OODA Loops

simple-ooda-loopOn August 5, 2012, I was on the receiving end of a surprise phone call from Lou Marciani.  Dr. Marciani is the director for the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security based on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.

I inquired how he came across my phone number.  He explained that the university’s chancellor, Dr. Martha Saunders, had forwarded my correspondence to him for his consideration.

We spoke for about an hour on a wide array of topics involving stadium security.  He seemed very interested in the concerns I had raised regarding the prospect of artificially generated stampedes.  Our conversation centered mostly around the potential for misuse of the campus text alert emergency system.

Although my concerns were speculative, we came to a general consensus that if someone used the campus text alert system to purposely send a panic-laden message while an NCAA football game was in progress, it could have dire, real-time consequences.

Our only disagreement stemmed from methods and tactics.  He seemed more interested in trying to solve this hypothetical problem from a mitigation standpoint.  He wanted to conceive of a plan designed to neutralize panicked crowds in the immediate aftermath of the transmitted messages. In other words, he wanted to put the “panic genie” back in the bottle.  More than once, he stated “for every problem, there’s always a solution.”

And while I generally agree with the latter statement, I don’t think he had fully taken into account the evisceration of the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop.  This loop, credited to American military strategist John Boyd, serves as the foundation for any decision making process.  Aside from applications on the battlefield, this template has much broader universality.  Coaching, big business, litigation, filling up your gas tank, etc.  It’s even the underlying reason you’re reading this post.

All OODA loops require one thing… time.  If one lacks a sufficient amount of time during any of the 4 phases, the loop itself can be severely compromised.  The entire premise of the artificially generated stampede is centered around the elimination of the OODA loop.

I’m convinced that once an all-encompassing message goes out, there’s simply insufficient TIME to implement a coordinated counter-response.  The damage transpires in real-time.

Dr. Marciani and I would speak again.  He thanked me for my diligence and claimed that I had brought an interesting perspective to light.  He said my efforts to spread awareness were not in vain.  But he closed with a statement I’ve heard echoed by many others. “You’ve given us a lot to think about, but ultimately, there’s only so much you can do.  You just can’t be expected to solve all the world’s problems.”  In retrospect, I’m thinking that he may be correct… but hey, at least I’ll give it a shot.  Stay tuned and we’ll see how it all turns out.