Stampede Down Under

The Westfield Parramatta in Sydney, Australia was the site of a bizarre stampede on December 23, 2019. Mall officials had planned for a festive Christmas balloon drop. Roughly 500 balloons were filled with $5.00 gift cards and misc. vouchers. But the fun literally spilled over into a sudden human crush, injuring more than a dozen people, some of them requiring hospitalization. The event was ironically labeled “Shop Til You Drop.”

The Scentre Group, who handled logistics and security for the event, praised its team for their quick response. Not only did they “act swiftly to help injured mall customers” but they performed admirably in “making the area safe.” Furthermore, the Scentre Group is promising a thorough investigation and will be “looking into the circumstances” which caused the stampede.

Well, I don’t think you really need to be an emergency responder or triage specialist. Let’s think about this. If you dangle money over hundreds of people, deliberately heighten the level of suspense, and then suddenly drop it on them, there’s a strong possibility that things will go awry.

What concerns me is that this spectacle wasn’t an isolated case of some deranged individual throwing money off a balcony. There was ample evidence of coordination. It takes time and effort to blow up that many balloons, fill them in multiple nets, and then tie them up, just barely out of reach. And oh yeah, what about the notion of a condensed throng, fighting and clawing, while simultaneously popping a ton of balloons? Seriously, how did this not raise any red flags concerns? It makes you kinda wonder, how many people signed off on this publicity stunt? Retail workers? Management? Their insurance carrier? Mall security? Five people? Ten people? Twenty?

I guess none of them asked a pretty straightforward question. Is this balloon drop a good idea? And if it’s such a good idea, why don’t we see similar balloon drops on a more regular basis? I know, I know… that’s asking a lot.

My point: stampedes and human crushes don’t just seemingly happen. They occur because of unexpected variables. Yet the Australian mall mishap wasn’t about surprise elements or unsuspecting irregularities. It was a carefully coordinated promotion in an upscale mall.

Of course, something like this could never happen in the United States. Right? Because we, as a society, are so much wiser than our down under counterparts. Hmm, I’m not so sure. Back in 1995, a group of us hit up Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Aside from getting involuntarily pushed and forcibly shoved, back and forth, on Bourbon Street, I think back to the sea of parades. Participants threw an endless barrage of candy and trinkets from the grandiose floats. I’ll never forget this young kid “accidentally” clobbering an elderly woman, knocking her to the pavement, all in a desperate attempt to snag a necklace of plastic beads. Retail value, oh I don’t know, maybe a nickel or a dime.

To this day, the Mardi Gras parades remain a proud yearly tradition. And so is the King Cake. A tiny plastic baby ornament is inserted into the dessert. Whoever “bites the baby” will have a year of prosperity and good fortune. Well, unless they accidentally swallow it and choke to death. Not surprisingly, there’s a tiny warning label on the other side of the bag — DO NOT EAT.

Hey, just sayin’, maybe it’s time to rethink some of these crazy, zany ideas. Or at a bare minimum, ask a simple question. “Why are we doing this?”