On December 10, 2014, the NFL owners conducted their final meeting of the year in Irving, Texas. Their primary objective was to evaluate and implement a new version of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Considering the endless parade of drug accusations, weapons and impaired driving charges, domestic violence scandals, etc., an improved strategy moving forward was probably a good idea.
However, there are two issues of vastly greater significance. You can speak publicly about the first one. But the second one is unavailable for public or even private consumption. It is by nature… undiscussable.
The public issue is TRIA (the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act). Legislation was enacted shortly after 9/11 so insurance carriers wouldn’t bear the fiscal brunt for a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) attack on an NFL stadium. Since a catastrophic attack of this kind would be deemed an act of terrorism, it’s understandable the government would play a role in covering losses and compensating victims. The big question — at what point should the insurance industry get bailed out by the federal government? Another question — what if the attack was a conventional one, not officially labeled as a terrorist act?
On December 10, a six year extension of TRIA cleared the House with resounding support (417-7). The Senate passed TRIA earlier in the year by an overwhelming majority as well (93-4 on July 17, 2014). Considering the current acrimonious climate in D.C., bipartisan vote margins like these are especially rare. Likely the result of extensive lobbying efforts from a variety of key economic players and high profile interests. Aside from the NFL, TRIA is critical to the underlying stability of several other industries.
If there was a terrorist incident at an NFL stadium, I suspect the government would step in to remedy the situation. Such a “bailout” would be consistent with how the government has protected other sectors of the economy (banking, insurance, automobile manufacturers, etc.).
Currently, the TRIA level for government intervention is any loss exceeding the $100 million threshold. Over the next six years, that amount will gradually increase to $200 million.
Here’s why these numbers are important. To date, there has never been a CBRN attack on an NFL stadium. The insurance industry has established the year-to-year risk probability of such an incident in the 5% range. However, stadium stampedes are a global phenomenon. They are a better indicator of catastrophic damage because they are grounded in historical precedent.
In past human stadium stampedes, the death toll usually ranged in the realm of 50-100. Injuries were roughly 5-10x the number of fatalities. Ten examples from the past four decades:
1981 – Karaiskakis Stadium, Athens, Greece, 21 killed
1982 – Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (former Soviet Union), 66 killed
1985 – Heysel Stadium, Brussels, Belgium, 39 killed
1988 – Kathmandu Stadium, Kathmandu, Nepal, 93 killed
1989 – Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, England, 96 killed
1996 – Mateo Flores Stadium, Guatemala City, Guatemala, 83 killed
2001 – Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa, 43 killed
2001 – Accra Sports Stadium, Accra, Ghana, 127 killed
2009 – Houphouet-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 19 killed
2012 – Port Said Stadium, Port Said, Egypt, 72 killed
Here’s why these numbers should catch your attention. In the aftermath of 9/11, the vast majority of families settled with the government for an average of 1.8 million per victim. One hundred million dollars might seem like an arbitrary number, but if you do the math from a stampede perspective, it starts to make a lot of sense.
Although fundamental triggers may vary, my overriding point is this — when there’s a legitimate panic resulting in a human stampede in ANY stadium, fatalities are the norm, not the exception. Blunt force trauma, trampling and crush asphyxiation are ways in which people die. There’s even the possibility of being forcibly ejected off the concourse or spiral rotunda. This is not complex. It’s simply what happens when there’s a stampede.
Earlier in this article I referenced an issue that is “undiscussable.” That issue is an artificially generated stampede — a sudden rush of people likely the result of panic-inducing information and/or false emergency evacuation orders delivered via personal cell phones or mobile devices. Government and private industry are currently unwilling to acknowledge the possibility of such a black swan event.
Forgive the rhyme, but it’s a taboo catch-22. Because If you acknowledge a problem exists, you own it. And if it were to happen, the prior admission makes you susceptible to a greater degree of accountability and liability. Make no mistake about it. The presence of 50,000 – 100,000 active cell phones in every NFL stadium has irrevocably impacted the essence of emergency evacuation protocol. This isn’t a 500 lb. elephant in the room. It’s a 15,000 lb. Tyrannasaurus Rex in the stadium.
During the Falcons/Packers Monday Night Football game on December 8, 2014, ESPN replayed the unfiltered Howard Cosell announcement of the John Lennon assassination from December 8, 1980.
Take a moment and consider the progression and acceleration of information delivery. Think about social media and how easy it is to engage in deception and spread a malicious hoax. Wireless technology has fundamentally shifted the playing field from where we once stood in 1980. Most everyone learns of calamitous breaking news on a simultaneous, individual basis… from their smart phones.
If an artificially generated stampede were to occur, I suspect the federal government would label it an act of terrorism. However, the blowback from such a declaration could be quite severe. Here’s why. When people ask the obvious “who dunnit” question, they’d immediately come to the realization that many of the “perpetrators” were those influenced by a real-time, real-world hoax. Most of them would be friends and family whose only intention was to contact and protect their loved ones. In the event of an artificially generated stampede, those who experienced a personal loss might not appreciate our own government labeling them as suspects, or in the worst case scenario, terrorists. Especially since so many individuals in the federal government and the NFL already knew this very generic problem existed, but willfully refused to address it. Hmmm, sounds like another catch-22.