#Sandance and the virality of events going wrong

There’s few occasions which are as viral as events on social media: put together several hundreds or thousands of people, all equipped with mobile devices and the communication (usually via social media) will increase in line with the anticipation. However, that concept is equally true as an event goes from bad to worse and eventually to meltdown.

Last night, on New Year’s Eve, anyone with a care to watch would have seen how one event in Dubai went from band to worse and finally ended up in disaster shortly before midnight. Sandance is a music festival held on the huge Sandance Beach in Atlantis on Dubai’s Palm. Sandance is usually held on dates such as New Year’s Eve and last night was no different with headline acts such as DJs Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold and Axwell.

Unfortunately for the planners of Sandance, Dubai was planning to break a world record last night for the most fireworks used in one event – 400,000 in total over a space of six minutes to be fired from the Palm and the World Islands off the Palm.

The Palm was supposed to be was in lockdown from 8am on New Year’s Eve; anyone wishing to enter had to have a car pass to keep the numbers of people limited to residents and hotel guests. Unlike previous Sandances, this year’s New Year’s Eve party at The Atlantis was shuttle bus only to keep traffic to a minimum. Seventy-five buses were to be used to carry nearly 17,000 partygoers between 5-9pm from Dubai’s American University at Media City to the venue about six kilometers away.

The plan didn’t go accordingly and due to an excess of traffic on the Palm people heading to Sandance on New Year’s Eve were stuck on shuttle buses for more than three hours. Many even spent the stroke of midnight on buses or walking trying to reach the event. And the frustration which included broken down buses, poured onto Twitter… (and also video)

Sandance bosses did use social media to post a few notes on Facebook, including one update which pointed to the reasons behind the chaos: “The NYE traffic on the palm is being controlled by Dubai Police and Nakheel. We are in touch with the authorities to smoothen traffic. We appreciate your patience.”

At the other end of town it was also a long night for Dubai Media Inc. The Emirate’s media organization was supposed to be livestreaming the fireworks from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and possibly also from the Palm. However, it looks as if their servers weren’t able to cope with demand and visitors to DMI’s website. The difference is however that people hadn’t spent hundreds of Dirhams to visit DMI’s website or spent hours on a bus waiting to get to a destination they never reached.

For all those who were stuck on the buses my heart goes out to you. Sundance was poorly planned: the organizers put far too much faith in Nakheel and the police to ensure a good flow of traffic. That didn’t happen it seems. However, as evinced by social media the organizers will ultimately be held to blame. Could they have done more on the night via social media? Maybe, but there’s little you can do when things go wrong on New Year’s Eve to ease the pain of plans which go awry.