On July 4th, 2022, parade spectators in Highland Park, Illinois were exposed to the worst kind of fireworks you could imagine: an active shooter. This time, it was a 120-pound 22-year-old man who calls himself “Awake the rapper.” Dressed in women’s clothing, he fired more than 70 rounds into the crowd from a nearby rooftop. When the perpetrator was done, 7 were dead and 38 injured.
The event caused a dozen nearby municipalities to cancel fireworks displays due to the tragedy and concerns about further shootings. It makes you wonder: Is the era of public gatherings going the way of the dinosaurs? A cascade of occurrences in recent years have instilled fear of being in crowds in many Americans. The COVID pandemic, domestic terrorism, Antifa riots, and other calamities have given the average citizen the feeling that just being seen in groups has become hazardous to their health.
Is there a way to increase the level of safety when attending concerts, parades, and other events? As a medical preparedness advocate, I’ve written a lot about situational awareness: A calm vigilance that allows citizens to identify “anomalies” that may signal imminent violence. That mindset will serve you well in these troubled times. In that vein, here are some tips to improve the chances that your group outings will be memorable…in a good way.
1. Always remain in a state of “Yellow Alert”. Yellow alert simply means staying calm and being aware of your surroundings and the people around you. When people are behaving strangely, take note, move away, and avoid them.
2. Always mentally map out routes of escape in your vicinity. Where’s the nearest side street? Is there a building or subway entrance that will get you out of harm’s way? If you don’t know the immediate area, go to where you know the lay of the land.
3. If you have to make your way through or remain in a crowd, stay on the fringes. The best seats at a concert may be in the center, but they also give you the least mobility. If something happens, you’ll be caught in the midst of masses of people surging away from the violence. If you are, the crowd is deciding your movements, not you.
4. Shooters are only one type of mass casualty event. Vehicles are well-documented as weapons of destruction as well. Stay away from curbs, even if it’s the best spot to view the parade. Pedestrians nearest the curb will bear the brunt of a vehicular attack.
5. Avoid confrontation. Don’t engage in political or religious discussions with people you don’t know. It’s probably not a good idea to wear your political convictions on your T-shirt or hat. In the wrong place and the wrong time, this has gotten women pepper-sprayed and men beaten.
6. Be inconspicuous. This may be difficult if you’re 6 foot 7 inches tall, but otherwise, do you best to be “the gray man”. You might not know who the shooter is targeting, but don’t be the only one wearing a Day-Glo orange shirt.
7. Wear sneakers or other footwear that will allow you the most mobility. Only foolhardy reporters wear high heels to a parade.
8. That said, don’t run if you can help it. Unless everyone else is running, you will attract unwanted attention. Walk fast and purposefully around a corner, to higher ground, or another safe spot.
9. If you’re with friends, stay together. If you can’t, agree on a meeting place beforehand in case you get separated moving through the crowd.
10. Avoid being caught against walls, fences, blockades, or other solid objects. People can get crushed by masses of people fleeing the area.
11. If law enforcement arrives, stay out of their way. Their job is tough enough, and they won’t be able to hear you above the roar of the crowd.
12. If you’re going to be in a crowd for the day, you might need more than a folding chair and a picnic lunch. Consider carrying a small medical kit, (say, a tourniquet and a compression bandage) that can help control bleeding. With a little knowledge and training, you might just save a life.
I used to say that It’s unlikely you’ll ever get caught in someone’s violent outburst; these days, however, I’m no longer so sure. Having a solid plan of action in these troubled times just makes common sense. We must be prepared for man-made disasters just as we should be prepared for hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.