Awareness

Important definitions:

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

viral blitzkrieg – A bombardment of information designed to saturate a specific location(s) and exponentially spread panic

dominipede – Multiple, simultaneous human stampedes likely the result of a viral blitzkrieg

Emergency evacuation protocol overview

A basic explanation of emergency evacuation protocol is necessary for understanding the principles associated with the artificially generated stampede.  Historically, human stampedes have occurred in a variety of settings.  However, the artificially generated stampede is best explained through the context of sporting events in large stadiums.

Every so often, when deemed absolutely necessary, a major football stadium undergoes an emergency evacuation.  This is customarily due to situations involving inclement weather, such as lightning strikes.  There’s a very specific protocol for executing large crowd evacuations.

First, an announcement is delivered over the public address system requesting fan attention and cooperation.  Its purpose is to notify everyone that the event has been temporarily suspended.  It is generally considered unwise to offer a definitive reason for a full scale evacuation.  Expert consensus indicates that the lesser the justification, the smoother the evacuation process.  A second announcement is then issued to clear the field of all players, officials and personnel.  That message is repeated until the initial phase is complete.  Then, a third announcement is delivered to evacuate the crowd.  That message is repeated until the fans have satisfactorily exited the premises.  Obviously these things take time.  20-25 minutes to safely evacuate an NFL or NCAA Division I stadium is by any means a conservative estimate.

What is the difference between a bomb threat emergency and a bomb threat condition?  That’s a very important question.  It should not come as a shock to know that just because someone phones in a bomb threat or scrawls the word “bomb” on a restroom mirror… that, in itself, is rarely sufficient cause to stage a complete evacuation.  These kinds of incidents, or bomb threat conditions, happen far more often than the public is aware.  There’s an obvious reason you wouldn’t launch an evacuation each time something like this happens.  Precedent.  Such action would constitute a horrible precedent and could encourage copycats.  Bomb threat emergency classification invokes a reasonably higher threshold of evidence.

The final decision to order an evacuation rests with the incident commander, stadium manager or whoever is ultimately in charge.  Any individual in this position of authority will readily concede the following: that under no circumstance would you evacuate a stadium by transmitting a mass text message.  The reason being that it would irreparably alter the nature of the evacuation.  Even if the message was carefully written, it could potentially spark a mass panic.  The delivery method in which information is disseminated is often just as important as the message’s content.  This is why it’s customary to utilize the public address system, perhaps in concert with the jumbotron.  To present a coherent, scripted message that is far less likely open to individual misinterpretation.  A clear, unified set of instructions is critical in maintaining an orderly evacuation process.

Current emergency evacuation protocol has been rendered obsolete by the ubiquitous presence of cell phones.  The notion that only the incident commander has absolute control over all message content and distribution platforms under his/her jurisdiction is inconsistent with the current state of technology and real-world conditions.  Current evacuation protocol fails to address this profoundly changed dynamic.

How an artificially generated stampede could occur

  • Transmission of information through accidental or intentional misuse of emergency messaging systems (Amber Alerts, National Weather Service warnings, campus text alerts, etc.), opt-in notification abuse, reverse 911 sabotage, social media platforms (facebook, twitter, etc.) and real-time internet hoaxes, deliberate manipulation of the media (television, radio and print), spoofed emails, bulk text messaging, targeted spam, robocalls, direct phone calls, mass tri-lateration in tandem with a Stingray device, etc.
  • The potential for hacking and deliberate misuse of ANY of the aforementioned cellular platforms.
  • A viral blitzkrieg

Why an artificially generated stampede could happen

  • Unfamiliarity with the concept

Because emergency evacuations involve sensitive, often taboo subject matter, there is a strong reluctance to engage in a meaningful dialogue.  Unfortunately, when faced with the prospect of artificially generated stampedes, OODA loops

simple-ooda-loop

are basically rendered nonexistent.  Therefore, trying to solve the problem through mitigation is not an effective strategy.  The problem must ultimately be addressed through acknowledgment and awareness. Most stadium attendees just simply aren’t aware of the fact that a legitimate evacuation order would NEVER originate from their cell phone or mobile device.  Until this topic is available for public consumption, the general public will remain dangerously ignorant.

  • It’s just another trigger

Panic associated with human stampedes can stem from a variety of contributing factors (tear gas, physical cordons and barricades, loud sirens, rowdy fan behavior, intoxicating substances, etc.).  Think of a cell phone as a weapon.  A gun.  Think of a message as a bullet.  Now picture tens of thousands of cell phones and tens of thousands of messages.  AGSAF is not preoccupied with the notion of a single, conventional bomb threat delivered unilaterally.  AGSAF is concerned about the prospect of an infinite number of simultaneous threats.  Information is merely another trigger.  Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Herding instincts

Human herding instincts are consistent in the majority of life forms.  They are recognizable and well-documented in the evolutionary process.  When faced with an external threat, this includes a desire to congregate toward the center mass in an attempt to reduce predation risks.  A person’s ability to make rational decisions can be instantly compromised and overridden by these powerful, deeply ingrained herding instincts.

The panicked behavior of just a few individuals in a large, confined setting can have severe ramifications.  When others witness fearful expressions accompanied by random individuals yelling or screaming, then pushing, shoving, running or falling (particularly down a steep flight of steps), conventional reactions are cast aside.  It’s easy to dismiss your involvement in a stampede… until it happens.  Human stampedes can develop suddenly, consistent with “fight-or-flight” response mechanisms.

The origins of a stampede could start with people “hedging their bets” and deciding to gravitate toward a concourse or exit.  It’s not necessary to convince everyone that their lives are in jeopardy.  All that’s required is convincing some people their interests would be better served if they hurriedly moved to a different location.

  • Historical progression of recent events

As evidenced by 9/11, acts of asymmetric terrorism appear trending toward high impact economic and militaristic systemic disruptions.  Such occurrences often manifest themselves as spectacular events that visually resonate and feature unprecedented transaction costs.

  • Ineffectiveness of government

The U.S. government appears disinclined and/or incapable of addressing the fundamental notion of an artificially generated stampede.  If raised, such concerns are likely suppressed within the bureaucracy due to the “if you acknowledge a problem, you own it.  If you brief a lead official, they become accountable.  And if it happens on their watch, their administration is to blame” mentality.  This catch-22 is a recurring theme.  How can an existing problem be solved if it cannot be adequately addressed?  Government is rarely proactive when trying to tackle hypothetical, transformative issues.  It is almost always reactionary, especially when dealing with human welfare in the realm of public safety.

  • The cell phone culture

Society is trending toward an accelerated level of electronic reliance.  This is demonstrated through a greater degree of interconnectedness with a strong dependence on cellular technology and the expedited transmission of information.  There also exists an ineffable, inherent level of trust placed in electronic short message services since most important communications tend to be concise, straightforward and factual.  We’ve witnessed both the general public and the private sector (particularly the media), become increasingly susceptible to hacking, disinformation and a wide variety of hoaxes.

Why is the artificially generated stampede a moral issue?

Any attempt to initiate an artificially generated stampede would likely entail a strong degree of malicious intent.  While a singular crisis is bad enough, it’s likely a perpetrator would seek to impact multiple locations in hopes of achieving a real-time cascade, or domino effect.

And while we would agree that it’s difficult to reprogram human behavior and institute awareness campaigns based on hypothetical scenarios, it is the prospect of a dominipede that necessitates an immediate change in the status quo.  This issue extends well beyond safety.  It is a moral one.