs is not one of the most heavily occupied football stadiums in the country.  Nonetheless, I believe the Superintendent was able to distance himself and more easily understand the bigger picture.  Issues of great magnitude are best often solved by individuals who routinely solve big problems.

At its core, the artificially generated stampede represents a fundamental societal problem.  It’s not exclusive to football stadiums and sporting events.  It could just as easily apply to a shopping mall, rock concert, megachurch or a county fair.  Any crowded, congested setting is conceivably at risk.  And in today’s technological world, this hypothetical threat isn’t going to magically disappear.

As I’ve maintained, the premise of artificially generated stampedes is a looming problem.  You cannot just simply wave a crowd control wand.  You cannot simply accept the inevitable and hope for the least disturbing outcome.  Because real world actions have real world consequences.  And it is for that reason, we must confront the issue directly.  Acknowledgement and awareness will always be the cornerstone of any counter-strategy.

New Orleans Superdome

300px-Superdome_from_Garage During a 2012 NFL playoff game between the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints, Shawn Payton, 34, a Jackson, Michigan resident, phoned in 2 separate bomb threats to the Mercedes Superdome.  The crowd attendance for this event was listed at 73,038.

An FBI affidavit states that Payton made two separate threats.  At 9:12 pm, the Superdome’s Gate F reception desk received a call in which Payton stated, “I will blow up your building.”  A second call was made at 10:03 pm in which the caller stated, “Hi, I want to relay a message to the sideline.  If your stupid Southern team keeps winning, there will be reper… severe consequences, OK?

These threats were assessed internally and it was correctly determined that a full scale emergency evacuation was unnecessary.

Payton was formally indicted by federal grand jury and charged with one count of sending threatening communications through interstate commerce, a charge that carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In June of 2012, Payton pled guilty to a felony count of “transmitting threats to injure in interstate communications.”   In September of that year, a federal judge sentenced Payton to 3 years probation and 60 days home confinement.

Considering the magnitude of the game, the national news media jumped on the story.  Until recently, bomb threats at high profile sporting events were not usually made available for public consumption.  Such action was uncommon and generally deemed counterproductive.  However, there seems to be a national shift in this long held position.  This could be attributed to a few factors:

  • a greater prevalence of bomb threats
  • an increasing variety of mediums in which threats can be delivered
  • a gradual, societal desensitization of the potential negative consequences due to the increasing frequency of bomb threats

Is it reasonable to conclude that bomb threats are almost becoming “passe?”   There seems to be a “begrudging acceptance” among those who professionally assess such threats.  An “Ughh… this is likely NOT a credible threat.  But we’re required to take it seriously.  So we WILL get through it” attitude is often the case.

Dependence on a manual or scripted flow chart can be very helpful in assessing singular, conventional threats.  However, AGSAF is more concerned with the potential for mass, multilateral, asymmetric communications.  Such safety concerns are an area of extreme neglect.

In 2013, the Mercedes Superdome was in the news once again.  It played host to Superbowl XLVII.  Roughly 108 million viewers watched as the infamous “blackout” occurred early in the second half.  The origins of the blackout were eventually traced back to a relay switch that observed power fluctuations and functioned properly.

CNN’s anchor Don Lemon delved into the cause of the blackout in a live, breaking news segment.  As one could imagine, it was exceedingly difficult to acquire accurate, real-time information.  At one point, Lemon made a reference to reports of a “fire in the boiler room” of the Superdome.  Suddenly, he appeared to be admonished through his IFB (Interruptible Feedback).  Lemon recovered but appeared visibly frustrated.  At the end of the segment, he threw his pen and lamented about the level of difficulty and degree of confusion with reporting breaking news events as they transpire.  Is it possible that a producer was simultaneously warning him of the ramifications of “shouting fire in a crowded theater” during a national broadcast?

Breaking news transcripts are made available on the CNN website.

Oddly enough, the official CNN breaking news transcript from during the Superbowl is unavailable.  It would appear that it has been intentionally omitted from their website.  This was breaking news DURING a televised event with a viewership exceeding 100 million.  Other than it being a potential source of embarrassment, is it possible that sensitive, hypothetical information was accidentally speculated upon or inadvertently released?

