By Carla Varriale and Randy Wingate
Whether it is a fan getting hit by a line drive or a spectator suffering a heart attack at a football game, American sports is increasingly littered with examples of incidents that befall spectators at sporting events.
Appropriately, there is significant concern any time you bring large numbers of people together for an event. That’s particularly true when you add the sale of alcohol to the mix. Heeding those concerns, stadiums and arenas have instituted an array of procedures designed to improve the safety and security of spectators, workers and the athletes. These include searches of people entering the gates, portable radios tuned to security bands in the hands of everyone from ushers to on-duty police, networks of video surveillance cameras and command centers, where information on developing emergencies is collected and responders are dispatched.
These measures are not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but also from a legal perspective. Generally speaking, venue owners and operators owe a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances to their patrons, as business invitees, to detect and to avoid foreseeable harm at the premises. In order to avoid potential liability associated with a personal injury lawsuit, a venue owner or operator needs to show that he or she instituted reasonable procedures in response to the risks that they were aware of, or should have been aware of. Harnessing the power of technology may make it easier to discharge that duty of care and to demonstrate that the procedures are adequate.
Utilizing and benefitting from technology, however, is far from a slam dunk. In many sports arenas, for example, staff may lack radios, unable to quickly communicate the nature and location of an emergency to dispatchers and responders. Other venue personnel may be using antiquated communications devices.
In addition to these inefficiencies, venues of all types may still rely on handwritten paper records for collecting critical information such as incident descriptions and response times. Others use excel spreadsheets, but lack appropriate methods for analyzing the spreadsheets. These inefficient data collection methods create time lags, encourage incompleteness and hinder analysis of event records.
Change is on the way, however, at at least one venue. McAfee Coliseum and ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California have been participating in the testing and development of a new hardware and software platform for bringing stadium and arena security into the 21st Century. This home-grown technology solution enables staff faced with an emergency to quickly and accurately summon help, while greatly improving the command and control exerted by those overseeing stadium security.
On the front lines, this technology comes in the form of simple, easy-to-use, pocket communications devices, which allow ushers and others to press a single button in order to accurately communicate the nature and location of an emergency to dispatchers and field managers. Using a Wi-Fi network, the devices instantly communicate to everyone where the incident is occurring, using RFID technology.
The arena’s network of digital video cameras also receive the alerts and are programmed to automatically point and focus directly on the location specified by the alert. This provides safety and security executives with unmatched video records of what is occurring on the scene.
The system greatly improves the speed of response when an incident occurs. It also produces a great deal of information that can help further improve the speed of response by enabling data-driven training. For instance, response times can be accurately calculated in real world and training scenarios, enabling safety and security officials to know how quickly teams are responding, and the effect on response times of tweaks in the configuration of the security setup.
By coming at the challenge of responding to emergencies from both ends – during an actual incident and during training – such technology promises to greatly reduce delays. It will also improve the quality of the response by, for instance, allowing dispatchers to quickly send appropriate medical personnel based on the nature of the emergency and on what they discern on video monitors.
Advances in technology are all the more important because of the negative publicity that can arise from litigation. Media reports of injuries, illnesses, deaths, and dangerous situations in stadiums and arenas receive a great deal of attention. These situations are helped along by the plaintiffs’ bar, which recognizes the leverage that the prospect of negative media coverage can have on the defendant venue. The impact perception that it is not safe to attend a sporting event at a venue can be financially devastating in terms of lost ticket, concession, parking and other revenues.
By using data to identify security and safety weaknesses, improve training to remedy shortfalls, reduce response times and accelerate the quality and quantity of records of incidents, security technology promises to cut the number of such incidents while also reducing the visibility of those that do occur. Bad PR, any stadium executive’s nightmare, becomes less likely as this occurs.
The implementation of the next generation of stadium and arena safety and security technology is still only in its infancy. Many stadium security officials are satisfied with the decades-old technology they are used to, and see little value in trying new approaches. These executives, unfortunately, will have to learn the hard way.
The recently unveiled details of a 1982 incident at a soccer match at a Moscow stadium, where an estimated 340 fans were crushed, offers an example of how technology could have made a difference. Reports revealed that fans leaving the stadium early turned to go back when crowd noise alerted them to a potentially game-changing play. Poorly trained security guards blocked their way, the crowd surged and hundreds were trampled to death. If anyone had had a full view of the developing scenario and some way to communicate with the misguided guards, the world’s worst stadium catastrophe might have been averted.
At the very least, the technology might have allowed the venue to build a case and prove that the facility did everything in its power to mitigate the incident.
This is how new technologies should be applied, in ways that will ultimately benefit the spectators, employees and the venue. Fortunately, such tools are now on the horizon.
Carla Varriale is a Partner specializing in sports-related litigation at Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale, LLP in New York City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Randy Wingate is the Chief Operating Officer of VenueSoft in Oakland, California. He can be reached at Randy.email@example.com