April 2015 will largely be remembered for the rioting which engulfed the city of Baltimore, Maryland. I’m going to specifically focus on how the Baltimore Orioles organization contended with this real-world crisis. My concerns are centered around wireless communication technology and how it impacts the issue of ballpark emergency operations.
Key moments of the timeline and relevant observations:
Before the full scale rioting of April 27, there were minor protests near Camden Yards on Saturday night (April 25). As a result, precautions were taken as reported by the Baltimore Sun…
Moments after the Red Sox made a stunning comeback to tie the game at 3 in the top of the ninth, stadium public-address announcer Ryan Wagner, on behalf of the mayor’s office and the city police department, issued a sobering declaration to what remained of the announced 36,757. Because of unrest caused by the ongoing protests downtown over Freddie Gray’s death, the fans at Camden Yards were in a lockdown, told they were prohibited from leaving the ballpark until further notice. Demonstrators had blocked an intersection right next to the ballpark, but fans were allowed to depart not long after the Orioles’ 10-inning win.
This information was issued via the public address system in tandem with the jumbotron. The Baltimore Orioles have a fan opt-in text alert notification system, but did NOT utilize it to convey the update. Social media was NOT used as an official channel to disseminate information via individual cell phones. Reason being — such an act would be in direct violation of established protocol.
Takeaway: Camden Yards security followed proper procedure with regard to a perceived threat. As a result, other than some minor inconveniences, no meaningful incidents were reported.
Monday, April 27 would provide an entirely different dynamic.
General consensus indicates the rioting commenced around 3:30 pm.
Some background information for Camden Yards:
Gate Opening Times:
NEW IN 2015! For all Orioles home games, all gates will open two hours prior to game time to allow fans to enter the park. Gate opening times are subject to change.
The vast majority of home games have a 7:05 pm regular start time. On Monday evening, evidence indicates the gates opened on schedule at 5:05 pm.
At 6:19 pm, as witnessed on live television (CNN), officials made a determination to close the gates. By this time, roughly 1,000 fans had already been admitted inside the ballpark.
Immediately after the closing of the gates, the Orioles issued the following two statements via the public address system AND their official twitter page. Security also posted a graphic on the widescreen:
6:20 pm, April 27
After consultation with Baltimore City Police Department, tonight’s game between the Orioles & White Sox at Oriole Park has been postponed.
6:22 pm April 27
An announcement regarding a make-up date will be made asap. Fans are encouraged to keep their tickets & parking until more info is available
Here’s the question you must ask. Why was twitter used under this circumstance and NOT used during the April 25 incident? Answer: the ballpark was still virtually deserted, hence the possibility of fomenting a panic was deemed negligible. Also, they wanted to alert fans of the cancellation… those who had plans to attend the evening game but had not made their way to the venue.
Have the producers of major news networks been properly briefed on the consequences of dispensing emergency management information in real-time? In this case, BEFORE the cancellation was made official. Are they aware that their actions with regard to large, confined crowds could potentially have real-world consequences?
Note how future announcements would be made “asap.” I’m not challenging any of the decisions made by Orioles security. However, I do think it’s important to quantify what constitutes “asap.” The time lag before the next statement would be roughly 17 hours. In a world where people have come to rely on obtaining accurate information within seconds, such a lengthy delay invites the prospect of contamination and the dispensation of intentionally false material.
On 4-28, around noon the following day, the Orioles released these two statements via social media:
After consultation with Major League Baseball and state and local officials, tonight’s game between the Orioles and the White Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been postponed.
An announcement regarding the make-up date will be made as soon as possible. Fans are encouraged to keep their tickets and parking passes until more information is made available.
Coordination between private industry and city, county and state officials takes time. Although there was no tacit admission, I imagine that federal officials and agencies were also in the mix. It takes time to sift through a complicated situation, especially when there is a new precedent being established (the postponement of professional sporting events due to civil unrest).
In this case, the riots were an unexpected variable. And naturally, when an unanticipated, challenging variable disrupts the norm, the best solutions do not come easily. It was determined that the Tuesday game would be cancelled. The Wednesday game would be played at Camden Yards in front of an empty ballpark. The entire weekend series against the Rays was moved to Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida. These were NOT routine decisions. They were unprecedented.
Please know that I have few qualms with how the Orioles handled a volatile situation. I’m merely demonstrating how large bureaucracies, by their very definition, require extensive collaboration to make responsible decisions.
The events that transpired all had one thing in common. They all took time. Troubleshooting, risk/reward and cost/benefit analysis, weighing the consequences, coordination among parties… these things require tremendous consideration. Every decision requires multiple, interactive O.O.D.A. (observe, orient, decide, act) loops.
The proliferation of wireless mobile technology in ballparks and stadiums has irrevocably altered what used to be a level paying field. Of particular concern, social media is interactive and decentralized. Deliberate and convincingly false information can be widely disseminated without room for debate, verification or recourse. This does not bode well in times of crisis when emergency management decisions require a strict adherence to a disciplined chain of command.
With that in mind, perhaps the time has come to expose people to some pretty generic, common sense public safety information… dialogue that’s hovering dangerously underneath the radar. When a venue evacuation is deemed absolutely necessary, protocol dictates using the public address system and the video monitors. You do not issue emergency venue evacuation orders with a gazillion, personalized text alerts. That’s just not how it’s done.
Camden Yards has a maximum capacity of 45,971 + ballpark employees. That’s conceivably 46,000 cell phones (miniature supercomputers) capable of receiving and circulating false information. Orioles security has 1 public address system capable of dispensing accurate information. Is anyone, aside from myself and a class of Baltimore 5th graders, able to conceptualize this massive security disconnect? Is it really that complex?
So here’s the final takeaway:
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.
The time has come to share this information with the general population. Let’s get ahead of the curve. It’s time for someone (other than myself) to step up to the plate. Let’s play ball.