Lessons from the 2017 Katsina Stampede

At least five dead. At least fifteen injured.  Mostly children.  Those were the grim results of a human stampede which took place in Katsina, Nigeria on June 19, 2017.

A well-known philanthropist was arrested in connection with the incident.  Apparently, he was giving alms at his private residence when the crowd spiraled out of control.  Each individual was receiving cash charity in the amount of 500 naira.

I was curious exactly how much that was in terms of US dollars.  Turns out the amount converts to $1.58 per person.  Doesn’t sound like much, eh?

Of course, Americans would never demonstrate a “lack of restraint” for such a paltry figure.  But what about the inverted amount?  $8.51?  Still don’t think so?  Yeah, we’re way too civilized… I suppose.

How about I challenge your conventional perspective?  But first, you must be willing to think outside the box.

$8.51 is almost the exact cost of a Primanti’s cheese steak at Heinz Field, one of the stadium’s most popular concession items.  Considering the size of the sandwich, it’s a pretty decent bang for your buck.  Tomatoes slices, coleslaw, compressed meat, cheese and French fries.  All things considered, it’s definitely better than a $5.00 hot dog.

Heinz Field has 2 Primanti Brothers concession stands.  Both are located on the lower 100 level.  One in the middle of the East concourse, the other in the middle of the West concourse.  Both are fixed locations.

Some additional observations:

Roughly 68,000 fans are in attendance for most regular season home games.  Heinz Field has consistently sold out every game since it opened in 2001.

Locally renowned radio station 102.5 WDVE is the obvious, go-to source for on-air coverage.  On game day, the station routinely tweets.  Their official twitter account has a following of 27,300.

So what if, during a Steelers game, WDVE tweeted the following…

@DVERADIO loves our #Steelers.  For the next 102.5 seconds, FREE cheesesteaks at all Primanti’s locations!  Including Heinz Field!!!

How might fans in the stadium react to such a promotion?  Hmmm.  A credible sounding, extremely time-sensitive offer in a relatively intoxicated, frenetic environment.  Would some fans in the lower level unexpectedly leave their seats?  Would they aggressively move, in  the same direction, toward the concourses?  What about fans in the upper level?  Would any of them swiftly run down the steep steps of the 500 level sections.  Would any charge down the spiral rotunda?  What if a few people, in different scattered locations in the upper tier, simultaneously fell down?  What if some started pushing and shoving, tripping or falling?

How would a freak occurrence like this be perceived by others?  Remember, this is an unforeseen event.  It would certainly be out-of-the-norm.  Last time I checked, NFL stadiums have outstanding “line of sight.”  With just the slightest tilt of your head, you can basically see anything that transpires in real-time, all around the entire venue.

How would this lone, single tweet be “digested” by fans who are NOT in attendance?  Would any of them retweet this unanticipated, generous offer?  Is it possible that some people might quickly share this information with friends, family and season ticket holders whom they know are in attendance?  Considering the source, would these people question the validity of such an offer?  Would they have any reason to be cynical or suspicious?  Or would they instinctively react?

Is the theory of evolution just a theory?  Specifically, with human beings and other mammals, is there any scientific evidence to support the concepts of “group panic” and “herding instincts?”

Last time I checked, virtually everyone at Heinz Field had an active cell phone.  It is a wirelessly hyper-connective environment.  Information about the number of wifi hubs or “hotpsots” at Heinz Field is hard to come by.  But one of the newer stadiums, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara has 1,200 distributed antenna systems.  Give that some thought.  That’s the cellular efficiency and technological capacity of 1,200 Starbucks in roughly the length of 1/4 mile.

Let’s just say that if your desire is to call, text, post, stream, send, upload… well, you’ve come to the right place.

Now why did I reference the recent, seemingly obscure Katsina stampede in Nigeria?  And what does this have to do with a hypothetical concern about stadium safety in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?  It’s all about a one-word answer… VARIABLES.

When you introduce unforeseen, unexpected variables into a routine sequence of events… an unanticipated, dangerous outcome can take place.  Keep in mind, the WDVE tweet is only one isolated variable.  If someone had malicious intent, I imagine they would introduce multiple variables.  And it’s highly probable that information would be designed to strike fear and manipulate peoples’ emotions (bomb threats, active shooter alerts, phony evacuation orders, etc.).  More importantly, the information would be carefully attenuated to spread rapidly in a decentralized fashion.

So let me pose four final questions.

Have hackers ever sought to take advantage of social media platforms?  Uh, yes.

Is there a contingency plan for handling my single, hypothetical WDVE tweet?  Uh, no.

In the course of human history, has a stampede ever been “effectively mitigated?”  Once again, the unfortunate answer is a resounding no.  It would defy the very definition of a “stampede.”

The final question is an ugly one.  Is it possible to wirelessly weaponize a human stampede?  Take a long-term perspective.  Is it reasonable to assume something like this will one day be ATTEMPTED (the modern, technological equivalent of shouting “FIRE” in a crowded theater)?  And in what direction is humanity and society trending?  What about technology and the distribution of wireless information?  Are things escalating or being scaled back?  I guess the broader question is… do human beings look for innovative ways to kill one another?

I dunno, you tell me.

You must remember this.  A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.

In that same vein…

You must remember this.  A tweet is just a tweet, a lie is just a lie.