In 2012, I sent a letter to every NCAA Division I president and chancellor regarding outdated emergency stadium evacuation protocol. One of the more germane responses came from Eastern Michigan University President Sue Martin.
The Mid-Atlantic Division houses most of the smaller NCAA Division I football stadiums. Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Michigan fits into this category. With a maximum capacity of roughly 30,000, it rarely approaches that level. Yet that does not make it any less susceptible to the prospect of human panic.
As referenced in her letter, in a September 2011 game vs. Howard University, it became necessary to stage an emergency evacuation due to high winds, a heavy downpour and lightning strikes. Other major stadiums including the University of Michigan, University of Iowa and University of Notre Dame ultimately made the same critical decision to launch full scale evacuations that day.
You might be thinking… a weather related evacuation is staged for vastly different reasons than a bomb threat emergency evacuation. And you would be correct. However, they do both fall under the general auspices of federal legislation introduced in 1990. The Clery Act requires institutions to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees. Compliance is monitored by the United States Department of Education which can impose civil penalties, up to $35,000 per violation, against institutions for each infraction.
Eastern Michigan University was fined a record $357,500 for failing to warn the campus of a student’s assault and death that occurred in 2006. Beyond reporting the incident, the school was fined for violating federal crime-reporting laws. It has been seen as a wake-up call on how universities report and display statistics on crimes that occur on university campuses. The incident brought forth university-wide changes in campus safety and safety notifications. The incident also brought changes in university administration, including the dismissal of the university’s president, John A. Fallon.
I noticed a greater likelihood in the acknowledgment of my concerns among universities that have been fined for federal violations of the Clery Act. The most notable being the 2008 Virginia Tech massacre. Their vice president of operations, Sherwood Wilson, responded directly to me on multiple occasions.
Penn State president, Rodney Erickson, addressed my concerns as well. Coincidentally, they are currently under investigation for possible violations of the Clery Act as a result of the highly publicized Jerry Sandusky conviction for repeated child molestation.
I believe the tragedies endured by these schools and their administrations have heightened both their sensitivity and the degree of seriousness in how they approach such matters.
When referencing the prospect of an artificially generated stampede (or likely any human stampede for that matter), the problem with the Clery Act is its vague description as to what would constitute a “timely” warning. There are no specific guidelines. Incidents are open to interpretation. An artificially generated stampede would surely transpire in real-time, in a matter of minutes if not seconds. And further complicating the matter, any use of the campus text emergency alert system would likely have a detrimental effect. It would almost surely exacerbate the existing panic. I defy you to find any incident commander or police chief in charge of stadium security who would execute an emergency stadium evacuation solely through the campus text alert system.
The artificially generated stampede scenario represents an impossible conflict that has yet to be addressed by the federal government. I would ask anyone reading this post to request written confirmation from the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, Department of Education for a greater degree of specificity as to what constitutes the “delivery” of “timely” warnings of “crimes.” More substantive guidelines, less open to speculation and interpretation, would surely result in improved compliance with federal law. Furthermore, an artificially generated stampede supersedes the definition of a crime. It is an act of terrorism.