I’m paranoid, no doubt about it. I hate crowds and can’t remember a time when I felt comfortable being around big groups of people. So, when I heard about the Manchester, England, terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert and the questionable arena safety, my first thought was, “I wouldn’t have been caught dead there, anyway.”
Yeah, I had to first look up “Ariana Grande” — not impressed, but even if I had been a big fan, I still wouldn’t have been at that concert among those thousands of people. Why? To me, a crowd that size in a building that forces the maximum number of humans into the smallest amount of space possible scares the bejeebeers out of me. I’m not sure total arena safety is even possible.
Imagine you’re sitting in such a space, probably not to listen to Ariana but, more likely, enjoying your favorite team and a cold beer with friends. A very loud explosion goes off somewhere close by and instantly, every single person in the arena panics.
I’ve been in panicked crowds before and it gets ugly very fast.
Arena safety issues
Now imagine you want to escape yourself — but maybe your wife and kids are with you. The first thing you have to do is get out of your ROW and make it to the AISLE. You know how little space there is in those rows and they’ll be clogged up instantly be people trying to grab their purses, their kids, their souvenir cups, or their half-eaten hot dogs. It’s going to be insane.
If you’re lucky enough to get to the AISLE, now you have to decide whether or not which exit is your best bet to safety and fresh air. Here is where it gets dangerous because you have multiple rows exiting into just a few aisles. Some people will be going up the steps to an exit, others will be racing down the steps — if a single person trips, they could be trampled to death. Only 3 or 4 people who are moving slowly, freeze in terror, or fall to the ground will clog up the aisle for everyone else coming along behind.
Terrorists often plan secondary explosions to create even more panic and death, so imagine the reaction of the crowd in that scenario. Rushing like panicked wildebeests from one explosion only to encounter a second one as they try to escape.
Most arenas are designed for every aisle entrance/exit to empty into a circular concourse area where restrooms, snackbars, and the like are located. Before and after a game or concert, these become highly congested. In a terror attack, this is just one more area I would want to avoid, but in order to escape the arena entirely, there’s no choice but to navigate through the crowd and find the closest exit. If you can, amidst screaming, wild-eyed people, and, perhaps, smoke and debris from a bomb blast.
Any of these choke points must be avoided at all costs, but when the adrenaline is rushing, you’re looking to make sure the family is still with you, you may or may not be able to make the right safety decisions, such as looking for a secondary exit that most people don’t notice.
Have a plan, put it in place
Still want to go to that football game?
The way I see it, you either choose to not go and stay home to watch it on TV (pay the extra for the NFL cable network — it’ll be a lot cheaper than buying game tickets, paying for parking, beer, and hotdogs) OR stay paranoid the entire 4 quarters.
Along those lines, then, if you have no choice but to go to an arena, choose carefully where you will sit, where you’ll park, and make situational awareness a top priority.
When making plans to attend a game, rodeo, concert, or some other big event, look for police presence. Not all venues have the same level of security. You want to attend events at locations with law enforcement in full view and lots of it. Some venues make a point to have large city buses blocking the main entrances from anyone crazy enough to try and ram an explosive-filled vehicle into the main pedestrian areas.
Take some time to view exterior shots of the arena location, street names, parking areas, multiple driving/walking routes to the arena itself. Keep in mind that the Manchester attack happened in an area near the box office and one of the main entrances, presumably to allow the terrorist to escape. In fact, he was able to escape unharmed. Unless the terrorist is suicide minded, the attack may very well happen in an area that provides a fast and easy escape route, such as a main entrance, the box office, a pedestrian area, and the like.
Once you have the lay of the land, study the floorplan of the interior of the arena. Do a little reverse engineering and on a map of the arena, find your preferred main entrance. Then, follow that entrance to the section of seats you can afford, look for seats at the end of a row, near an aisle exit, and pull out your credit card.
On game day…
To help everyone remember which entrance you use, play the role of a tour guide, “Here we’re entering the South Entrance. Now, right across the street is the Hard Rock Cafe. That will help you remember which entrance we used.” Identifying landmarks can go a long way to cement in memory a route to follow.
Everyone in your group should know where to meet in case someone gets separated, and, in a terror attack like the one in Manchester, you have to know that’s a very real possibility. Outside of most modern arenas there are eye-catching monuments, art work, and other displays. When your group is entering the arena, select one of those as the family or group meeting point, and it wouldn’t hurt for everyone with a cell phone to take a quick pic of that spot. In a panic, it would be easy to forget.
Young kids should have in their pockets an ID card with contact information for parents. I’ve heard of writing mom or dad’s name and cell phone number on a young kid’s arm with a Sharpie, but I haven’t done that myself.
On the big night, get seated strategically. A principle we use when we’re out on family hikes or bike rides, is to have one adult or responsible teenager lead the way with the strongest family member coming along behind the group, ready to help or even pick up and carry the smallest/weakest person, if necessary. This is easy to put in place when selecting seats — make sure the kids are seated in between the strongest/oldest family members. and make sure everyone with you knows where to find the exit and agree to all exit together, following the same route. If one of your kids ends up heading toward a different exit or gets lost in the crowd, the nightmare experience will intensify tenfold.
At this point, buy that beer, get popcorn and hot dogs for the kids, and sit back and enjoy yourself as much as possible. Every day and night around the world millions of people attend events just like this one in relative safety. It’s just guys like me, born paranoid, who can’t fully relax because that’s the way we are.