In the aftermath of the blackout, many people questioned as to “why” it happened.  Viewers wanted to know the cause.  But very little coverage was given to the question of “what could have transpired if…”

As for other network coverage, MSNBC did not interrupt its regularly scheduled programming.  Fox News offered a brief synopsis of the blackout and returned to their regularly scheduled programming.

Total attendance for Superbowl XLVII was listed at 71,024.

Staring Down Stampedes

agsaf final logo*Over the past decade, it has been difficult to not witness a fundamental shift in societal behavior.  I’m referring to this strange tendency for anyone and everyone who suddenly hears a ding or a vibration to immediately look downward.  They’ll instantly tilt their heads and stare into the screens of their cell phones.  It’s almost as if society is collectively bowing its head.  But it’s not a church service and there isn’t much in the way of reverence.

You see it everywhere.  Look at the fans behind home plate.  Stand in any grocery store check-out line.  Walk through an airport.  Go to a bar and observe the general behavior.  Everyone is staring down.  It’s reminiscent of the experiments conducted by Ivan Pavlov, the Russian scientist.  He would ring a bell every time he fed his dogs.  After repeated conditioning, the dogs eventually began to salivate at the sound of a bell, even when there was no food.

When I use the reference “staring down stampedes,” it’s not as metaphorical as you might think.  Assuming the prospect of an artificially generated stampede, you would literally have to stare down any threatening information and conclude that it’s almost certainly a hoax.  It may not seem as overtly dangerous, but the analogy is consistent with staring down the barrel of a shotgun.  The weapons just take on a different appearance.

Remember 9/11.  Everyone looked up into the sky.  They tilted their heads back and stared up in disbelief as passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings.  They witnessed the smoke as it billowed from both towers.  Why do I get this eerie feeling that there will be a next time… only people will first look downward and then react accordingly?

I view all of this from the simple perspective of balance.  At the heart of everything, there are general themes of balance that dominate human behavior and govern our collective choices (social, economic, political, militaristic, etc.).  There are ramifications and repercussions to newly established societal trends.  What goes up, inevitably will come down.  As I’ve maintained, this is a societal problem that will eventually have to be addressed.  Human stampedes could happen anywhere, not just the worst case scenario football stadiums.  Every venue is in play (arenas, ballparks, auto racing facilities, shopping malls, megachurches, county fairs, etc.)

Regarding the logo, I purposely wanted to keep it as simple as possible.  The major sentiment I wanted to convey is that there’s a serious problem with simply placing blind faith and complete trust every time a cell phone rings or vibrates.  As humanity has already witnessed, information is not always truthful or accurate.  That’s why I chose the question mark.  I purposely wanted to keep it vague.  I didn’t want to focus solely on the stampede, but rather the larger concept, specifically the notion of widespread disinformation intentionally designed to create a civil disturbance.

I  struggled with using the imagery of a bomb.  I finally opted for a subtle, somewhat discreet (if that’s possible) depiction.  I deliberately left it open to interpretation.  Because remember, the information delivered through a cellular device is anything that results in a sudden rush of people.  Reflect on that for a moment.

It could be something relatively innocuous.  It could be the promise of free food, future tickets or discounted merchandise.  In our hero-worship driven culture, it could be the revelation of a sports figure signing autographs or an unexpected celebrity sighting.

Or it could be something far more direct – scenarios expressing imminent danger, such as bombs, improvised explosive devices, fire or even chemical weapons.  Considering the prevalence of these items in the mainstream news, it’s not as abstract a possibility as one might think.  Or it could come in the form of a realistic government mandated evacuation order.  The information could even be delivered from a trusted news source, friend or family member.  Cellular devices can relay a virtually infinite array of panic-inducing messages and information.  It could invoke a multitude of themes and several, different modes of delivery.

The domino “S” is self-explanatory.  Having already coined the term “dominipede,” I needed to convey the concept of multiple, simultaneous artificially generated stampedes.  Think of it in terms as a modern-day, technological equivalent of the domino theory.  Instead of countries falling to communism, it denotes a series of stadiums succumbing to panic.

