Recent incidents nationwide of mass crowd panic—including in Washington DC—caused by false reports of gunfire highlight the need for attendees at public events 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. The District expects to host thousands of visitors for Independence Day festivities this week.
Last month, several people were injured at the DC Capital Pride Parade event in a mass panic stampede triggered by reports of gunshots. Reports proved false, but an individual was later arrested for illegal possession of a BB gun.
In October 2018, at the Global Citizen Festival in Manhattan’s Central Park thousands of concert-goers rushed to exit the outdoor venue after false reports of gunshots. Law enforcement quickly told the crowd the noise was caused by a fence falling and urged the crowd to remain calm.
In August 2018, two people were trampled in Little Rock, Arkansas when 38,000 spectators at the Salt Bowl football game tried to flee from what they thought was gunfire. Spectators jumped over partitions onto the field to escape the perceived threat.
In April 2017, 16 people were injured in a stampede in New York City’s Penn Station following a false report of gunfire. The noise that caused the panic was actually a taser used by a law enforcement officer.
Public safety experts say false-alarm panic situations are as serious as real threats because fear can trigger crowds to stampede. The following are helpful guidelines for NCR residents and visitors to follow to stay safe in a crowd situation.
What to Do in the Event of a Crowd Panic
Stay in communication with friends and family, if possible,
Remain calm and do not panic;
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 where there are less people if found in the center of a panicked crowd.
Note: This product has been updated from its original version, The Dangers of Mass Crowd Panic, published on October 4, 2018.