Public Address Message

speakerartificially generated stampede – a sudden rush of people likely the result of panic-inducing information delivered via cell phones or mobile devices

I have a concrete, common sense way to combat the artificially generated stampede.  In all honesty, it will likely not be enough to avert a tragedy.  But it’s certainly worth a shot.  The effort to raise awareness needs to start somewhere.  The other option is to do nothing.  In my opinion, that choice is morally negligent.

Now you might argue, is it all worth it?  And the answer is most definitely.  Because even if the stampedes don’t happen, the issue will eventually become front and center when some person or group tries to maliciously stage an evacuation(s).  Whether or not they’re successful shouldn’t even be the big question.  Think of it in these terms.  Has anyone ever intentionally pulled a fire alarm without cause?  This scenario just requires a greater degree of effort.

Let’s use a little deductive reasoning.  We’ll examine the issue from the perspective of large football stadiums.

A.  There are individuals (police chiefs, incident commanders, stadium managers, etc.) who possess the ultimate authority to issue an emergency evacuation.  People who hold these positions are cognizant of the fact that a legitimate order would never be initially disseminated via mass cellular platforms.  It would be delivered over the public address system, perhaps in concert with the jumbotron.

B.  The vast majority of event attendees have never thought about these issues.  Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude they are dangerously unaware.

The question becomes, “Do event attendees deserve the right to possess this same degree of knowledge.”  Even though evacuation protocol is sensitive subject matter, it’s my contention that they do.

So here’s my recommendation.  Utilize the public address system at all major events (football games, auto racing events, concerts, etc.) to broadcast the following message in a looped format as fans enter the venue.

Please be aware… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, such an order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.

Let’s dissect it.

Please be aware – denotes a polite, pleasant effort to bring the issue to everyone’s attention.  Awareness is paramount.

I use the “…”  to enhance the pause inflection and allow the speaker to inhale.

unlikely event – infers an important acknowledgement that an unanticipated evacuation would not be the norm.

emergency evacuation – use of the word “emergency” is both reasonable and necessary.  A hoax threat would almost certainly be characterized or cloaked under the general guise of an unexpected emergency.

such an order – “order” infers it would likely come in the form of a highly suggestive declaration or overt command.

would NEVER originate – emphasis on the word “NEVER.”   Unless the federal government, particularly the Federal Communications Commission or the Department of Education under the auspices of the Clery Act, acknowledges that it has the legal authority to execute large scale evacuations through mass SMS (short message services) delivered via cellular platforms, I believe the word “never” to be accurate.  It seems highly unlikely the federal government would preemptively assert control and assume responsibility for these hypothetical situations.  However, in the aftermath of a tragedy, I think it’s reasonable to believe the government (both federal and state) would seize a more substantive role.

“originate”  – implies a variety of communication techniques (emails, phone calls, text messages, etc.) and methods (intentional misuse of an opt-in notification system or wireless carrier, sabotage of a text alert system, spoofing, any type of concerted hack, a viral blitzkrieg, etc.).

personal – the word “personal” helps reinforce the notion of disparate, individual reactions rather than an all-encompassing, orderly, collective response.

cell phone – It could also be appropriate to add the phrase “or mobile device.”  But at this point in time, I think the term “cell phone” is sufficient.

So let’s read it one more time.  Please be aware… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, such an order would NEVER originate from your personal cell phone.

This statement is consistent with current emergency evacuation protocol.  I have several other variations, but I believe this one sums it up as succinctly as possible in a relatively plain and straightforward fashion.  I believe it would be counterproductive to offer excessive justification or use more aggressive terminology including buzzwords like “bomb, panic, stampede,” etc.

I tried to pattern the statement after a familiar, automated airport security warning.

“Passengers… do not leave your belongings unattended.  Luggage or bags left unattended will be seized by airport security.”

Both are highly suggestive recommendations designed to create situational awareness.  It’s important to note that the recently adopted airport security warnings have evolved into “routine policy.”  You might not regularly hear this warning, but society has witnessed the gradual extension and application of this policy into other realms (schools, trains, courthouses, shopping malls, etc.).

My objective is to spread awareness with regard to the artificially generated stampede.  This same degree of situational awareness would obviously apply to arenas, auto-racing facilities, political conventions, county fairs… any location with large, confined crowds.

Other than the obvious “what if you put an idea in someone’s head” argument, there are two foreseeable downsides to using this message.

A.  It’s an open, honest admission that a situation could arise in which the host venue does not have complete control of the evacuation process.  The implication is subtle, but could have legal ramifications in the aftermath of a tragedy.  People might argue that the warning wasn’t sufficient or “strong enough.”

B.  It disqualifies the federal government from claiming the authority to launch evacuations of large venues via cellular platforms.  At some point in the future, especially in the aftermath of a dominipede, it’s highly likely the U.S. government would wish to demonstrate greater control over the ability of citizens to congregate in large gatherings.

I’d even be willing to concede the following… that there could come a future point in time where legitimate evacuation orders are exclusively delivered via cellular directives.  But as a society, are we there yet?  Is that where the current societal expectation lies?  Absolutely not.  It’s not even a close call.

I think it all comes down to a simple question.  Does providing this one sentence for public consumption do more harm than good?  Is it reasonable?  With regard to the artificially generated stampede, I believe there’s a certain “discernible inevitability” of it being attempted (whether successful or unsuccessful).  Therefore, I believe the warning message is a wise and necessary measure.