The dawn of each new year brings celebration, and few places are more famous for New Year's Eve festivities than Times Square in New York City. It's an American tradition to watch the ball drop in the Big Apple, and listen to the streets erupt with cries of “Happy New Year!” as confetti rains from the sky. However, given the recent state of world politics and the growing trend of terrorist acts against large crowds of people, a celebration of this magnitude presents some clear security concerns.

As preparedness-minded individuals, we should consider how to react if we found ourselves trapped in a crowd during an emergency. A single individual yelling about a gunshot could create a domino effect through the crowd, resulting in mass panic and a crushing stampede in the streets. Worse yet, that warning could eventually prove to be indicative of a legitimate threat — in those tense first seconds, it might be hard to know whether to trust the claims and run for your life, or to stay put and seek shelter.

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Each year, Times Square in New York is packed with crowds celebrating the new year. Photo: Anthony Quintano / Flickr

Therefore, our first Survival Scenarios question of 2017 addresses this decision. What would you do if you found yourself trapped in a crowd of revelers at Times Square, and claims of an overheard gunshot led to mass panic? Would you try to navigate the chaotic crowd and immediately leave the area, or avoid the crushing onslaught and find shelter nearby?

In case you’ve missed our previous installments of Survival Scenarios, here’s how it works. We ask you how you’d handle a difficult choice in a hypothetical survival situation. Previously, we asked if you'd rather bug-in or bug-out during a violent post-election protest, or whether you’d prefer to be snowed-in or snowed-on in a fierce blizzard. As always, today’s post ends with a poll where you can make your choice, and see how others felt about the scenario.

Background Info

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Even on a normal day, the hustle and bustle of NYC is substantial. Photo: Kenny Louie / Flickr

Before you decide whether you'd choose to make a run for it or seek shelter in the vicinity, we'll provide some background info. As we said previously, you find yourself in the middle of Times Square on New Year's Eve. It's approximately 11:30pm, and the streets are packed to the bursting point with hundreds of thousands of people, all shoulder-to-shoulder. You've been standing in the same spot for over seven hours, awaiting the big moment.

Despite having misgivings about the extremely crowded event, you didn't want to disappoint your family by missing the opportunity to see the festivities firsthand. You're currently on vacation in New York with your wife, Amanda, and 12-year-old daughter, Chloe. Steve, your friend from college, lives in upstate New York, and convinced you to spend New Year's in the city with him and his wife Erin. The five of you are clustered together in the street.

The crowd is frantic with energy as it approaches midnight, and you can barely have a conversation without shouting over all the background noise. At this point, your feet hurt, your back is sore from standing, and you honestly just want it to be over so you can return to the hotel. But everyone is having a good time, and you can see the gleam of excitement in Chloe's eyes, so you persevere.

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The streets are loud and tightly-packed as midnight approaches. Photo: Chensiyuan / Wikipedia

Suddenly, you hear a series of distant cracks from the street behind you. The sound seems faint, but still oddly clear as it reverberates off the building. You pause and turn in its direction. As you try to determine the origin of the sound, you feel the energy of the crowd change.

The calm chatter turns into a fearful roar, and you make out the phrase “They're saying someone has a gun! from a man as he shoves his way past. A woman standing to your left heard it, too. She shrieks, “Oh my god. Let's get out of here!” The once static crowd begins moving, jostling and pressing in against you, eliminating any remaining gaps of personal space. Screams echo off the concrete and glass. A police officer down the street is on his radio, looking concerned. Amanda grips Chloe's hand, and turns to you with thinly veiled fear in her eyes — “What should we do?”

Gear and Resources

Remember that there are five members of your group: you, your wife Amanda, your daughter Chloe, and your friends Steve and Erin. Steve and Erin can make it on their own if you choose to split, but Steve has some experience training in MMA, which might be useful if a physical confrontation arises. You're certainly not going to willingly separate from your wife and daughter in this chaos, so they're sticking with you wherever you go.

As for gear, you've got virtually zero. Restrictive weapon laws in New York City prevent you from carrying a firearm, and disallow most folding knives — and that's on a normal day. The added security of the New Year's Eve event screened attendees for additional weapons, even innocuous things like tactical pens. You do have a small flashlight and your smartphone in your pocket, but no purpose-built self-defense weapon.


The flashlight in your pocket could be used as a self-defense impact weapon in a pinch.

Given this information, will you and your family join the frenzied crowd and try to leave the area, hoping not to get trampled or separated? Or will you find some shelter nearby, and hope that the rumors of a shooter are untrue?

Bug Out to Safety

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If you choose to make a run for it, there are risks you need to consider. The power of the crowd is tremendous, and the panic is spreading like wildfire. You can try to force your way through, but that may result in trouble — pushing and shoving might lead to punches and kicks as the masses lose control.

Also, the biggest concern is becoming separated from your family during the escape. You already wisely established an emergency meeting point a few blocks away, so you could theoretically regroup there if worst comes to worst. But you shudder to think of what could happen if your 12-year-old daughter ends up alone among the thousands of people running for their lives.

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One upside to bugging out is that it could potentially shorten the duration of the danger. You might get down the block and find that the crowd is less frenzied, or manage to find a relatively-unobstructed escape route. The other upside is related to the origin of this situation — if the supposed gunshot sound ended up being an actual gunshot, you want to be as far away from it as possible.

Stay Put and Find Cover

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If you choose to stay put, you'll need to find some shelter ASAP. The crowd is pushing and shoving in all directions, and you should find a solid structure that can deflect that energy. Then again, if you hug a wall and the crowd pushes too hard in that direction, you could end up being crushed or trampled.

Crowd control barricades are everywhere. They may serve to funnel the horde into a tighter space, or they may be overrun completely. Police are abundant in the area, but they're clearly struggling to regain control of an out-of-control mob scene. You'll have to look out for yourself if you want to stay safe.

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The major advantage of staying put is that it ensures you can stay together with your family, and with Steve and Erin. Steve's strength and martial arts experience could be helpful if violence erupts. You're without weapons, but at least you won't be swimming upstream through a sea of terrified pedestrians.

The chances of the possible gunshot from earlier being a real threat seem slim in this heavily-monitored setting, but if the claims were true, you may be in big trouble. The mass panic you're caught in the middle of could end up being a mass shooting.

The Decision

Knowing you have seconds to decide on a course of action, what would you do: bug-out immediately, or stay put and find cover? Enter your decision into the poll below, and feel free to justify that choice in the comments section.

Survival Scenarios is a recurring feature on, and will ask you to make a difficult choice between two or more hypothetical situations.

We don’t just want you to read our posts silently—we want to hear what you have to say. Share your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below, or head over to our Facebook page.

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