Nilay Kulkarni

Human stampede prevention is an unusual topic.  Unpleasant as well.  Turns out that nobody likes the notion of mass suffocation and scores of innocent people being trampled to death.  Consequently, you don’t hear too much from leaders in the industry.  Until now.

Both clips are well worth watching.

Nilay Kulkarni, an 18 year old from India, devised and implemented tactical, real-world solutions in an effort to eliminate human stampedes.  He was disturbed with the “inevitable predictability” of stampedes during the Kumbh Mela.  Distressed by the utter sense of fatalism and societal helplessness, he decided to confront the issue head on.

The Kumbh Mela is a religious festival that draws millions to various locations in India.  The event often results in tremendous stress on already fragile infrastructures.  Pilgrims crowd river banks and venture into the water as a means of spiritual cleansing.  Seems everywhere you go, people are really hip to this eternal salvation thing.  Me personally?  Well, not as much.

Now there’s always cause for concern when millions gather in congested locations.  And during monsoon season, it can become an especially dangerous environment.  For decades at the Kumbh, human stampedes have been the norm, not the exception.

Mr. Kulkarni realized that if they were going to comprehensively address the problem, they required accurate, real-time information regarding crowd density.  This was critical so that officials could modulate entry and egress at specific choke points.  Thus, better controlling the flow and tempo of the mammoth crowd.

But his team encountered obstacles.  Distributing RF (Radio Frequency) Tokens to tens of millions of people was impractical.  CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television) cameras were too expensive.  Also, significant numbers of people do not carry cell phones during the Kumbh, so information obtained from cell towers was of less significance.

They needed a solution that was inexpensive, waterproof, and capable of acquiring real-time data.

They configured a truly innovative idea — Ashioto (the Japanese word for footsteps).  Strategically placed neoprene mats equipped with pressure sensors that monitor weight and proximity.  Real-time information regarding crowd movement is then wirelessly delivered to those who oversee the festival.  Now are the mats an absolutely foolproof way to prevent crowd turbulence?  Probably not.  But are they a step in the right direction?  Of course they are.

As luck would have it, I also wish to prevent human stampedes and needless suffering, injury and loss of life.  However, the course of action I’ve chosen revolves around disseminating public safety information which is “difficult to share.”  For a variety of reasons.  Among them, divulging an asymmetric strategy for likely killing hundreds and injuring thousands… without weapons.  Oh yeah, and it’s free too.

The solutions for preventing “artificially generated stampedes” are centered around enhancing knowledge and awareness.  But the material has been deemed sociologically undiscussable.  Nobody in government or the sports/entertainment business is willing to divulge this one helpful, little snippet of public safety information.  Still, I always feel morally compelled to just tell people the following…

You’re allowed to know that official emergency evacuation orders for crowded venues (stadiums, ballparks, etc.) would NEVER be delivered via your personal cell phone.”

Much like Nilay’s neoprene electronic sensor mats, the AGSAF mission statement is a tangible solution.  And if you ask Mr. Kulkarni, I’m pretty confident he’d agree that…

People have a fundamental right to know…

that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an emergency evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from their personal cell phone…

it’s almost certainly a malicious hoax designed to create an “artificially generated stampede.”

I do have a suggestion for Mr. Kularni.  Keep a watchful eye on your real-time data transmissions.  If accuracy is vital then security is paramount.  And please heed the words of our intellectually esteemed President over here in the United States…

“Computers are incredible.  They do great things.  But hacking is a bad thing.  But now, cyber can be both good and bad.  And we need more cyber.  We need to get better with the cyber.”