Although not seen very often, the diamond symbol refers to civil disturbances and natural disasters.  This encompasses criminal activity involving bomb threats.

The traditional color of yellow was chosen to convey caution.  The color pink was selected to reflect emergency incident management.  If an artificially generated stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede unfolds, it would necessitate explanatory signage be displayed at ALL future large gatherings.  Although such signage might take on a different appearance, I predict it would bear many conceptual similarities with the AGSAF logo.

Dominipede documentary

dominipede doc When discussing the artificially generated stampede, I often hear the comment, “Wow, this would make a great movie.”  So in 2012, I focused on writing a documentary entitled “Dominipede.”   At the time, my intention was to produce it and send a copy of the DVD to every member of the United States Congress.  This way, in the event of such a tragedy, it would be virtually impossible for our political representatives to offer up excuses of plausible deniability.

I eventually came to the conclusion that I was getting ahead of myself.  Not only did I lack the necessary technical skills and financial resources, I had larger, procedural issues regarding how this issue is brought to light.  Yet, I would not dismiss the notion of finding a “Hollywood solution” to the artificially generated stampede.  What if a high profile producer (Speilberg, Stone, etc.) were to frame the issue in a big budget, Tom Clancy-like movie?  Since the U.S. government refuses to address the problem, maybe an answer could emerge from somewhere in the entertainment industry.  I see some interesting parallels with the 2002 blockbuster hit “The Sum of all Fears.”   Since the stakes are so high, it just seems unwise to reject alternative paths.

The documentary itself is presented on the blog in reverse chronological order.  It’s divided into 3 distinct sections (the past, the present and the future).  Some segments take a while to upload due to the extensive number of video clips.

Part 1 focuses on crowd behavior, themes of power and superempowerment, the role of sports in society and various natural/manmade disasters.  It examines how certain tragedies result in government action and closes with a look at the history of human stampedes.  Finally, I pose the question, “What’s the modern day, technological equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater?”

Part 2 addresses the nuts and bolts of an artificially generated stampede and the potential for a dominipede, a tragedy along the scale of 9/11.

Part 3 deals with the overriding catch-22 and other moral hazard issues.  It also offers a few potential solutions.  I revisit themes of superempowerment and close with a simple premise. In a society based on lies, the dominipede would likely come to be known as the biggest lie in the history of humanity.

If you wish, feel free to sift through the documentary.

If you’re interested in creating a documentary or a movie with similar conceptual themes, please contact me.

2013 Stampedes in India and Africa

india-africaOn January 1, 2013, in the capital city of Abijan, Ivory Coast, 61 people were killed and countless others injured as the result of a human stampede.  The rush occurred as people flooded out of the stadium following a celebratory New Years Eve fireworks display.  The stampede came as a result of a human trap when wooden barricades and tree trunks were strategically placed across the Boulevard de la Republique.  It has been speculated that gangs of thieves deliberately created the bottleneck in an attempt to pick pockets and steal cell phones.  An investigation is ongoing.

Human stampedes are usually blamed on mass panic.  But what people fail to comprehend is that there are legitimate reasons for that panic.  Massive crowds of individuals do not collectively just decide to spontaneously run for their lives.

The 2013 Ivory Coast stampede resonates because it demonstrates an insidious degree of malicious intent.  Assuming the accusations are true, the stampede itself could be described as a purposely designed, indiscriminate weapon.  At face value, this represents an ugly shift in generational warfare patterns.  The notion that you can orchestrate a mass killing without the use of conventional weaponry is an alarming precedent.  Whether or not it was their ultimate intention to kill innocent civilians, I believe it’s reasonable to classify the Ivory Coast stampede as an act of domestic terrorism.

A different kind of stampede occurred during the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela.  On February, 2013, 36 people were killed at a train station in Allahabad, India.  Initial reports claimed the panic ensued following the collapse of a railing on a footbridge.  It was further exacerbated by police charging the crowd with wooden sticks in a desperate attempt to control the rush.

