In the 1977 movie "Black Sunday," Palestinian terrorists plotted to kill thousands of Americans at the Super Bowl in Miami. At the time, the idea of a terrorist attack of that scale on U.S. soil seemed farfetched enough for Hollywood.
But in the post-Sept. 11 world, stadium owners and managers take terrorism very seriously. Attacks no longer only happen "over there," but here as well.
"We live in a different world now," says Mike Benson, who handles risk management as vice president of business affairs for Kroenke Sports Enterprises, the owner of the Pepsi Center in Denver along with sports teams that play there, including basketball's Denver Nuggets and hockey's Colorado Avalanche. "It's important we all recognize that, and I think people in our industry really do."
Stadiums and arenas attract tens of thousands of patrons for events ranging from football and basketball games to rock concerts, making them prime targets. An attack on a stadium during an event like the Super Bowl could kill or injure thousands and would garner worldwide publicity.
"We have to protect life and property, in that order and not reverse," says Larry B. Perkins, assistant general manager at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., which seats up to 21,500.
Keeping the crowd safe--whether from a terrorist attack, a stampede, slip-and-fall incidents or even stray hockey pucks--is the key concern.
"Today, the biggest issue most all risk managers and stadium operators are dealing with is crowd management and control--protecting the large groups of people that attend functions at their facilities," says Chris Rogers, director of risk control with Aon Corp's entertainment practices group.
Any time thousands of people gather in one place, there is the risk that someone could get hurt. Terrorism ranks as a major concern because of the potential for a devastating loss, but other risks more commonly lead to injuries.
BEWARE OF THE MOSH PIT
Stampedes, for instance, have caused a number of injuries, and even deaths, over the years. In 1979, for instance, 11 people were trampled to death in a stampede at The Who concert in Cincinnati, Ohio.In 1992, several people were injured when fans stampeded the "mosh pit" at a concert at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Mother Nature also can pose a threat. On October 17, 1989, a severe earthquake shook Northern California in the middle of the third game of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. About 60,000 fans were at Candlestick Park in San Francisco when the earthquake struck. The ballpark withstood the quake, saving many lives. Outside the park, however, the temblor claimed more than 60 lives, injured about 3,800 people and caused about $7 billion in insured damage.
California isn't the only place at risk from earthquakes. The America's Center in St. Louis, which comprises the Edward Jones Dome and the America's Center convention complex, also faces risks from the nearby New Madrid seismic zone in the central Mississippi Valley.
The America's Center saw premiums for its earthquake coverage soar in 2002 and 2003, according to Neil Palacios, chief financial officer for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. The commission manages the convention complex and the Edward Jones Dome, which will host the 2005 Final Four college basketball tournament.
While terrorism and earthquakes are major concerns, the most common problems are slip-and-fall incidents, which account for about 95 percent of all the industry's claims, Perkins says. Patrons are also sometimes injured in "sling shot incidents," where team mascots or event personnel use slingshots to shoot T-shirts or other prizes into the crowd. "We have literally had situations where people are leaning over to grab a T-shirt and fall to the next level," Aon's Rogers says.
Stadium and arena owners take varying approaches when it comes to insuring their risks. Some facilities like the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., which has a capacity of more than 92,000, are owned and self-insured by the city. Other facilities, like the RBC Center and the America's Center, buy their own property-casualty insurance, but may require event organizers to carry insurance of their own.
At the America's Center, the cost of insurance tripled, going from just under $1 million to $2.8 million. Much of the increase was for earthquake coverage, which went from $300,000 for $500 million in limits to $1.2 million, Palacios says. That cost has since declined after the New Madrid fault was re-rated and broken into two zones, putting St. Louis is in a less risky sector, Palacios says. That brought earthquake coverage at renewal on July 2004 to $500,000, down from $1.2 million.
The Center's casualty insurance has been fairly constant. The Center has $50 million in casualty coverage at a cost of $780,000 in premiums, Palacios says.
Many facilities, however, have declined to purchase terrorism insurance because it was simply too expensive, Perkins says.
The RBC Center in Raleigh, for instance, does not have terrorism insurance. But the Americas Center in St. Louis does. "I have purchased the most I could obtain on this facility, especially on the casualty side," because Palacios says, the Americas Center is an "economic engine for the city of St. Louis." The price, he notes, has come down dramatically and is now "very reasonable" for what we were getting.
