We are no longer surprised by acts of violence at sport event venues and public assembly facilities. San Diegans were reminded of this last week when a knucklehead had a tantrum upon being denied access to the Ice Cube concert at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and fired a handgun into the air just inside the admittance gate. Fortunately, nobody was hurt (except for the shooter) but it is a scary example of how quickly a situation can escalate.
As a venue operator, crisis events like these provide powerful teaching opportunities for our guest services and crowd management staff. These instances can also be used to encourage management and administrators to make safety-first decisions regarding policy, staffing, design, and infrastructure. As a columnist, this is also a good opportunity to educate readers on steps they may take to protect themselves when they are at event venues or areas of public assembly.
I assume most in San Diego are familiar with the Del Mar Fairgrounds and can easily picture themselves in the threatening situation that unfolded on September 2. This envisioning exercise is an important first step in protecting yourself. So many people think, “It won’t happen to me.” Though statistically correct, it is prudent to take precautions to protect yourself and your family when out. By accepting that a potentially bad event could happen to you, you are also accepting that you must be responsible for your own safety. As weird as it may sound, this acceptance of risk is key to reducing the fear you have that might keep you from enjoying events and experiences around San Diego. It is naive to think you are not at risk of experiencing a crisis event. It is irresponsible to assume the event venue will protect you and it is impractical to avoid all threatening environments. Threats exists everywhere. We have seen the same threats in soft targets (shopping centers, offices, and places of worship) as we have seen in hard targets (stadia, arenas, airports, government buildings). We cannot eliminate threat, but we can reduce risk.
Situational awareness is the ability to identify, process and comprehend information about how to survive in an emergency situation. Simply, it means people who are situationally aware anticipate what could go wrong, think about what they might do, pay attention to the environment around them, and take decisive action. At its core, the goal of situational awareness is to reduce vulnerability…how susceptible you are to harm from a bad event. Vulnerability is the only variable we can control in the risk equation, and is therefore key to reducing risk.
Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Consequence
In order to become situationally aware and reduce vulnerability we must:
- Be Accountable: Accept that if something goes wrong, nobody else is going to be responsible for your safety. It’s a scary thought, but absolutely essential to surviving a crisis.
- Identify Threats: Observe your surroundings and consider what might go wrong. This includes surveying the environment and the people around you. If something does go wrong, how will it impact you?
- Develop a Plan: Take proactive steps to reduce your personal vulnerability to the threats you have identified. Where will you go? What will you say? What can be used to aid in your survival? Ask yourself, “If this happened, what would I do?”
- Reduce Distractions: When in potentially threatening environments, remain alert. Avoid the temptation of your mobile device and other distractions that will slow your reaction time.
- Be Decisive: If something happens, take immediate action. The key to increasing survivability is to create more time. Don’t wait for instruction or for the crowd to react. Lead from the front. In an emergency situation, 90% of the crowd will NOT know what to do. Don’t be one of them.
I am an events professional and get to witness first-hand the impact events make on a community. It is a fundamental need to gather and share experiences. I think people are somewhat fearful these days of visiting sport event venues and public gathering facilities. If we commit to the idea that the best way to combat fear is through education and preparation, this anxiety can be quelled. There is a risk/reward to everything we do in life. I firmly believe that in a majority of instances, being situationally aware of our environment will tilt the risk/reward balance in our favor. San Diego is an amazing place, with incredible event venues. Don’t let fear keep you from enjoying all that our city has to offer.