I received an email on March 18, 2014 from the National Center for Sports Safety and Security. It contained the itinerary for the NCS4 summer convention to be held in Indianapolis, IN. Below is an excerpt:
NEW! VENUE TOURS
Attendees will have an opportunity to visit sport facilities in their industry. During the visit, the host will provide a facility safety and security tour and discuss advancements in their security plans. A discussion scenario will be conducted to enhance best practices.
Lucas Oil Stadium (Home of the Indianapolis Colts, NFL)
Discussion Scenario: Drone Attack
Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Home of the Indiana Pacers, NBA)
Discussion Scenario: Power Failure
Butler University (Hinkle Arena) (Home of the Butler Bulldogs, Division I)
Discussion Scenario: Bomb Threat
Carmel High School (Home of Carmel Greyhounds)
Discussion Scenario: Active Shooter
Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Home of Indy 500)
Discussion Scenario: Weather
Victory Field (Home of the Indianapolis Indians of the International League)
Discussion Scenario: Fan Injury/Death – Localized Crisis
Since AGSAF deals with stadiums and the potential for human stampedes, let’s focus on the discussion scenarios scheduled for Lucas Oil Stadium and Hinkle Arena.
First and foremost, I’m under the likely assumption that the choice of venue was designed to mirror the representative threat. Lucas Oil Stadium would be a dubious location to carry out a drone strike… because the stadium is a dome. I find it doubtful that any self-respecting terrorist would select this particular target for a drone attack. Unless of course, you could conceivably sneak the drone into the stadium in fragmented pieces in 12″x6″x12″ transparent plastic bags while avoiding the scrutiny of security and metal detectors. Then, somehow discreetly assemble the drone without arousing suspicion. That would be a tall order.
But wait a minute! Lucas Oil Stadium is currently one of three NFL stadiums with a retractable roof. Yes… I will voluntarily concede this point. However, it’s rarely used for NFL games mostly due to weather related contingency issues. And while difficult for me to dissect the mind of a terrorist, I imagine that he/she would be wise enough to discern a better target. A permanently open-air stadium would seem the smarter choice.
The other discussion panel will focus on the prospect of a bomb threat at Hinkle Arena. Please note how the word “threat” is singular. I’ve never studied the bomb threat protocol for Hinkle Fieldhouse (its correct name), but I imagine it conforms to most other indoor venues.
The notion that incident commanders (those tasked with the ultimate authority to order an emergency evacuation) still think in terms of a singular, isolated bomb threat is cause for tremendous concern. And of course this lone bomb threat would be conveniently phoned in to the venue’s central lobby or main desk so it could be dealt with properly, efficiently and accordingly.
Forgive me for not being a “1950’s safety purist” in the year 2014. I hate to raise this inconvenient truth… but doesn’t virtually every fan in the venue have an active cell phone? What about everyone who works for the major broadcasting affiliates in Indianapolis (NBC – WTHR, ABC – RTV6, CBS – WISH and FOX59)? What about the print media and their employees (The Indianapolis Star, Post-Tribune and 36 other local newspapers)? What about radio stations and social media? Could any of these people be the recipient of a bomb threat? Would all of them simply ignore it? The last time I checked, cell phones were used for the purpose of mobile communication.
There’s a reason I’ve made a mockery of these questions. It’s called “discussing the undiscussable.” And as the threats become increasingly obvious and more pronounced, their “undiscussability becomes undiscussable.” I know it’s difficult to broach these subjects. I understand human sensibilities. But if you’re going to demonstrate a willingness to engage, you must do it realistically. Or why even bother? These “discussion scenarios” might be about safety, but emergency evacuation protocol is not a game. Human stampedes are a very real phenomenon. Just because they occur less frequently in the United States does not imply that our culture, our people are somehow immune.
The stakes are immeasurably high and I realize it’s an uncomfortable subject. But now is not the time to “brush off” the problem or “ease into” the conversations or maintain a “civilized tone.”
I do not think it’s wise to inform fans of every feasible threat (drone attacks, suicide bombers, active shooters, etc.). In theory, someone could parachute into a stadium while simultaneously throwing hand grenades. Is it wise to explicitly warn people this could happen? Of course not. Because it’s unrealistic and entails a degree of excessive fear-mongering.
The difference between those scenarios and an artificially generated stampede is the likelihood and ease of the act being attempted. Whether or not it would be successful shouldn’t even be the ultimate criterion.
I don’t have all the answers. But I do know a great place to start. Just tell fans that legitimate stadium evacuation orders don’t come from personal cell phones. It’s a simple message and it’s the truth. Some day this will become common knowledge (in the aftermath of a tragedy). Can anyone offer a substantive reason for not putting this basic information in the public domain?
It’s 2014. Technology has changed. The world has changed. We must change.