By JOEL BERG, a freelance journalist and college professor
Public events will look and feel different this summer as planners and risk managers embrace what they see as the chief lessons of the two bombs that exploded near the finish line of this year's Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 170.
Whether they are marathons, parades or fireworks displays, events will feature more police officers, more cameras and more signs asking people to be aware of their surroundings and report anything suspicious, according to security experts and insurance executives. But those won't be the only changes.
Organizers of a marathon set for April 27 in Nashville, for example, have expanded no-parking zones around the start and finish lines, said Scott Dickey, CEO of Competitor Group Inc., the company that operates the race, which is part of the Rock'n'Roll Marathon Series. Upcoming races are also scheduled in Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego and other cities.
"We're working very closely with Homeland Security and state and local officials in every market to address the concern and to learn from the events in Boston," Dickey said.
What's less clear is the long-term impact on event insurance and the overall risk faced by spectators and organizers. The bombs in Boston were placed in backpacks and assembled using relatively easy-to-obtain items: pressure cookers, nails and ball bearings.
For now, the perception of risk is higher, especially at events where access cannot easily be controlled, said Edward Connors, president of the Institute for Law & Justice, a nonprofit law enforcement consultancy in Williamsburg, Va.
"The public is going to be much more nervous than they ever were before," he said.
The concerns extend well beyond high-profile events like the Boston Marathon, according to Mike Price, president of ESIX, an entertainment and sports insurer in Atlanta.
"We're talking about junior events that might have 500 to 1,000 people on the weekend," he said, noting worries about potential copycats.
College sports are another area of concern, said Stacey Hall, associate director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, based at the University of Southern Mississippi, in Hattiesburg, Miss.
"I think there's such a variation in the standards of security that are implemented," said Hall, who is also a professor of sport management. "I believe it's very inconsistent from one school to another; from one Division I school to another; and from Division I to Division III."
Regardless of the venue, event insurance could cost more in the aftermath of the bombing, and coverage may be harder to find, said Bob Murphy, global sports entertainment and events industry practice leader for Marsh.
But he expected the market to readjust, especially as other events go off without incident. (The London Marathon ran on April 21 without a problem.)
"I personally, and it's just my opinion, don't necessarily see what took place in Boston by itself completely changing the marketplace," Murphy said.
Still, insurers should pause to consider the Chechen roots of the two brothers alleged to have set off the bombs--Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who is in custody, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed during a battle with police, said Gordon Woo, a catastrophist who studies terrorism for Risk Management Solutions Inc., a risk modeling company in Newark, Calif.
Chechnya is a troubled province in the southern Caucasus region of Russia that was the site of destructive conflicts in the 1990s and early 2000s. Chechen separatists, seeking independence for the province, had largely confined their activities to Russian targets. They were responsible for deadly attacks on a theater in Moscow and a school in Beslan, a town in the Russian province of North Ossetia.
The alleged Boston attackers' connection to Chechnya, even if they never lived in the province, could spell increased risk internationally, Woo said.
Woo expected security services around the world to step up efforts to gather intelligence on Chechen communities, he said. Disruption of terror plots in the planning stages has been the most effective form of prevention since the Sept. 11 attacks, as security is not foolproof.
"Terrorists follow the path of least resistance," Woo said. "Wherever they see a weakness, they take it out."
April 29, 2013
Copyright 2013© LRP Publications