Big game with a late start. Yesterday was a fun one. Gigi got done with work around 3pm. She had a co-worker drop her off at the stadium. We zipped over to her relatives' tailgate (DJ, Sally and friends), squashed a couple beers and set out on our customary quest for free tickets.
It had already been an interesting morning. She got to interview Jill Biden and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Pretty powerful duo, ehh? Yep, that's what I'm talkin' about! Regrettably, the final product churned out by the news was less than stellar.
The ticket scene was fluid, but guarded. Not a whole lot of action. Even big shots like this guy were out of luck.
I had anticipated some degree of difficulty. But Gigi stepped up (both figuratively and literally). Within about 10 minutes, this older guy saw our sign and dished out 2 freebies. KA-POW! Considering that it was a home opener with quality and historic opposition, a judging and worshiping Tim Tebowing contingency on hand, the fantastic weather and the late 4:25 pm start, I thought it would be much tougher.
The ticket stub featured a lifelong Steelers fan named Angelo Cammarata of Pittsburgh, PA. The Post Gazette wrote an inspired story about the man and his connection to Art Rooney Sr. Interesting that the deceased Rooney needed a free ticket while Angelo is wielding dual stub-stacks.
Roger Goodell, National Football League Commissioner
National Football League
280 Park Avenue, Suite 12
New York, NY 10017-1216
Re: The prospect of an artificially generated stampede in National Football League stadiums
In 1913, 73 people were crushed to death in the Italian Hall Disaster in Calumet, Michigan. This event is generally regarded as the basis for placing reasonable limitations on the First Amendment. Most refer to it as "falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater." Roughly a century later, allow me to pose a similar question. Is it conceivable to text "fire" in a crowded NFL stadium? If a significant number of individuals received a text message conveying IMMINENT DANGER and/or the NEED TO IMMEDIATELY EVACUATE, the consequences could be catastrophic. It would likely result in an artificially generated stampede.
Following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, companies offering mass text alerts became more commonplace. Many of these companies offer SMS (short message service) systems to anyone willing to pay for them. It's just a matter of time before someone with a pernicious agenda opts to utilize this platform. Furthermore, a perpetrator would probably seek maximum impact as it would likely be a one-time occurrence.
While security and safety measures have been greatly enhanced in the last decade, there has never been a credible plan to safely evacuate an NFL stadium in the event of a sudden panic. Why? Because it's simply not logistically feasible. We have already witnessed the evolution of flash mobs and the recent spread of dangerous viral text hoaxes. The prospect of hacking and manipulating a text alert system or cellular service provider represents the gravest concern. But it's simply the mere existence and availability of lengthy lists of cell phone numbers corresponding to individuals in a confined location. This, combined with the established level of trust placed in emergency SMS communication, represents the underlying problem.
While I doubt that I am the first person to conceive of this potential threat, I do suspect this is the first time you've heard about an artificially generated stampede. Other than virally spread text hoaxes, I've seen nothing about deliberately transmitting false texts in an attempt to create a sudden, mass panic. There seems to be no discussion of this asymmetric security issue in the public domain. And if you connect the dots between large crowds and the potential misuse of SMS technology, I think you'll agree that my concerns are justified. Please consider the following:
• The potential for hacking or intentional misuse of any relevant text notification or fan alert system. Due to their wider accessibility, socially driven media platforms such as Twitter represent another area of concern.
• The acquisition of cloned cell phone lists linked to season ticket holders and employees. A spoofed (disguised) message could easily be configured to appear as though it was sent from an opt-in notification system.
• A message originating from a wireless carrier. You may recall the December 12, 2011 "Civil Emergency: Take Shelter Now" alert sent to Verizon customers in central New Jersey. Termed a "malicious hoax" by Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, the event remains unexplained. Although an apology was issued, there has been no admission of negligence or responsibility.
Being a whistle blower for a hypothetical national security threat is not something I relish, but I cannot in good conscience remain silent. So in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security's "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign, I have made a moral determination to send you this letter. I would encourage you to research this issue and take preventative action. And while this problem is well beyond my area of expertise, I do have some suggestions.
• Acknowledge and prepare for an unpleasant reality. In the event of an artificially generated stampede, any emergency evacuation protocol would most certainly be rendered useless.
• Understand that your incident commander may not have ultimate control over the content, timing and delivery of an evacuation order. This represents a profoundly changed dynamic in stadium security.
• Assess the security of any cell phone lists associated with season ticket holders and employees.
• Be cognizant of the timing and context of official social media updates.
• Employ a looped message via the public address system warning fans of the possibility of an artificially generated stampede.
• Include an assumption of risk disclaimer on the ticket stub similar to a foul ball or broken bat warning: Cellular communication devices can be used to create artificially generated stampedes. If you receive a message demanding an immediate evacuation, wait for official confirmation from the public address system.
• Conduct general awareness campaigns as a matter of policy. A simple slogan such as "Think before you run" could prove very effective in thwarting a text-induced stampede.
While you may have sufficient confidence in your own stadium emergency evacuation protocol, your security could be compromised by mere association with the wider NFL community. We live in an era of breaking news and instant, personalized communication. Because many NFL games overlap, revelations of a stampede at one or more stadiums could trigger additional stampedes, creating a domino or cascade effect.
An event of this nature would likely not be a hoax or accident. It would be executed with malicious intent. National Football League stadiums provide one of the most easily recognizable targets. As the leaders of the organizations that put people into these crowded and therefore potentially dangerous environments, you have a moral obligation to warn people about the dangers of panic-laden text messages. We need to raise awareness before a catastrophe transpires. There will be no dress rehearsal.
I believe that the federal government will not address this issue until after a disaster has occurred. Therefore, I would implore you to work with each other and exercise your considerable influence with state and local governments. It is imperative to devise a time-sensitive game plan. I am willing to meet with you personally to review this matter. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
"There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction." - John F. Kennedy
contact info omitted
cc: National Football League ownership
Letters with similar content have been sent to the following individuals.
Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security
Chairman Julius Genachowski, Federal Communications Commission
Secretary Arne Duncan, Department of Education
NCAA Division I university presidents and chancellors
Representatives of Indy Racing League, Inc.
Representatives of National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc.