The Case For Awareness

warningI occasionally post this comment on the official facebook pages of NFL teams and NCAA universities:

Many NFL and NCAA football stadiums have 50,000 – 100,000 active wireless devices capable of receiving real-time, false information. Shouldn’t stadium management explicitly warn fans that official emergency evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via their personal cell phones?

Hint: Legitimate evacuation orders come from the public address system in tandem with the video monitors. NOT CELL PHONES.

The federal government and private industry won’t go anywhere near this cyber-security threat… unless there’s a tragedy first. This is not complex.  It’s merely the modern, technological equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater.

The feedback usually breaks into three distinct categories.

About 60% reply with ad hominem attacks.  Your stupid.  Your paranoid (they almost always use the wrong version of the word “your”).  Stop living in fear.  Go away loser.  STFU.  Of the 60%, about half make a conspiracy oriented remark or claim I must be wearing a tin foil hat.

Around 20% are curious.  Why did I post it?  What’s my agenda?  Many wish to know specific details.  “How would they get everyone’s cell phone number” is a common question.  Some claim the government has it all covered… as if there’s some kind of magical cyber-shield that protects every large, confined crowd from receiving false information.

Roughly 20% are appreciative.  Many reply, “thanks, I never thought of that” or “this is solid information but I’m uncomfortable with the way you go about promoting your cause.”

I’m not really bothered by the knee jerk reactions or lack of critical thinking.  After all, most people have never given this matter any serious consideration.  They aren’t analyzing the issue with a long-term event horizon.  And hey, let’s be honest.  Facebook is a horrible forum to engage the general public on black swan national security issues and asymmetric cyber-security threats.

But here’s what you should find very disconcerting.  It’s the ultimate decision of the facebook page administrators to have me permanently blocked.  With the stroke of a button, the conversation is effectively terminated in perpetuity.  Future access to knowledge of a specific security issue is prohibitively denied.  This dynamic impacts everyone’s personal safety.  And as you might have guessed, nobody else has the courage to assertively place this information in the public domain.  I’m the only one — your exclusive dream destination for “artificially generated stampedes.” In this case, knowledge and situational awareness go hand in hand.

Here’s why it’s a matter of tremendous concern.  Based on the tone and tenor of facebook replies, it’s reasonable to conclude that not everyone has a clear understanding of my objective.  Due to unfamiliarity with the subject matter, many fail to grasp the basic premise… the prospect of a decentralized, wireless hoax saturation, leading to a panic, inevitably resulting in a human stampede.  They don’t quite understand that I’m trying to coerce the teams and universities into just being proactive and divulging the truth (stadium evac orders don’t come from your cell phone).  That I’m encouraging them to address the gaping security disconnect and fix their existing protocol.  Not everyone is capable of connecting the dots.  Most people likely think my goal’s to disparage their beloved sports team.

Now I realize that stampedes in the United States are highly infrequent.  And not only that, but I’m broaching a very sensitive scenario for which there is virtually no historical precedent.  So I’d speculate that most page administrators become irritated or confused.   Many of them would be conflicted.  What should we do?  Should we block him?  Should we delete the comment?  What if he posts it again?  Should we get advice from our legal team, management or public relations department?  What if the scenario he’s describing were to actually happen?  Could we be held liable?  How exactly should we proceed?  These questions quickly become apparent when you venture into the realm of “discussing the undiscussable.”

I don’t fault people for the wide range of reactions.  After all, most people don’t sit around hypothesizing about the repercussions of outdated venue emergency evacuation protocol.  Very few engage in risk assessment for inclement weather conditions (tornadoes, lightning strikes, etc.).  And even fewer can distinguish between bomb threat conditions and bomb threat emergencies.  Some of the sub-issues can actually get pretty complex.

However, this lack of comprehension extends well beyond the fans.  I’ve had countless discussions with NCAA police chiefs and NFL security, many who’ve never conceived of a scenario resembling an “artificially generated stampede.”  Many have never considered the downside of wireless hyper-connectivity and the heavy concentration of cell phones.  Even worse, many are under the illusion that an attack of this nature could not even be ATTEMPTED.  Contingency planning doesn’t exist.  That is not a good omen.  Also, there’s one thing I can assure you of — virtually nobody understands the generational warfare angle… the notion of indiscriminately killing innocent civilians WITHOUT conventional weaponry.  It’s just not a conversation for the average dinner table.

It’s important to provide an actual list of the institutions and private entities that have permanently blocked me.  Because it decisively illustrates the ongoing situational awareness disconnect.  What was it all about?  Was he merely offering common sense, generic information about stadium security?  Or was he peddling some disturbing brand of fear mongering propaganda?

If an artificially generated stampede or worst case scenario dominipede (multiple stampedes) befell the United States, I reckon a lot of people would ask, “Why didn’t anybody tell us that something like this could happen, or at the very least, concede that it could be attempted?  Who knew?  What did they know?  When did they know it?  And why wouldn’t anybody reveal the plain truth (hint: it’s about money).  Most important, why was this guy blocked for divulging relatively obscure, but fairly obvious, public safety info?

Hmmm, remember the people who replied “Your a dumb ass” or “Douchebag Conspiracy Alert !!!”   Maybe they have a point after all.

So here’s the current list of NFL teams that have chosen to block me.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens.

And here’s a much bigger list of NCAA Division I universities that have decided they’re better off withholding this unique, albeit absurdly generic, brand of public safety information.

Southern Mississippi, Baylor, South Carolina, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Oklahoma, Indiana, Michigan, Western Michigan, Tennessee, Boston College, Arizona, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Florida International, Western Kentucky, Louisville, Southern Methodist, Idaho, Ball State, Akron, Buffalo, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Toledo, Georgia Southern, South Alabama, Hawaii, Central Florida, Louisiana Lafayette, San Jose State, Wake Forest, Tulsa, Connecticut, Eastern Michigan, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Nebraska, Notre Dame.

Last but not least, let’s throw in some MLB franchises that have silenced me.

Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds.

I hate to use a 9/11 analogy but it’s actually a pretty good fit.  Pre-9/11, what if someone had posted on the airline facebook pages an urgent request to “strengthen cockpit doors based on the hypothetical prospect of a group of committed terrorists, armed with box cutters, seeking martyrdom, commandeering passenger planes and deliberately ramming them into high value targets?”  Let’s be honest.  Deciphering and interpreting a statement like that would be pretty difficult.  It might even leave you in a state of confusion and distress.

Sounds familiar, huh?