Tough Questions

tough-questionsWith regard to the AGSAF website and awareness campaign, I’m often asked the following question. “What kind of feedback have you received?”

As of early November 2013, I have accumulated numerous emails, letters and phone calls.^

The NFL has offered no feedback whatsoever.

The NCAA community has demonstrated a considerably different reaction.  So far, I have acquired 42 official responses from 30 universities.*  The term “official” refers to written or emailed correspondence from university presidents, chancellors and their staff, legal counsel, campus police and those responsible for game day management and stadium security.

Many universities (74%) chose not to respond.  I believe this was based on two factors: the degree of difficulty in addressing the issue at hand combined with concerns regarding liability, litigation and plausible deniability.

Of those who did respond, the common elements were:

  • an expression of appreciation for bringing this matter to their attention
  • a declaration of how they take these matters very seriously
  • a closing promise to share and review my concerns

But sometimes when I raise the issue of artificially generated stampedes, people in leadership positions tend to obfuscate.  Whether it’s unintentional or deliberate would be a matter of opinion.  However, I think it’s safe to say that most have difficulty formulating a response.  Since the questions I’m posing are highly provocative, it’s understandable when they try to “dance” around the issue.  It’s troublesome as well.  Troublesome but understandable — a tough combination.

I liken it to a professional boxer who is continuously ducking, dodging and weaving or a skilled politician trying to distract, deflect and pivot.  Rather than directly confront the specific issue of artificially generated stampedes, they choose to engage on the more general topic of stadium security.  They’ll often reference:

  • an emphasis on proper training procedures for ushers and staff
  • a reliance on increased security and enhanced screening procedures
  • the routine testing and review of stadium command and control operations
  • the benefits of reserved seating as opposed to general admission seating
  • the use of evacuation videos with an emphasis on exit visibility
  • a commitment to curbing unruly behavior often attributed to alcohol consumption
  • how their venue construction and architecture adheres to current NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Life Safety Code regulations
  • how even though they have the utmost confidence in their campus text alert system, such a platform would not be utilized in an emergency evacuation scenario

All of these bullet points represent valid stadium security measures.  But they all have one thing in common.  None of them adequately address the issue of cellular technology being used to purposely trigger a stampede.  Every bullet point seems carefully attenuated to either sidestep the topic or substantively alter the conversation.

What I find particularly worrisome is that people seem unwilling to recognize how the terrain of society has shifted.  Cellular technology has altered real-time, real-world conditions.  Officials seem solely focused on their own stadiums, their own security, their own campus alert systems, their own evacuation plans.  None of them seem willing to acknowledge that they are part of the larger NCAA community.  This is very alarming.

It’s my fundamental contention that if a significant tragedy occurred in one or more stadiums, it would most certainly impact other locations.  In today’s age of simultaneous live broadcasts and mobile interconnectivity, just how quickly would word spread of human stampedes?  Good news may travel fast, but I can assure you that bad news travels much faster.

It’s no wonder that people try to avoid the issue of artificially generated stampedes.  Even I am considerably reluctant to throw out hypothetical examples of NFL or NCAA teams, stadiums, cities and time zones.  If delving into these specifics makes me feel uncomfortable, I can only imagine how such forthrightness might dissuade others (especially those who are ultimately responsible for stadium security and fan safety).

One can argue the finer points of stadium security until the fat lady sings (or in this case, until the final buzzer sounds).  But at the heart of it all, there’s a very simple point to be made.

There are police chiefs and incident commanders who are in charge of stadium security.  These individuals are well aware of one guiding principle — that under NO CIRCUMSTANCE WHATSOEVER would you ever conduct an emergency evacuation by transmitting information to everyone’s personal cell phone or mobile device.  That’s just not how it’s done.  Since the vast majority of stadium attendees have never given any consideration to these matters, one can argue that this makes them dangerously unaware.

It’s really not that big of a deal.  Just tell people the truth… that in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation, a legitimate order would NEVER originate from their personal cell phone or mobile device.  This statement will eventually become common knowledge, so why not just get it out in the open.

Football might be a dirty game, but it’s time for the NFL, the NCAA and the federal government to finally come clean.


* – University of Cincinnati, University of Missouri, Clemson University`, University of Virginia`, Virginia Tech`, Rutgers University`, Eastern Michigan University, University of Nebraska, University of Southern California`, San Jose State University, University of Oregon, University of New Mexico, The Ohio State University`, University of Washington, Duke University, US Army West Point`, University of Georgia, University of Texas at El Paso, University of Wisconsin, Penn State, Northern Illinois University`, University of North Texas, University of Miami`, University of Arkansas, Wake Forest University, Georgia Tech, University of Houston, Notre Dame University, University of Minnesota, Colorado State University, US Air Force Academy, West Virginia University

` – indicates multiple responses

^ – Phone calls are difficult to measure and quantify.  Therefore, I’ve decided to omit that information.  Feel free to contact me and I will provide a more comprehensive analysis and a list of the additional universities.