Taipei Stampede Analysis

An October 28, 2017 stampede in the capital city of Taiwan resulted in 23 injuries, one of them critical, requiring hospitalization.  The Taipei city government was holding its annual senior citizen day offering “lucky tickets” and “free prizes” to those in attendance.

Unfortunately, a larger than expected crowd turned out.  Officials were anticipating a crowd of less than 10,000.  But according to the Government Information Office Central News Agency, roughly 70,000 showed up.  Many arrived hours before the event began.  Taipei Mayor Ko Wenje issued an apology and told reporters that city officials had committed an “estimation error.”

Adding to the chaos and confusion, event organizers neglected to arrange a queue surrounding the free gift distribution area.  Police eventually managed to restore order.

Yes, there were zero fatalities.  But it still speaks to the larger issue at hand.  Large crowds + poor planning = the potential for a deadly stampede.  The Taipei stampede registered as barely a blip in the news cycle.  Unless you were directly impacted, it will be quickly forgotten and dismissed as an isolated incident.

However, we can always learn something.  Public safety relies on anticipating unexpected variables that may surface and creating a proactive game plan.  It’s the fundamental reason for following established protocol and adhering to an incident command structure.

Last time I checked, everyone has a cell phone capable of receiving false information.  And there are a variety of ways to disseminate such information— hacking, opt-in abuse (Amber Alerts and imminent threats, i.e., flash floods, hurricane and tornado warnings, etc.), phishing scams, phone calls, viral hoaxes, robocalls, targeted spam, Stingray technology, bulk text messaging, etc.  And don’t forget the most consequential platform… the internet.  Social media platforms like facebook and twitter are capable of instantly transmitting massive amounts of information.  Note: Algorithms govern these mediums.  Sometimes the bots appear to have “minds of their own.”

The content of such fictitious information conceivably trends infinite — bomb threats, phony evacuation orders, time sensitive offers for free merchandise, celebrity sightings, etc.  Try to think in terms of a reverse flash mob.  But instead of urging people to come together and unite, you’d be giving them a myriad of reasons to aggressively move or evacuate.

So maybe someone should devise a “societal contingency plan.”  Perhaps, at a bare minimum, inform people that emergency evacuation orders for large, confined crowds (stadiums, ballparks, arenas, etc.) would NEVER be issued via your personal cell phone.  In the event of a real-world venue evacuation, protocol dictates using the public address system.  NOT CELL PHONES.  The most critical component to a safe and successful venue evac is the ability to reach the largest number of people in a clearly declarative, all-encompassing, succinct fashion.  This is not best achieved via cellular technology.  Even if they had the ability to wirelessly contact everyone (they don’t)… they wouldn’t.  Because it would be an egregious violation of the existing protocol.

Our country has thousands of large venues.  Not hundreds.  Thousands.  And hey, since it’s conceivably a matter of life and death, just please know that you’re entitled to a heightened degree of “situational awareness.”  Simply stated, the general public should be aware of such generic public safety information.  But the government and private industry deliberately conceal this specific information.  Both are entrenched with maintaining the status quo to further their own interests.

1.  Plausible deniability — If you acknowledge a problem, you own it.  Why take on the unnecessary risk?

2.  Hypothetical litigation — In the aftermath of a preventable tragedy, people immediately look for the deepest pockets.

3.  Lose-lose proposition — If others aren’t willing to be proactive, why should we?  There’s seemingly nothing to be gained.

4.  Money — Even though the solution is basically free, there’s no profit to be had.

5.  Social mores — Human stampedes are a sensitive subject.  They usually involve innocent people suffocating to death.  Such material is often deemed “undiscussable.”

Let me reiterate.  I am not the only person on the planet who has thought of this stuff.  The concept is not a complicated one.  It’s merely the modern, technological equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Have you ever wondered why nobody’s permitted to raise the prospect of an “artificially generated stampede?”  Well I have.