Stadium and risk managers have taken a number of steps to prevent losses in the first place. They have tightened security, invested in additional security staff and equipment, and improved training.
"We have a lot more human presence from our security group," Benson says. "We've put physical barriers in place to make it more difficult to approach the building. There's physical, electronic and there's human surveillance--all of that has been tightened."
Instead of buying terrorism insurance, the RBC Center has decided to put extra money into "hardening" its facility. For instance, it invested more than $100,000 to purchase 25 walkthrough metal detectors, Perkins says.
"There is no such thing as a guaranteed protection," Perkins says. "The idea is to defend, deny and defer. You do the absolute best that you can with your facility to make it a very difficult or unattractive target."
The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, increased spending on security by 30 percent 40 percent, says operations manager Jim Mery, including extra money for more ushers and security personnel.
While beefing up security, managers have had to make some difficult decisions to avoid marring patrons' enjoyment.
"I can make a facility 100 percent secure and safe, but then nobody comes in. That's not what they want. So it's a balancing act the risk managers and safety and security people are dealing with in terms of trying to put on events that individuals want to come to and then feel safe and secure once they're there," Rogers says.
Facilities have stepped up their "mag and bag" efforts to check patrons with visual searches and magnometers, which can pinpointconcealed iron-based material.
Training also has been important. "A lot of what we've done is really to educate the staff about different nuances," Perkins says. For example, security personnel have been taught about what to look for in a package inspection, to check whether a patron is wearing a coat in the summer, or carrying a diaper bag without any children, says Perkins, who is second vice president with the International Association of Assembly Managers (IAAM) and vice chairman of its Academy for Venue Safety and Security. Perkins also is the author of the book "Crowd Safety and Survival: Practical Event and Public Gathering Safety Tips."
Stadiums and arenas also are developing close relationships with the FBI, the CIA and the department of Homeland Security.
The Alamodome worked closely with law enforcement agencies when it hosted the 2004 Final Four basketball tournament, Mery said. "We did the Final Four and we had all the levels--our statewide agencies and national agencies in meetings and all the agencies were very aware of the event," Mery says.
"The awareness of the event as a men's Final Four--that's different than just a local college basketball game," he says. The increase in security awareness is something "that has changed in the last three to four years."
The Assembly Managers association (IAAM) also has developed a system similar to the department of Homeland Security's color-coded warnings, Perkins says. The system ranks the threat level from 1 to 4. Each facility makes its own judgment about the risk level it is facing and sets its own threat level.
NO EXCLUSIONS FOR IDIOCY
Stadiums also take measures to help manage the risk of stampedes, including making sure to keep exits clear and requiring patrons to form lines in way that decreases the chances of a stampede while entering or exiting a facility.
Some stadiums have begun to film vulnerable areas, such as the stage area during concerts, Perkins says. In some cases, patrons will claim they were pushed when in fact they jumped or lunged into a restricted area and injured themselves.
Alcohol is often a factor, and some stadiums and arenas are cutting off the sale of alcohol at certain times. "As one underwriter said to me, 'If there was an exclusion for stupidity and alcohol, I would never have to pay a claim,' " Rogers says.
Slips and falls, meanwhile, can be reduced throughcommon sense steps, such as the use of non-skid wax and prompt cleanup of spills. At the American Airlines Center in Dallas, the general manager has been able to justify the increase in security personnel with a reduction in slip and fall incidents, Rogers says
"So when there's a spill ... he can put a security person there, and have him direct people around it until someone can clean it up," Rogers says. "So he's been able to justify keeping on the extra security personnel--it's literally paid for itself."
Slips and falls have always been an issue, but now terrorismhas emerged as a real and serious threat. Risk managers have responded by purchasing terrorism insurance and working with stadium managers to "harden" their facilities.
So far, the efforts have paid off. But, managers can't let their guard down now.
"Certainly, as a place of public assembly, we're very aware of that (terrorism), Benson says. "It's something that, regardless of the industry, risk managers fight complacency because it's been awhile since anything has happened on our soil. The further you get away from it, the more complacent people tend to get," Benson says.
Yet it remains a balancing act for risk managers--to keep their fans safe without spoiling the fun.
"You can't stop living," the Alamodome's Mery says. "At the same time, we want to make sure that we do our very best to do what's necessary to make a safe environment."
a former reporter for Reuters, is a frequent contributor to Risk & Insurance®.
January 1, 2005
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