Tirumala Stampedes

On October 11, 2017, a “short circuit” near the entrance of a Tirumala temple resulted in a stampede.  Six people were seriously injured.  No fatalities were reported.

Panic swept through the crowd when a woman shouted concerns about being electrocuted.  However, responders from the electric company claimed there was no faulty wiring.

This is the temple’s second stampede in less than a week.  On October 7, a drone collided with a bird and crashed into a tree, resulting in an “uncomfortable” grinding noise which sparked a panic.  Once again, several injuries but no fatalities.

The collective nation of India is still recovering from yet another incident that transpired on September 29, 2017.  A bridge at the Elphinstone train station in Mumbai was the scene of a deadly stampede.  Twenty three killed.  Countless others injured.  A government committee placed the blame on “rain and rumors.”

During a sudden, torrential downpour, a large cluster of people searched for cover resulting in a mass bottleneck.  Slippery steps and wet concrete exacerbated the already dangerous conditions.

Multiple survivors lent credibility to an additional explanation.  Apparently, a female flower vendor cried out ‘phool gir gaya‘ (flowers have fallen) which may have been misinterpreted by commuters as ‘pul gir gaya‘  (the bridge has collapsed).

Sometimes, investigators are quick to assess the cause of human stampedes.  They’re often attributed to a lack of personal space and physical boundaries.  There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this position.  Especially in hyper-populated communities and congested locations/destinations.  But of far greater relevance is the existence of “unanticipated variables.”  Whether it’s a power surge, a bird strike, or the floral equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, human beings are highly susceptible to sudden pandemonium.  When people see others panic, they panic.  It’s called herding instincts.

Considering the prevalence of cell phones in large, confined crowds (stadiums, ballparks, etc.), it might be prudent to explore the possibility and potential likelihood of a “cellular-induced” panic.  Last time I checked, these miniature wireless supercomputers are capable of efficiently receiving real-time information.  Bad news travels fast.  And in this new era of social media hoaxes, disinformation and “fake news,” society really needs to be proactive.  A single, ill-timed presidential tweet could have extremely unpleasant, real-world consequences.

The alternative option is to maintain the status quo and hope that nobody ever tests the cracks in the system.  Label me a pessimist, but if you examine this cyber-security issue as I have, with a long-term event horizon, I think you’ll invariably reach the same conclusion.

People have a fundamental right to know…

that if they’re in a large, confined crowd and receive an evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device…

it’s almost certainly a malicious hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

So… if people have a right to this heightened level of situational awareness.  Then… government and private industry have a moral responsibility to share this information.  But they won’t.  At least not until there’s a tragedy.  It’s lamentable but this is how hypothetical conflicts in the realm of human rights and public safety predictably play themselves out.