I realize it’s a niche cause, but human stampede prevention at major U.S. sporting events is the primary objective of AGSAF (Artificially Generated Stampede Awareness Foundation). Go figure.
Regrettably, the state of Arkansas didn’t get the memo.
Something went terribly wrong during the annual Salt Bowl in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. On Saturday night, August 25, 2018, a fight broke out in the concourse. Rumors of “a gun” sparked instant chaos. It was followed by a sudden, mass exodus. High school football fans witnessed other fans panicking and the entire crowd high-tailed it outta there. This impacted everyone across the board: fans, players, coaches, workers, security personnel, everyone.
Several injuries were reported in the aftermath of the stampede. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.
Investigators later determined that no gun shots were fired. In fact, there was no gun. Some claimed it may have been a taser. The only problem with that line of conjecture… tasers are incapable of producing gunshot like sounds. Further investigation indicated that metal barricades were knocked over during the scuffle. More than likely, this is what created the loud bangs which led to the shrieks about a weapon.
So you know how they say “don’t shout fire” in a crowded theater? Well that same logic applies to not yelling “there’s a gun” in a crowded stadium.
Alright, now let’s venture into the realm of the hypothetical. If this could happen at a crowded high school football game, could it happen in an NFL stadium? If you defiantly answer, “Absolutely not!” please stop reading. Because why even bother.
When it comes to physical security, the National Football League takes a far more proactive approach with stadium safety. Well. at least that’s the image they try to project. Endless perimeter metal fencing, crash barricades, bomb detection units, magnetometers, video surveillance cameras, dedicated event staff as far as the eye can see, and of course, the clear bag policy designed to eliminate the presence of anything deemed potentially dangerous.
Catchy slogan, eh? Today for the Carolina Panthers/Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game on 8-30-18, I counted a total of 20 double-sided “Be Clear on Game Day Safety” signs along the immediate perimeter of Heinz Field. Hey, just because it’s preseason doesn’t necessarily make the event totally meaningless. Either way, nice job! It would appear that Heinz Field management is very concerned about public safety.
Like I was saying, plenty of emphasis on security. But what about all of those cell phones? Hmm, last time I checked, virtually everyone has a wireless communication device. Fans are tweeting and texting, posting pics, checking fantasy stats, streaming video, using mobile apps, placing bets, feverishly monitoring live scores, and so on and so forth. Remember the days when you “couldn’t get a signal” in the stadium? Well, those days are long gone. Cell phones are ubiquitous.
Back in 2012, Roger Goodell launched his NFL Stadium WiFi Initiative. The objective was for every fan to have maximum wireless capability. The NFL’s newest venue, Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, boasts 1,800 Wi-Fi hubs. That’s nearly the equivalent of two thousand Starbucks in less than a quarter square mile. Now that’s a lot of band width! And what the venue presumably lacks in wireless hyper-connectivity, they easily compensate for with 2,000+ television screens/video monitors and 3,200 speakers. And a network of nearly 4,000 miles of optical fiber to boot. Sounds good, right? The wireless hopes and dreams, the cellular aspirations of 71,000+ screaming fans… have been adequately placated. Goodell’s vision… has been a resounding success! Well, maybe. I guess so.
Let’s think about this for a second. An Olympic track has roughly the same dimensions as a football field. The world record for one lap, the 400 meter dash, is 43 seconds, give or take a hundredth of a second. That’s a 1/4 mile in less than a minute. However, you can transmit volumes of information in less than a second. Take a moment and reflect on the thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots, monitors, speakers, etc. And oh yeah, 50,000 – 100,000 cell phones. Could this be just a little bit excessive? Is it possible that things could take a turn for the worse? Is there any way this situation could “technologically backfire?”
Short answer, yes… with a but. Long answer, yes… but what the hell is NFL security thinking?
What’s the contingency plan if someone decides to saturate a venue with weaponized information (bomb threats, phony evacuation orders, active shooter alerts, etc.)? What about information that goes beyond fake news, i.e., dangerous news specifically attenuated to create fear and panic. There are roughly a dozen ways to wirelessly transmit such information, both directly and indirectly. All of them utilizing those disruptive little cell phones.
But of far greater concern, is the possibility, if not probability, of such information being spread in a decentralized fashion. Just google the term ‘viral blitzkrieg.’ It might not be in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but I can assure you, it exists. After all, I should know. I made it up five years ago. In this day and age, good news travels fast. But have no doubt, bad news travels faster.
Furthermore, newer NFL stadiums are among the most costly venues on the planet earth. They’re visually state-of-the-art and feature outstanding “line of sight.” You can tilt your head in any direction and witness activity. Not only on the field but throughout the entire crowd.
Lest ye forget about those pesky cell phones. Each cell phone represents an INFINITE number of negative variables (things that might conceivably go wrong). Imagine if just a few dozen people received unsettling information and decided their interests were best served by quickly bolting from their seats. How might such a synchronized, dispersal of panic play itself out in real time? How might such inexplicable behavior be interpreted? By the announcers? By the security? By the fans? Remember, there’s no evident source for alarm. No screams of a bomb. No shock of a lightning bolt. No sound of a firecracker. All you’d get is this baffling, reactive behavior based on erratic observation.
A friendly reminder: cell phones are capable of disseminating false information. What if a stadium vendor offers steep discounts on official NFL merchandise? Or free soft pretzels for a limited time? What if someone near Gate A is handing out hundred dollar bills? What if Snoop Dogg was spotted along the upper rotunda? Smoking blunts and handing out complimentary gin and juice? Timex Social Club said it best back in 1986.
Look at all these rumors, surroundin’ me every day.
Stop (stop) spreadin’ those rumors around
Stop (stop) spreadin’ the lies
But on a more serious note, what if parents snatched up their kids and ran? What if just one individual quickly scrambled down a flight of steps in the upper tier? What if, that single individual tripped and fell? What might be the reaction of others? What if somebody got wind of a real-time threat? From someone they implicitly trusted. Say for instance, a hijacked plane targeting the venue? What if Donald Trump tweeted an emergency evacuation order for every NFL stadium. What if his twitter account was hacked? What if, what if… fill in the blank.
People do NOT just spontaneously panic. Stampedes happen due to unanticipated VARIABLES, usually grounded in human error. Most important, you do not (and cannot) mitigate stampedes. You prevent them.
Considering the current technological climate, I’d be very concerned about the possibility of a different type of stampede. One deemed “atypical.” Think more in terms of randomly dispersed pandemonium followed by a congested implosion. Something few have ever conceived of. Either way, it doesn’t really matter how it starts. Because once you have a real-world panic in a large, confined crowd, there’s the potential for a deadly stampede. And a stampede… is a stampede… is a stampede.
As this article comes to a close, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other high school football stadium stampedes, all of which transpired just this week. One in Rockford, Illinois another in Wellington, Florida another in Diamond Bar, California and yet another in Irmo, South Carolina. You may have missed them. I know. I know. The news cycle is increasingly busy. I guess these stampedes just didn’t make the cut. And for the most part, neither did the one in Little Rock.
On second thought, don’t worry so much. These were high school games. And the National Football League is invincible. Their fans are wealthier. Smarter. More civilized. Superior. Right?
On third thought, don’t worry so much. Human stampedes just don’t happen here in the United States. Well, except for the ones that just happened. Right?
On final thought, how about we just tell fans the TRUTH? If, while in any football stadium, you receive an emergency evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from your cell phone or mobile device… it’s almost certainly a malicious hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede. Translation: someone is trying to kill people.
These days, there’s so much emphasis on freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. I often wonder if it’s the less-explored provision of the First Amendment, freedom of assembly, that will inevitably become a matter of intense public scrutiny.
To the admittedly few people who read this: I hope you come away thinking, “Hmm, this article contains sensitive, challenging subject matter with regard to national security.” And you’d be correct. It theorizes of an attempt to indiscriminately inflict mass civilian casualties WITHOUT conventional weapons. That’s kind of a big deal. But still, regardless of what anyone might tell you… you’re allowed to be cognizant of this exceedingly generic information. It’s about situational awareness. Plain and simple. Stadium evac orders are NOT delivered via your personal cell phone. There, I said it. You either explicitly divulge this or you deliberately keep people in the dark. Ignorant and oblivious.
It’s about asymmetric warfare. It’s about cyber-terrorism. And guess what? In the year 2018, this topic is still dangerously undiscussable and purposely unavailable for public discourse or consumption.
As football season gets back underway, feel free to share this material in ANY forum regarding human rights, cyber-security and public safety. And, oh yeah, stadium invulnerability as well!