The Dangers of Mass Crowd Panic

Recent incidents of mass crowd panic triggered by false reports of gunfire highlight the need for the public to maintain situational awareness and follow guidelines to ensure personal safety. The National Capital Region’s (NCR) crowded transit hubs—handling over 500,000 commuters daily—and large-scale special events that draw thousands of attendees present potential risks for crowd panic situations.

This past weekend at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, New York City, thousands of concert-goers rushed to exit the outdoor venue after false reports of gunshots. Law enforcement quickly notified the crowd to remain calm and that the noise was a barrier fence that fell.

On August 26, two people were injured in Little Rock, Arkansas, after being trampled when 38,000 spectators began to flee from perceived ‘gunshots’ at the 2018 Salt Bowl football game. Spectators jumped over partitions onto the field to escape the perceived threat.

In April 2017, 16 people were injured during a stampede in New York City’s Penn Station following a false report of gunfire. The noise that caused the panic was found to be a taser used by an NYPD law enforcement officer.

In August 2016, mass crowd panics at JFK airport in New York and LAX airport in Los Angeles prompted travelers to flee terminals onto the tarmac. In both cases, loud noises were mistaken for gunshots. No injuries were reported in either incident.

Public safety experts say false-alarm panic situations are as serious as real threats because fear can trigger crowds to stampede. The following tips are helpful guidelines for NCR residents and visitors to follow to stay safe in a panicked crowd situation.

What to Do in a Crowd of Panicking People

  • Pick a “meet up” point with family and friends prior to an event;

  • Stay in communication with family and friends;

  • Remain calm and do not panic in the event of a panicked crowd situation;

  • Move with the crowd to avoid being trampled and injured;

  • Find shelter or cover, if possible;

  • Find non-traditional escape routes and avoid choke point exits; and

  • Work your way to the edges of a panicked crowd, where there are less people.

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