However, a more thorough analysis indicates the stampede was the direct result of an announcement over the public address system.  Apparently, a scheduled departure was altered from platform 4 to platform 6.  When the verbal announcement was made, fearing they would miss their train, large numbers of people suddenly moved in the same direction with an overwhelming sense of urgency.

Assuming the statement regarding the platform change is accurate, this indicates a prime example of an information based, artificially generated stampede.  Its origins were likely accidental, or at the very least, unintentional.  Either way, it’s a marked contrast to the Ivory Coast stampede from a month earlier.

Stampedes in heavily populated nations are sometimes blamed on social mores.  It’s often incorrectly assumed that when a society engages in diminished personal boundaries and closer interaction, it could manifest itself in a greater susceptibility to human stampedes.  While it does make sense that hyper-populations have a greater frequency and number of stampedes, the notion that those cultures are more prone to panic is unsubstantiated and erroneous.  As a country, why would we be so naive to think it couldn’t happen here?

Clery Act Impacts Eastern Michigan University

images-4In 2012, I sent a letter to every NCAA Division I president and chancellor regarding outdated emergency stadium evacuation protocol.  One of the more germane responses came from Eastern Michigan University President Sue Martin.

 

Eastern Michigan University

The Mid-Atlantic Division houses most of the smaller NCAA Division I football stadiums.  Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Michigan fits into this category.  With a maximum capacity of roughly 30,000, it rarely approaches that level.  Yet that does not make it any less susceptible to the prospect of human panic.

As referenced in her letter, in a September 2011 game vs. Howard University, it became necessary to stage an emergency evacuation due to high winds, a heavy downpour and lightning strikes.  Other major stadiums including the University of Michigan, University of Iowa and University of Notre Dame ultimately made the same critical decision to launch full scale evacuations that day.

You might be thinking…  a weather related evacuation is staged for vastly different reasons than a bomb threat emergency evacuation.  And you would be correct.  However, they do both fall under the general auspices of federal legislation introduced in 1990.  The Clery Act requires institutions to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees.  Compliance is monitored by the United States Department of Education which can impose civil penalties, up to $35,000 per violation, against institutions for each infraction.

Eastern Michigan University was fined a record $357,500 for failing to warn the campus of a student’s assault and death that occurred in 2006.  Beyond reporting the incident, the school was fined for violating federal crime-reporting laws.  It has been seen as a wake-up call on how universities report and display statistics on crimes that occur on university campuses.  The incident brought forth university-wide changes in campus safety and safety notifications.  The incident also brought changes in university administration, including the dismissal of the university’s president, John A. Fallon.

I noticed a greater likelihood in the acknowledgment of my concerns among universities that have been fined for federal violations of the Clery Act.  The most notable being the 2008 Virginia Tech massacre.  Their vice president of operations, Sherwood Wilson, responded directly to me on multiple occasions.

Penn State president, Rodney Erickson, addressed my concerns as well.  Coincidentally, they are currently under investigation for possible violations of the Clery Act as a result of the highly publicized Jerry Sandusky conviction for repeated child molestation.

I believe the tragedies endured by these schools and their administrations have heightened both their sensitivity and the degree of seriousness in how they approach such matters.

When referencing the prospect of an artificially generated stampede (or likely any human stampede for that matter), the problem with the Clery Act is its vague description as to what would constitute a “timely” warning.  There are no specific guidelines.  Incidents are open to interpretation.  An artificially generated stampede would surely transpire in real-time, in a matter of minutes if not seconds.  And further complicating the matter, any use of the campus text emergency alert system would likely have a detrimental effect.  It would almost surely exacerbate the existing panic.  I defy you to find any incident commander or police chief in charge of stadium security who would execute an emergency stadium evacuation solely through the campus text alert system.

The artificially generated stampede scenario represents an impossible conflict that has yet to be addressed by the federal government.  I would ask anyone reading this post to request written confirmation from the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, Department of Education for a greater degree of specificity as to what constitutes the “delivery” of “timely” warnings of “crimes.”  More substantive guidelines, less open to speculation and interpretation, would surely result in improved compliance with federal law.  Furthermore, an artificially generated stampede supersedes the definition of a crime.  It is an act of terrorism.

