SunTrust Ballpark’s “Nonexistent Emergency Evacuation”

During the 3rd inning of a May 23, 2017 Braves/Pirates game at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park, an emergency evacuation order suddenly popped up on the jumbotron.  Followed by a blaring alarm for about 5 seconds.  With zero explanation or confirmation given over the public address system, play on the field continued.  The umpire decided to ignore the message and allowed the game to carry on.  Apparently, venue management was unfazed as they knew it was a blunder.

However, many fans exited their seats and headed for the concourses.  Others remained seated.  Some expressed confusion and a sense of heightened anxiety.  Take a moment and consider that many attendees could have been psychologically impacted by the recent headlines of a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert.  That terrorist attack occurred only one day earlier on May 22, 2017 at England’s Manchester Arena.  The explosion killed 23 people and injured 59 others.

An entire hour passed before SunTrust Park’s twitter account released the following statement:

The false alarm at SunTrust Park earlier was due to a malfunction.  Everything is operating normally.  We apologize for the inconvenience!

Please note how this incident was described as a malfunction… as opposed to an “accident,” or in more common parlance, “screw up.”

I’m not going to speculate on whether the evacuation order was accidental, deliberate or the result of a nefarious act.  Realistically, based on the fact that it’s a brand new venue which has hosted only 20 regular season games prior, I imagine it probably was an accident.  Someone from within the stadium operations incident command structure likely overreacted to a seemingly minor incident and “pressed a button” or partially activated their standard evac protocol without sufficient cause or proper consultation.  So will there be an internal investigation?  Will anyone be held accountable?  Uh, no.  Like other similar electronic mishaps, it will register as a blip in the news cycle and be quickly forgotten.

Forgive the cynicism, but the Atlanta Braves official twitter apology struck me as utterly disingenuous.  Here’s why.

First and foremost, if ballpark management was legitimately concerned about setting the record straight, they would have directly reached out to the fans.  They would have issued an apology over the public address system and included a message on the jumbotron.  Instead, Braves management opted for an obscure follow-up from the venue’s twitter feed.

This apology was an attempt to publicly convey remorse… in the least significant manner possible.

SunTrust Park’s twitter account has 28,000 followers.  The Atlanta Braves twitter account has 1.04 million followers.  Rather than directly implicate the MLB team and their operations, they opted to “retweet” the information from a more dubious source.  Thereby, decreasing their position with regard to plausible deniability if the unthinkable occurred — a real-world panic and ensuing “artificially generated stampede.”

The SunTrust Park facebook page has 93,556 followers.  The Atlanta Braves facebook page has 2.05 million followers.  Those represent significantly larger audiences.

If the Braves organization truly wished to be forthcoming, why did they exclusively use twitter as opposed to facebook?  Or even better, use both platforms.

John C. Malone, the chairman and majority shareholder of Liberty Media, is the “clandestine” owner of the Braves.  His net worth is estimated at 7.2 billion dollars.  By any standard, Mr. Malone and his business interests would certainly qualify as “deep pockets.”  However, the ballpark is technically (and conveniently) owned by the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority.  This strikes me as clearly an attempt to limit foreseeable blame, prospective liability and exposure to hypothetical litigation.

If you were one of the 25,040 in attendance at SunTrust Park on May 23, 2017, feel free to share our observations and concerns with Larry Bowman, Vice President Stadium Operations and Security, Atlanta Braves.  404-522-7630