Hip hop entertainer Bow Wow — who announced his retirement while on tour in Australia in August 2016 — had one of the craziest appearances I’ve ever worked.
When Bow Wow was reaching the pinnacle of his career, we were sent out to provide protection for what was described as “a small private appearance.” The venue was expecting a moderate crowd, and my team and I were on point running our usual protection protocols.
I should have realized things were amiss when I saw people waiting as I arrived to do the advance work several hours before the appearance. But things were running smoothly as the protection team went through our preliminary routines.
Then it happened.
The Crowd Swells
More people started showing up, and then more and more and even more. We were slammed with people, and it looked like they were just going to keep on coming. The venue actually shut the doors, and then people started to pile up outside in the parking lot.
I heard people were amassing outside, and I went out to check on our egress route. If you don’t know, egress is basically an exit strategy — how the heck we were going to get out of there when all is said and done.
I walked outside and there was a limousine with about 15 to 20 girls sitting on top of it. The driver apparently got tired of trying to chase them off and was just sitting in the driver’s seat with a blank look on his face. In light of this, I decided to arrange a more nondescript transportation option for Bow Wow.
The crowd continued to grow in size and assertiveness. The appearance was still manageable as Bow Wow walked out, even though the crowd was not respecting the stage boundaries. The situation was stressful, but things didn’t feel violent or dangerous on my end. There were just a lot of people who were not listening to instructions. Most of them excited girls.
As Bow Wow began to perform, the crowd rushed the stage. The management decided to shut down the appearance altogether. Our team mobilized and got our principal (Bow Wow) to safety in a stairwell. I went back to check on the status of the crowd, the facility and, most importantly, our egress before we attempted to move the principal out of the building.
As I came around side of the stage, a uniformed security officer from the venue screamed that he was going to “Mace the crowd” — and he did.
I saw panic on a scale I had never experienced up to that point. People started running in fear, screaming for friends and family members. The crowd was just flat out going nuts, running in all directions.
This was a similar scenario to the 2003 E2 nightclub stampede that killed 21 people in Chicago, but thank goodness no one was killed that day. The venue doors and facility layout were radically different than E2’s and people were able to get out without being completely crushed.
I realized through this experience how very important it is to inform my friends and family about massive panic in public venues. Since that incident, I’ve seen several similar situations where people completely lost their minds and trampled each other while trying to get to safety. I do not want this to happen to you.
The best advice I can give you is to be aware of where you are in a crowd. This is why situational awareness and proactive action is so important. In any situation where there are a lot of people, be aware of your surroundings and, more specifically, how you can get out safely if an emergency arises.
In other words, know your egress route.
Tragically, many people have perished simply because they weren’t aware of emergency exit procedures. Our objective is to keep you from being one of these statistics. Just like the flight attendant says, the closest exit may not be the one you entered through.
When you are out and about in a crowd, being proactive could be the difference between life and death. Check where the main crowd entered the facility and make an active plan to go out through a different door if an emergency occurs.
Thomas Lavin is a founding partner of Global Protection and Intelligence Agency with over 25 years of experience in high profile protection and investigations.