A quick note up front…
I will get to the subject of this article, but first, please bear with me as I give the background as to how I got to the importance of having the skills to exit the chaos of a crowd in a safe manner. Thank you.
I recently concluded the Amazon series Jack Ryan that follows the popular Tom Clancy character as he journeys across the globe, fighting terrorism. Aside from my personal interest in fictional accounts depicting action, suspense and adventure, the series served as a reminder to me that we still live under the threat of terrorism. It also reminded me of a recent situation where a potential threat was neutralized.
Even though we tend to recognize the failures of organizations like the Transportation Security Administration, there are still patriots hard at work to defend the United States against all of our enemies. The results of this work are not always popular enough for the news media to report on such activities, so I did not see this particular account covered:
Members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force raided the Sacramento County, California, apartment of Omar Abdulsattar Ameen on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. This action was driven by a sealed 94-page long indictment aimed at fulfilling the requirements of extradition treaty obligations between the United States and Iraq.
The indictment details Ameen’s work with terrorist cells in Iraq that started in 2004 and ultimately led to close ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaida in Iraq which was the vicious predecessor to the Islamic State. Ameen is further described as a terrorist himself and leader of al-Qaida forces that were instrumental in the capture and execution of soldiers. He is also listed as a military and finance leader of al-Qaida groups that were specifically located in Iraq’s Anbar province. This area borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (all sources of terrorists and terrorism activity). It is also the location of the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Haditha that were all locations of major fighting and terrorist activity in the Iraq War.
To answer the question of how Ameen ended up in the United States…
He was granted refugee status on June 5, 2014, by the United States under the Obama administration’s Iraq Refugee Program after he fled to Turkey in 2012. He was resettled to the United States in November 2014.
To make things even better, federal authorities believe that Ameen is not alone and that there are an potentially several hundred individuals from terror groups in the Middle East and North Africa that are now residing in the United States.
The information above was provided in part by AlertsUSA.com (I have no affiliation with them, I simply appreciate the information they share with their subscribers).
I personally participated in the hunt for Zarqawi and I remember what a huge deal it was and the profound number of resources that were put toward finding this particular terrorist. To discover that a close associate of his was hanging out in sunny California is disheartening to say the least.
On a side note, I am surprised that he was not protected by the state with a cry that some obscure sanctuary law covered him.
Thinking about the threat of terrorism and reflecting on some of the scenes depicted by the Jack Ryan storyline, I began reasoning with myself about the realities of what would happen if I found myself around the scene of an act of terrorism. My first realization is that I will have to survive the crowd of people around me because an act of terror is not carried out unless the goal of causing hysteria and panic can be achieved. Therefore, there is the need for a crowd and the associated threat of such.
The power of a crowd can be almost unimaginable. Every year there are events held across the world that result in injuries and deaths as a result of a crowd that either panics or gets out of control. These experiences are traumatic in a physical and psychological sense as a crowd stampedes over the bodies of other humans. These types of events are usually planned. Imagine what it might be like surrounding an act of terrorism.
Herd Mentality (AKA Mob Mentality or Pack Mentality) — The adoption of certain behaviors as influenced by others on an emotional basis and not rationality.
This is a great term to ponder when talking about crowds and how they can quickly get out of control based on the actions and mentality of a few people.
Know before you go
I would venture to say that most of the times that you have found yourself in a crowd, you knew that you were going to be in or around that crowd. There is always the chance that this is not the case, but it seems like it would be the exception rather than the rule.
With this in mind, consider visiting the site ahead of time so that you are familiar with it or, at a minimum, take a look at the site using a mapping application where you can see the details of the site from the perspective of a satellite.
Points of entry and exit
One of the key elements of safety around crowds is surveying the scene early and often, specifically where the points of entry and exit are. There are documented cases where events have had single points of entry and exit which, following a source of panic or crazed moment, led to members of the crowd being crushed. This highlights an area that special attention should be given to when around a crowd; how can you get in and out and are there multiple avenues of ingress and egress. Single points of entry and exit should be avoided at all costs.
Aside from entry and exit points, being aware of what is happening around you and in other parts of the crowd can assist you in spotting potential threats and being able to respond early on if there is an emergency of some type.
Crowd survival tips
Bottom line up front… if you start to feel uneasy when you are in a crowd, that is the time to leave. Don’t wait for something to happen or get worse to make your exit. Get to a safe place and then re-evaluate your situation. There is always the possibility of going back to where you were if nothing comes to fruition.
One of the world’s leading experts on crowd control, Paul Wertheimer, offers these tips for surviving the chaos of a crowd:
- Stay on your feet.
- Conserve energy — don’t push against the crowd and don’t yell or scream.
- Use sign language to communicate with those around you (point, wave, even use your eyes).
- Keep your hands up by your chest, like a boxer — it gives you movement and protects your chest.
- If you’re in danger, ask people to crowd surf you out.
- If someone extends their hand for help, grab hold to keep them up. (From his experience, he says that crowds tend not to panic, they tend to be heroic and compassionate.) I’m not sure that seems true but he is the expert.
He also mentions that leaving a different way than you came in may be the best available option if you need to leave a crowd quickly. Specifically that people’s natural urge is to exit the way you came in because it is familiar but that using an alternative exit may be quicker because fewer people are trying to use it.
Another authority on crowds, John Fruin, who was a research engineer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey helped start crowd studies in the United States. Here is what he has to say about crowds:
At occupancies of about 7 persons per square meter, the crowd becomes almost a fluid mass. Shock waves can be propagated through the mass sufficient to lift people off their feet and propel them distances of 3 m (10 feet.) or more. People may be literally lifted out of their shoes and have clothing torn off. Intense crowd pressures, exacerbated by anxiety, make it difficult to breathe.
Some people die standing up; others die in the pileup that follows a “crowd collapse,” when someone goes down, and more people fall over him. “Compressional asphyxia” is usually given as the cause of death in these circumstances.
That doesn’t sound very good at all.
I would say the key takeaway of this all is that situational awareness is the best tool at your disposal if you find yourself in a crowd of people. Secondary to that, consider placing yourself in the periphery of the crowd in you must be there. Lastly, conduct a risk versus benefits analysis to determine if you really need to place yourself in a crowd from the start.