General Reactions to the Artificially Generated Stampede

images-7Most of my friends are in the 30-45 year age bracket and generally represent the full socioeconomic spectrum.  The majority live in the northern panhandle of West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Most are married. Most have children.  Many have college degrees with a wide variety of occupations.  I have no reason to think they’re radically different from other social groups.

When I explain the concept of artificially generated stampedes, I get three typical reactions.  I’d like to examine each of them because I believe my friends are a fair cross-section of society.

First, the selfish response.
I’d say this accounts for roughly 25% of the reactions.  There’s a simple, straightforward disavowal.  “This wouldn’t impact me.  I don’t attend those kind of events because I don’t like large crowds.”  They’ll often shift the conversation to something about their family or friends, preferring to discuss work, weather, sports, gossip, or other more personal concerns.  In a similar vain, I often hear, “I’d prefer not to think about it.”

Perhaps some people just don’t wish to discuss these things.  Since it involves life-threatening scenarios, they might consider it to be an uncomfortable discussion, much like religion or politics.  Some just might not enjoy talking to me.  I can accept that.  But for whatever reason, about a quarter of the people I engage simply don’t wish to discuss the concept of artificially generated stampedes.  Fair enough.

Second, the skeptical response.
I’d say this accounts for another 25% of the reactions.  “Even if I received a panic-laden message and/or saw others running for their lives, I would remain calm and let the situation play itself out.”  They wouldn’t join the crowd.  They’re cognizant of their surroundings and know the difference between a credible threat and a hoax.  Simply stated, they’d just know better.

Although I might question their self-described ability to remain perfectly calm and rational during an unfolding crisis, there’s no way I can prove they would behave differently.  However, I do believe the general population is unaware of or vastly underestimates the power of the genetically ingrained herding instincts we share with other mammals.  Once again, it’s my opinion that some of these people are “kidding themselves.”

Third, the “whoa… I never thought of that” response.
I’d say this one is the most common.  Inevitably, we discuss the multitude of ways an event like this could transpire.  Needless to say, it tends to be an eye opening conversation when you start offering real-world examples and examine the progression of recent history, particularly regarding communications technology.

There’s a reason I wrote this article.  I believe there’s a certain “discernible inevitability” to the artificially generated stampede.  In the most basic of terms, at some point in the foreseeable future, instead of shouting “fire,” someone will text “bomb.”  And it will result in a human stampede.  And factoring in the progression of malicious intent, there will likely be more than one.

So when people purposely refuse to engage on a subject (with potential ramifications along the scale of 9/11), simply because it’s uncomfortable or could be detrimental to their personal interests, I believe this to be morally unacceptable.  If a dominipede were to take place, this is simply not an acceptable outcome.

As I stated earlier, when I broach the subject of artificially generated stampedes, the “whoa… I never thought of that” is the most common reply.  The public knows about the harmful effects of drugs, obesity, drinking and driving, forest fires, etc.  At the core of it all, this is a simple public safety issue.  So until I’m convinced that a reasonable majority of U.S. citizens are familiar with the concept of artificially generated stampedes, I will continue with these electronic newsletter updates as well as a general awareness campaign.

It all comes down to one basic question.  Does the general population have a fundamental right to know this information?  I believe they do.

Definitions

imagesA couple years ago, I began researching the issue of text-induced stampedes.  Since it was, and still is, mostly grounded in the hypothetical, I knew I’d need to devise some names for a few terms that do not exist.  So I did.

First, I concocted the term “artificially generated stampede” which I defined as…

A sudden rush of people likely the result of panic-inducing information delivered via cell phones or mobile devices

Originally, I thought SMS (short message service), specifically text messaging, was the primary concern.  But the more I explored the potential for text-induced panics, the more I began to realize how the mode in which information is delivered could easily metastasize.  It could be something as simple and direct as a phone call.  And it could even come from a trusted, credible source.  Social media, specifically mediums like facebook and twitter, became a fundamental issue.  With the increasingly efficient level of technology in play, the manner in which non-verified information can exponentially spin out of control became an overriding issue.

