Roughly 60,000 attended the annual Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. Shortly after 7pm, on the cusp of darkness, fans heard a series of sudden, loud popping noises. Officials would later claim it originated from plastic water bottles. But some people mistook the sounds for gunfire. So what happened next? Well, there was a cascade of terror. Metal barricades were knocked over as fans physically ran for their lives. If you listen to the traumatic interviews, many people thought they were going to die. This wasn’t a simulated fantasy. On the contrary, it’s exactly what happens during a human stampede. Fortunately, the bodily carnage was limited to a few dozen injuries.
When people witness others truly panic, the majority of them will invariably experience trepidation. It’s not a random anomaly. Genetically ingrained herding instincts are an established commodity. If you require visual proof, just watch the Animal Channel or execute a “stampede” search on youtube. I assure you, these aren’t paid actors. Nobody is manufacturing fake stampede videos. At least not as of yet.
Some would make the assertion that stampedes “just don’t happen here in the United States.” Peculiar how there were two additional stampedes this week, back to back, October 7 and October 8, East Coast / West Coast. One in Atlanta, the other in Hollywood, CA. I suppose it could be a coincidence. Or maybe it’s just contagious. If you ask me, it looks like more of a trend.
Every once in a blue moon, authorities will actually do an investigation. One that sheds light on why the incident occurred in the first place.
I’m often on the receiving end of a very specific question. How do you actually prevent a stampede? After all, it is by definition, a stampede.
To them, I reply. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Too many people in a confined location can result in a bad outcome. Still, large crowds do not just spontaneously panic. There are always triggers or variables which lead to that panic.
Education and situational awareness are key factors when dealing with generic public safety issues. Society addresses these problems accordingly. At some point, our government summons the inertia to confront certain dilemmas. These often involve morally paradoxical issues of tremendous consequence. Often brought to the forefront after large numbers of people get sick and/or die. Straight to the point, eh?
At the personal level, think in terms of the decision to consume drugs and alcohol. Government mandated warnings are ubiquitous.
Cigarettes – lung cancer.
Liquor – fetal alcohol syndrome.
And of course, prescription drugs – the seemingly endless list of warnings and potential side effects.
Sometimes these warnings take on a more expansive role in the day to day functioning of society. Often in the form of broader, more socially intrusive, awareness campaigns. Preventing forest fires, thwarting drunk driving, speed warnings in highway construction zones, the dangers of opioid addiction, See Something Say Something, and so on.
But at what point does awareness coincide with deliberate fear mongering? It’s an intriguing question. Because the line, or tipping point, is often a murky one. It changes and evolves with the passage of time.
Take for example, the pre-flight airline instructions and safety demonstration. Most people just shrug it off and read a magazine. But if you’ve got anxiety issues and have never boarded an airplane, I imagine it would be a nerve wracking experience. Think about it. The flight attendant’s verbally and physically explaining the location of the emergency exits. Followed by instructions about proper oxygen mask usage and how your seat can function as a flotation device. Some degree of turbulence is pretty much a given. However, if you’re flying across an ocean for the first time, and the captain requests that all passengers return to their seats, place their tray tables in an upright position and fasten their seat belts… well, that might be cause for alarm.
My point. There’s a fine line between dispensing public safety information and engaging in deliberate fear mongering. Established social mores play a significant role. Because as time passes, society adapts and views things differently. Does anyone recall the 1951 “Duck and Cover” government video describing what to do in the event of a nuclear attack? These days, people would chuckle about the notion of kids hiding under their desks in an attempt to protect themselves from nuclear fallout.
Trust me. It’s not that people back then were universally stupid. Far more likely, it was just part of an acclimation process to an unfathomable, hypothetical catastrophe.
But at the time, this snapshot seemed reasonable. It made sense.
The United States, as a country, boasts the largest number of stadiums, ballparks, arenas, amphitheaters, convention centers, motor speedways, etc. Every city has a combination of these venues. Many have all of them. These facilities exist, not in the hundreds, but in the thousands.
So what’s the moral of the story? What’s the ethical rationale for writing this article?
Allow me to pose a final question.
Does it strike anyone, as the least bit peculiar, that NOBODY is allowed to explicitly warn event attendees… that official emergency evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via their cell phones? Contrary to popular opinion, you’re allowed to know about this kinda stuff. Perhaps some day in the future, society will “grow up” and acknowledge this hypothetical, asymmetric cyber-threat. And at the same time, address the blatantly obvious security disconnect (oh yeah, the one where everybody has a cell phone).
Eventually, I guarantee we’ll get it right. It’s purely a numbers game with a long-term event horizon. However, I’ll guarantee another thing. This moment will come, only in the aftermath of a preventable tragedy. This ain’t mere speculation. Historically speaking, it’s just how these things seem to work themselves out. If you require evidence, just google… oh, I dunno… how about… “history of mankind?”