Old Trafford Emergency Evacuation Analysis

CigYunFW0AEf7ie10 games + 10 channels  = 1 Championship Sunday

That’s the recipe for the final week of the English Premier League.  Ten games being played simultaneously.  It’s a concept deliberately tailored to bolster the intrigue and drama of Europe’s most highly regarded soccer league.

After all, the league’s winner can be crowned on the last match day.  And since the three teams at the bottom of the chart are relegated (demoted) to the lower league, the final week draws a much larger television audience than usual.  Historically speaking, property values in many European cities are loosely tied to how well their soccer team performs.  So if your team finishes poorly, it can impact your financial security.  Just one of the many reasons why emotions are running high.

The significance is felt throughout the soccer world and even here in the United States.  Every game is simultaneously broadcast (NBC, NBCSN, MSNBC, CNBC, USA Network).  The other five games are televised on more obscure channels — Syfy, Esquire, E!, Bravo and Oxygen.  Note: The marketing executives of these channels and their viewing audiences wouldn’t know a soccer pitch from a baseball pitch.  Trust me, there’s a reason they break from traditional programming.  I’ll give you a hint.  It’s about money.

But on May 15, 2016, the spectacle of Championship Sunday went awry.  Something unprecedented happened at Old Trafford, the 75,600 seat stadium home to the iconic Manchester United.

Twenty minutes prior to kickoff, stadium security initiated “Operation Red Code” — the highest state of alert at Old Trafford.  An emergency evacuation announcement was made over the tannoy (the English word for loudspeaker, a/k/a the public address).

“The match has been abandoned for today on police advice.  People in the stadium are asked to remain in their seats while the forecourt is cleared of fans already evacuated from the stadium.  Further announcements will be made as soon as possible.  Thank you.”

Just for the record, this is the correct protocol.  In the unlikely event of an emergency stadium evacuation, a straightforward, concise message is delivered over the public address system.  It’s the superior way to comprehensively reach everyone.  When staging an emergency evac, a clear, unified, no-nonsense directive is the ultimate objective.  It is ill-advised to offer a detailed explanation.  To do so could invite questions, confusion and potentially spell trouble. This is one of the rare circumstances where a public safety directive actually requires delivering LESS information.  Simply stated, you do NOT use the public address system to divulge information about bomb threats, active shooters, lightning strikes, etc.  It’s essentially grounded in the same rationale for not shouting “fire” in a crowded theater or yelling “bomb” in an airport.

Back at Old Trafford, half of the stadium (the Sir Alex Ferguson North Stand and the Stretford End) filtered out.

569698691me00009-manchesterAlthough there was no discernible panic, it’s safe to assume that many in the crowd experienced a heightened state of unease.  After all, such a situation is far from the norm.  Keep in mind, this incident occurred on the heels of the 2015 Paris suicide bombing outside the Stade de France (http://www.agsaf.org/there-are-no-words).  Not to mention the more recent act of terrorism in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016.

Spanning a total of 760 games, this was the only full-scale stadium evacuation for the entire EPL season.  That’s 20 teams in the league.  That’s each team playing 38 games.

So what exactly prompted the evacuation?  Well, a suspicious device was discovered in a public restroom.
redi-2This cell phone strapped to a pipe was termed an “incredibly lifelike” explosive device.  And for good reason.  It turns out that the fake bomb was one of fourteen similar devices errantly left behind from a training exercise a few days prior to the game.  Chris Reid, the director of Security Search Management & Solutions Ltd., issued a formal apology and claimed responsibility for the entire mishap.

The bomb disposal unit was called in and staged a controlled detonation.

CigYmf8WEAE8qUVI suppose “all’s well that ends well.”  Well… not really.

Here are three takeaways from the Old Trafford stadium evacuation.

* The incident drew attention to the fact that stationary video recording devices are not permitted in stadium restroom facilities.  Although a fairly obvious observation, most fans have never given this matter any serious consideration.  In the future, a warped prankster or someone with a malicious copycat agenda might take advantage of that specific security disconnect.  It doesn’t require a lot of creativity to smuggle in a piece of string and tie an old cell phone to an empty napkin dispenser.

* During the evacuation, fans seeking answers immediately turned to their cell phones for real-time, real-world information.  Easily accessed social media platforms like facebook and twitter are decentralized, open-sourced platforms.  They are NOT necessarily a source for reliable or credible information.  In fact, it’s actually just the opposite.  They’re more like the “wild west” of the internet.

* Every soccer announcer, at every game, broadcasting on every channel, repeatedly referenced the Old Trafford evacuation.  While most acted professionally and were fairly cognizant of the ramifications, many of them reported speculation about a bomb.  And all of them reported on the arrival of the bomb control disposal unit.  It kinda makes you wonder how they’d react to an unanticipated, unexplainable, mass crowd disturbance.  What might they say if a significant number of fans suddenly abandoned their seats and rushed the concourses?  Just something to think about.

But here’s the biggest takeaway.

The English Premier League has something in common with the NFL.  And it’s more than the word “football.”

The National Football League relies heavily on the intrinsic value of overlapping games.  The recipe for simultaneous, televised games has been a time-tested success.  However, in the NFL, this same formula is also its achilles heel.

We already touched on the fact that 10 simultaneous games + large television viewing audiences = $$$.

Let’s try a few other equations.  But nobody’s allowed to talk about these ones.

*  Malicious hoax information + social media platforms = a potentially bad outcome.

*  Wireless hyper-connectivity + tens of thousands of cell phones = a potentially bad outcome.

*  Lack of situational awareness + untested variables = a potentially bad outcome.

*  Large, confined crowds + isolated pockets of panic = a potentially bad outcome.

Alright, enough with the innuendo.

1 NFL stadium + a saturation of cellular disinformation = the potential for an “artificially generated stampede.”

But let’s not be naive.  An attack on one stadium, would almost certainly be an attack on all of them.  A cyber-security event of epic magnitude.  There’s even a name for it.  DOMINIPEDE (domino + stampede).

But nobody’s allowed to talk about it.  Hmmm, probably not the best scenario when it comes to the future of stadium security, asymmetric threat analysis and contingency planning operations.  Silence isn’t always golden.