Lessons from the Los Angeles International Airport Stampede

Lester-Holt-TweetIt feels just like yesterday when I wrote an article about a spontaneous panic resulting in a human stampede at a major U.S. airport.  Oh, wait a minute… it was.  What a zany coincidence!  Maybe it’s deja-vu.  Well, not really.

In a span of merely two weeks, yet another U.S. airport was engulfed with panic.  This time it was LAX — Los Angeles International Airport.  If you missed it on the evening news, this LA Times article provides a general overview of what happened.  And here’s an account from the Orange County Register exploring the pitfalls of social media and how it impacted the fluidity of this particular incident.

Regarding all of the turmoil, here was the most common reaction.

“Didn’t this just happen a couple weeks ago at JFK in NYC?”

Once again, “loud noises” were to blame as 911 emergency services were flooded with active shooter reports.  And once again, social media played a prominent role in exacerbating the degree of panic and confusion.

I cannot help but recall an event that happened nine months earlier.  Hoax bomb threats were emailed to school administrators in both Los Angeles and New York City.  The LA Unified School District took the bait and shut down 900 schools.  This was later deemed the biggest “imminent threat shutdown” in the history of the United States as it directly impacted roughly 640,000 people (students, teachers, bus drivers, etc.).  New York City officials evaluated the threat and chose to disregard it.  The conclusion here — two extremely divergent reactions to the same, identical threat.  Naturally, I wrote about it (http://www.agsaf.org/the-bomb-threat-extrapolation).

But here’s the most important takeaway — these airport stampedes cascaded… from terminal to terminal.  There was a domino effect.  Hmm, maybe a similar panic is capable of spontaneously contaminating NFL venues… from stadium to stadium.  Ya think???

So how about a funny coincidence?  As I’m writing this article, at 1:25 pm on August 30, CNN just reported breaking news.  Multiple US Department of Agriculture offices were temporarily closed in five states after receiving “anonymous threats.”  The affected locations were Fort Collins, CO; Hamden, CT; Beltsville, MD, Raleigh, NC, Kearneysville, WV and Leetown, WV.

As usual, there wasn’t much provided in the way of details, except that the threats were “being analyzed to determine their level of credibility.”  Why would I mention this?  Because events like these seem to happen on a routine, recurring basis.  One day it’s retail outlets, the next day it’s the banks, the following day it’s the schools, city-county buildings, military installations, historical landmarks, restaurant chains.  And if it isn’t a hoax, it’s a hack. Voter identification rolls, healthcare records, bank accounts, social media tampering, website passwords, social security numbers, credit card information, etc.  And trust me, there’s one overriding characteristic in all of them.  The news is reported, “investigated” and then quickly forgotten.

The media and the American public have become dangerously dismissive and desensitized to what has been transpiring over the last decade or so.  If you still need convincing, just ask any FBI agent.  They’ll readily concede that bomb threats have been a debilitating plague and irreconcilable scourge since the early 1970’s.

I’ll close with the following observation regarding the JFK & LAX stampedes.  There was no malicious intent.  No nefarious actor(s).  Things just apparently spiraled out of control.  Now here’s the million, or in this case, multi-billion dollar question.  What will happen when someone or some group of individuals set their sites on NFL stadiums?   What will happen when the most obvious variable (50,000 – 100,000 cell phones in every stadium capable of receiving deliberately false, real-time information) is seriously put to the test?

Hey, c’mon man!  The NFL is invincible… with the obvious exception of the endless debacles that curse their front office every year.  Fortunately, we live in a world where no one would dare test the NFL’s hubristic authority and willful domination.  They’re just too big and strong.  And thank God that everyone on the planet earth loves the United States and has the utmost respect for our federal government.  Crisis averted.

Not to jump to conclusions, but I think we’re seeing the emergence of a trend.  This is becoming less and less of a hypothetical.  Every day we’re witnessing the real-world progression.  It’s already here.  I’m not trying to engage in fear mongering.  I’m just stating the facts and regurgitating the chain of events.

And these incidents are literally staring us right in the face.  In the form of cell phones.  Like I said, it’s already happening.  It’s just a matter of time before this “equation” manifests itself.  Is this really too difficult a concept to grasp?

The time has come to publicly connect the dots.  It is the absolute pinnacle of naivety to assume this dynamic will NEVER be tested in a country filled to the brim with municipal arenas, amphitheaters, motor speedways, convention centers, ballparks, and of course, these mammoth indoor/outdoor stadiums.

This situation is desperately crying out for an adult in the room.   Perhaps someone in the entertainment industry who’s willing to initiate a frank discussion about the modern, technological equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  I have serious doubts that any high ranking politician or someone in the sports industry would possess the moral courage.

And believe me, this goes way beyond phony bomb threats.  Bomb threats and phony evacuation orders are just the tip of iceberg.  There are about a dozen significant ways to transmit hoax information to individual cell phones in large, confined crowds, the content of which, trends infinite.

If you take an objective view with a long-term event horizon, there’s an extremely obvious revelation here.  I’m not the only person on the planet earth who has thought of this stuff.  I know I’m not the only one.  Not only because the premise is absurdly generic, but because I constructed a website designed to advance the case for situational awareness.  And while I won’t divulge a precise number of hits, I will concede that the number of unique visitors falls somewhere between 100,000 and 1 million.

So here’s the deal.  You basically have two options.  You either broach the concept of the “artificially generated stampede” or you make a choice to deliberately keep people ignorant, effectively maintaining the status quo.  Personally, from a moral perspective, I don’t think there’s much of a choice.  Right now, everyone is literally a sitting duck.  What could be worse?  I dunno.  How about standing ducks?   Or even worse, running ducks?