Kasarani Stadium Stampede Observations

After months of civil unrest and a redo of the August 8, 2017 presidential election stemming from “irregularities,” Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as the President of Kenya for his second and final 5-year term.  Large crowds gathered early, outside the 60,000 seat Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi.  The opposition party described the event as a “despotic coronation” and encouraged citizens to protest.

Naturally, this led to a chaotic scene outside the venue.

Exacerbating the confusion, event organizers claimed the ceremony would be simulcast on the nearby wide screens.  But none were available.  Meanwhile, the stadium was filled to capacity and people were turned away in droves for the non-ticketed event.

Suddenly, there was a crowd surge outside the main entrance.  Police responded by firing tear gas and beat people back with their batons.

There’s often a fine line between clashes and civil unrest, a crowd collapse and a stampede.  At what point does a panicked crowd morph into a human stampede?  Must there be a certain number of injuries?  Fatalities?  Some experts label it a stampede only when the crowd density exceeds 6-7 individuals per square meter.  At that point, people tend to form a “fluid mass” and the risk of death via compressive asphyxiation becomes a stark possibility.

As usual, I imagine the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  Much like definitions vary between a conflict and a war, a skirmish or an assault, these things are open to interpretation.  After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.  One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.  It’s a matter of perception.  There really is no definitive, universally accepted term for what precisely constitutes a human stampede.

Feel free to judge for yourself.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cih5We4dOE

An interesting side note:  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to attend the event, along with a dozen major leaders of African countries.  However, according to the Israeli Times, the Shin Bet (our Secret Service equivalent) refused to green light his appearance, citing the “massive crowd” and concern for his “personal safety.”  Perhaps they had examined some recent history.

The African continent has been the site of multiple stadium stampedes.  In 2017 alone…

February 10, 2017 — Luanda, Angola : 17 killed, 61 injured
March 6, 2017 — Lilongwe, Malawi : 8 killed, 40 injured
July 15, 2017 — Dakar, Senegal : 8 killed, 60 injured
July 29, 2017 — Johannesburg, South Africa : 2 killed, 17 injured

Did these recent incidents play a role in their decision making?  Was the prospect of crowd violence simply too overwhelming?  I don’t know.  You’d likely have to ask them.

Takeaway:  Human stampedes are becoming increasingly common around the globe.  What was customarily a problem for soccer stadiums and religious festivals has become much broader in scope and magnitude.  Rock concerts, parades, retail outlets, airports, night clubs, humanitarian aid stations, political rallies, and so on.  A stampede is a real-time event.  It’s all about crowd dynamics and unexpected variables.  It doesn’t lend itself to mitigation.  The only realistic preventative solutions are grounded in the realm of enhancing public safety awareness.  And of course, the preparation and execution of contingency planning.

So here’s a thought!  Taking into consideration the proliferation of cellular technology and wireless hyper-connectivity… taking into account the large number of stadiums, ballparks, arenas, amphitheaters, motor speedways, etc. in the United States and across the planet… taking into account the impact of mistaken alerts and false emergencies, social media hoaxes and the dissemination of alleged fake news… disinformation and misinformation.  Well, it might be a sound idea to explicitly warn fans that LEGITIMATE venue evacuation orders would NEVER be initially delivered via their personal cell phones.  Why?  Because if a scenario like that were to unfold, it’s inexplicably part of a malicious hoax designed to create an unexpected panic, potentially resulting in a deadly stampede.

Isn’t it peculiar how some of the most obviously generic, easily anticipated problems are the most difficult to address?  Anyone out there notice all these people staring into those tiny ubiquitous screens?  They appear “electronically tethered” to their mobile devices.

So I’ll keep this simple.  Cell phone notifications and emergency stadium evacuation orders do not jive.  Comprendez?