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.
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?