This led me to the term “viral blitzkrieg” which I defined as…

A bombardment of information designed to saturate a geographic region and exponentially spread panic

I think this term is self-explanatory.  A physical blitzkrieg invokes images of the German bombardment and invasion of Poland in World War II.  Blitzkrieg operations capitalize on the element of surprise, general enemy unpreparedness and “lightning quickness.”  However, this one is information based.  The notion of executing a viral blitzkrieg is particularly troublesome. Not only because it requires only a minimal degree of technological proficiency, but it would certainly result in others unknowingly exacerbating an attack.  The notion of tricking people into participating in an attack on innocent civilian allies is a very disturbing precedent.

And finally, this led me to the term “dominipede.”

Multiple, simultaneous human stampedes likely the result of a viral blitzkrieg

I knew I’d need a term for simultaneous, related human stampedes.  After all, if a black swan, 9/11-like event were to transpire, history would require it be assigned a unique name.  Once again, a wartime analogy seemed most appropriate.  I think it’s a safe assumption that most people reading this article are familiar with the fundamentals of the “domino theory.”  The domino theory was offered to conceptually justify U.S. involvement in Vietnam.  The notion that if one nation falls to communism, others in the region would eventually succumb.  Countries would fall like dominoes.  Simply combining the words “domino” and “stampede” seemed to make the most sense.

I also thought the religious reference and loose translation of the Latin phrase “Anno Domino” was appropriate.  In the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, people often turn to religion and prayer for some degree of comfort.  Much like people define our historical chronology in terms of a pre and post 9/11 world, I could easily envision people making those same references to a dominipede.

I suppose the word “dominipede” requires a little getting used to.  But it does bear a resemblance to other odd sounding, disaster-oriented terms (tsunami, tornado, haboob, avalanche, hurricane, etc.).

OODA Loops

simple-ooda-loopOn August 5, 2012, I was on the receiving end of a surprise phone call from Lou Marciani.  Dr. Marciani is the director for the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security based on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.

I inquired how he came across my phone number.  He explained that the university’s chancellor, Dr. Martha Saunders, had forwarded my correspondence to him for his consideration.

We spoke for about an hour on a wide array of topics involving stadium security.  He seemed very interested in the concerns I had raised regarding the prospect of artificially generated stampedes.  Our conversation centered mostly around the potential for misuse of the campus text alert emergency system.

Although my concerns were speculative, we came to a general consensus that if someone used the campus text alert system to purposely send a panic-laden message while an NCAA football game was in progress, it could have dire, real-time consequences.

Our only disagreement stemmed from methods and tactics.  He seemed more interested in trying to solve this hypothetical problem from a mitigation standpoint.  He wanted to conceive of a plan designed to neutralize panicked crowds in the immediate aftermath of the transmitted messages. In other words, he wanted to put the “panic genie” back in the bottle.  More than once, he stated “for every problem, there’s always a solution.”

And while I generally agree with the latter statement, I don’t think he had fully taken into account the evisceration of the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop.  This loop, credited to American military strategist John Boyd, serves as the foundation for any decision making process.  Aside from applications on the battlefield, this template has much broader universality.  Coaching, big business, litigation, filling up your gas tank, etc.  It’s even the underlying reason you’re reading this post.

All OODA loops require one thing… time.  If one lacks a sufficient amount of time during any of the 4 phases, the loop itself can be severely compromised.  The entire premise of the artificially generated stampede is centered around the elimination of the OODA loop.

I’m convinced that once an all-encompassing message goes out, there’s simply insufficient TIME to implement a coordinated counter-response.  The damage transpires in real-time.

Dr. Marciani and I would speak again.  He thanked me for my diligence and claimed that I had brought an interesting perspective to light.  He said my efforts to spread awareness were not in vain.  But he closed with a statement I’ve heard echoed by many others. “You’ve given us a lot to think about, but ultimately, there’s only so much you can do.  You just can’t be expected to solve all the world’s problems.”  In retrospect, I’m thinking that he may be correct… but hey, at least I’ll give it a shot.  Stay tuned and we’ll see how it all turns out.