During the stampede, Twitter lit up with reports of gunshots at Disney Springs. But that turned out to be just the rumor that prompted hundreds to start running across the shopping and dining district. There were no gunshots — simply an argument, that turned into a fistfight, that inspired a panic.
We've written quite a bit over the years about how to stay safe in a theme park, but "what to do in a stampede" is a new one for us. Two people were hurt during the incident, though it's not clear if the stampede was the direct cause of the minor injuries. (See update below for reports of more injuries.) But panic can kill, as most gruesomely illustrated by the deaths of hundreds in stampedes during hajj pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia.
On Friday night in Disney Springs, a 70-year-old man took a swing at a restaurant manager after having to wait a long time for his food, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Workers tackled the man and Orange County Sheriff's deputies later arrested him. But that's not what caused the panic. That happened when other diners in the restaurant made a bad assumption about the fracas in the balcony above them.
Perhaps the pop of wine glasses falling from a overturned table onto the floor sounded like gunshots. Or perhaps someone just saw the fight and assumed the worst. However it went down, some diners chose to flee before knowing exactly what was happening. Somewhere along the line, someone yelled something about gunshots and within seconds, the rumor launched across Disney Springs — as well as on social media. (For what it is worth, we saw the reports from Disney Springs visitors on Twitter but chose not to repeat any of them until we could verify the story.)
The Sentinel quoted witnesses who thought they heard gunshots... in the Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe. Another person posted on Reddit that they were overtaken by the mob outside Morimoto Asia (that's quite a distance from Bongos, if you're not familiar with Disney Springs). That person wrote that their family escaped the surging crowd through the nearby construction zone.
In a perfect world, people would not allow sensational news stories to rile them up to the point where a smashed glass or fistfight would lead them to assume a mass attack. But, clearly, we don't live in that perfect world.
So what should you do if all heck breaks loose and someone triggers a mass panic attack when you are visiting a theme park or other crowded place? Here is some advice on what to do in case of a stampede: Start with a preemptive approach and always note the nearest exits and escape paths whenever you enter a crowded place, whether it be inside or outside.
Don't fight the crowd if it overtakes you, but go with it as best you can. Keep your arms up next to your chest to protect it. As the crowd surges in waves, try to move diagonally through the crowd during the lulls between waves. (Theme park power walk skills might help here.) Move toward escape paths, but stay away from walls and barricades you could be crushed against.
Finally, if you fall, try to spring up quickly. Pull up those who fall around you. If you can't get up, protect your head with your arms, and curl up on your side to protect your chest with your legs.
Don't let any of this frighten you. That's one way stampedes happen — when frightened people panic. Do what you can to make this that perfect world. Ignore the terror threats and the hype on the news, and remember that the odds are overwhelming that you are the greatest threat to your safety. Follow our safety tips and don't panic if a conflict breaks out near you.
As some guy in an Epcot attraction once said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Update: A reader on Twitter reports that there were more injuries during the incident:
@ThemePark there were over 15 injuries where EMT was called according to park security. My niece had a concussion from the stampede.— Jeanette Mora (@JeanetteMora7) December 28, 2015
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