2018 Durham Nightclub Stampede

Police investigators at the scene outside the Missoula nightclub in Durham where a 20-year-old student died Wednesday night.

For most people, February 7, 2018 came and went.  But for 20 year-old female college student Olivia Burt, it hurt.  As in the pain was deadly.

Missoula, a nightclub in North East England, was the scene of a crowd surge resulting in a lone fatality.  Long lines had formed to enter a packed venue for the University of Durham’s signature campus event “Game Over.”

 

The desire to get inside was overwhelming.  Some complained of waiting in line for over an hour.  Tension in the crowd was palpable.

The building was already exceeding capacity, so security set up a barricade comprised of glass and metal and refused to let revelers inside.

Allegedly, around midnight, a group of men appeared in the line and started aggressively pushing.  A crowd surge left Olivia Burt being toppled and trapped underneath the barricade.  Initial reports blamed her death on blood loss and blunt force trauma to the head.

An eyewitness account:

“From my right shoulder, there was this massive movement of people who had seen people pushing in.  I got pushed from my right shoulder towards my left, towards my mate who was by the barrier.  You couldn’t control where you were going,” the student said.

“I’m not small and neither is my mate and we were completely at the mercy of the crowd.  You couldn’t get your hands up or anything.  This was very, very quick.  It was one movement and one movement of that secondary queue moving into this first one, moving us left.  We all pushed up against the barrier and the barrier fell down.”

Interesting to note: the establishment was offering discounts on beer and £1 shots of liquor.  The equivalent of a $1.38 per shot.

I recall a campus bar in Wheeling, West Virginia back in the early 1990’s known as Mac’s.  Every so often, while the background music blared, the elderly manager would grab a microphone and activate a siren.  He’d yell out, “tequila shots, 50 cents!”  This special would continue for as long as the siren was flashing, usually 2 minutes or so.  There would always be a sudden surge to the bar as many college kids would purchase 10, even 20 shots at a time.  We always joked how the manager might one day inadvertently cause a stampede.  Hey, but at least it would be an honorable death.  Our friend’s obituary would read — “Lisa Blainey, in her quest for cheap tequila, found eternal peace.”

Furthermore, you couldn’t help but notice the obvious fire code violations at Mac’s.  Occasionally you’d glance out the door and there was a line of 50 people waiting to get inside a bar with a maximum legal capacity of 125.  But there was easily 200 people already crammed in the place.  It was often challenging to move around, let alone, purchase alcohol.  Bar fights were the norm, not the exception.  They also sponsored unusual events like “Drink and Drown” and “Lockdown” — both specifically tailored for getting patrons as inebriated as possible in the shortest span of time.

After years of fielding complaints, the city eventually stepped in and shut the place down as it was termed a “nuisance” by the community.

The reason for my personal trip down memory lane:

Generally speaking, the U.S. and the U.K. would appear less vulnerable to stampedes and crowd crushes.  Because most Americans and Europeans view themselves as “civilized” as opposed to “savage.”  I must remind people.  Crowd surges don’t happen due to a lack of civility.  They happen because of VARIABLES.  Usually violations of established protocol and common sense, public safety measures.

My point — it’s the height of naivete to dismiss the prospect of a panic based on culture or ethnicity.  A stampede is an anomaly.  It’s a phenomenon often outside the scope of “preventative discussion.”  They happen suddenly, in keeping with “fight or flight” instincts.  And all stampedes have one thing in common.  They seemingly occur without sufficient warning, even when history would indicate otherwise.

I currently reside in Pittsburgh, home to many universities and college bars.  Every time you frequent a campus, you’ll see one thing for certain.  Virtually everyone is walking around holding a cell phone.

In these days of advanced wireless technology, it might be a good idea to pose a fairly obvious question.  What could happen if a significant number of people received the wrong wireless information at a bad time…. and in a restrictive environment?

People have a fundamental right to know…

that if they’re in a large, confined crowd (stadium, ballpark, arena, etc.) and receive an emergency evacuation order and/or panic inducing information from their cell phone…

it’s almost certainly part of a malicious hoax designed to manufacture a panic, resulting in an “artificially generated stampede.”

It bothers me how often I must explain to people that… you’re allowed to know this.  It might be undiscussable from the perspective of government and private industry, but I assure you, it’s merely common sense information in the domain of fundamental human rights and generic public safety norms.

It all comes down to one word… awareness.