Black Friday Tragedy

About 2,000 people gathered outside a Long Island Wal-Mart store on the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday. When a store employee unlocked the doors at 5 a.m., the crowd knocked an employee over, pushing him to the ground and stampeding into the story. He died about an hour later, and four shoppers, including a pregnant woman, were hospitalized, according to a New York Post report.Click here to read the New York Post article and watch a good video of police officers performing CPR on the man.

Allan Braslow, PhD and A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P comment on this story.

From Allan Braslow, PhD:The expectations by workers when they go to work are that their employer will provide a safe work environment. Likewise, for consumers queuing to enter a store-sponsored event, there is an expectation that the business will provide a safe environment for them to come and go and make their purchases.

Crowd surges, similar to this morning’s Valley Stream incident, and the injuries and deaths that may result from such incidents, are foreseeable risks. They are controllable and preventable. The fact that large crowds of people would be gathering outside stores on Black Friday, waiting for the store to open, was foreseeable, just like large crowds that gather outside rock concert venues and in front of the gates at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Theme Park each morning.

At large rock concerts and at Walt Disney World, we rarely see incidents similar to this Black Friday incident anymore. Why? The next time you queue to go through the gates at a Disney park or a rock concert, take a detailed look at the queue — look around and listen. You’ll see (and hear) how such incidents are controlled and prevented.

From A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P:I agree 100% with Allan Braslow that incidents of this nature are predictable and preventable. Most stores realize the hazards of large, impatient crowds and the overdrive they fall into when the doors of the store are opened. These smart stores preplan the event and require customers to line up in a single-file, roped-in area and then allow them to file in and disperse throughout the store in a controlled manner. The mob that congregated outside the Wal-Mart store was a recipe for disaster. They’re lucky more people weren’t killed and injured.

The problem is that proper planning for Black Friday crowds is not, and will never be, legislated or required. So, what can we do to prevent similar events from occurring in the future? A simple project would be for EMS, fire and law enforcement to develop a one-page advisory to business owners that alerts them to the potential for disaster if crowds aren’t properly controlled, channelled and dispersed into and throughout their stores. This document could be distributed by the region’s Chamber of Commerce or business association. A few simple suggestions and diagrams describing proper crowd control techniques will help the business establishments pre-plan and manage their customers.

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