Paris, France, is known for its beauty and love of sports, but in November 2015 it dodged a horrific crisis when terrorists dispatched a suicide bomber to the Stade de France stadium during the France-Germany soccer game. Terrorists managed to attack on several fronts in the city and caused many deaths and injuries in the city, but they failed to inflict the mass casualties they hoped for because of security preparations and an alert guard who prevented a bomber from entering the crowded stadium.
Instead, the bomb meant to go off inside the stadium detonated outside in open space. There was damage to life and property but it was a tiny fraction of the many hundreds of casualties that could have been.
While many terror plots are foiled, we don’t hear about all the plots that are successfully foiled. The planning and response to Stade de France terrorist incident, and its mitigation, was effective. This plot got by the authorities but it was managed successfully.
Sports destinations vary tremendously in size and purpose, but they all share one commonality: risk, which is ever-present in some form. There are the dangers that get headlines, like the attack in France (as well as numerous incidents worldwide since then), and those that do not get the same amount of attention – generally because they are everyday occurrences. But there is always risk and it can be costly in terms of money and reputation if it isn’t managed.
Risk management occurs at two levels, or phases: before an adverse incident happens, during the planning and prevention phase and after a crisis occurs during mitigation and recovery. An important point to remember is that no matter how much we prepare for potential crises, we cannot entirely eliminate all risks any more than we can emerge from a crisis completely unscathed. Risk management means we can reduce the number of crises that threaten us through preemptive actions and minimize the negative effects of the crises we fail to avoid.
Risk is the likelihood of a certain damaging event happening to your venue and how vulnerable it is to the threat on the other hand, a crisis “is any event that can destroy or incapacitate an organization … [or] if it interferes with its daily operations so much that it threatens the organization’s stability or survival.”1 So, a crisis is a significant risk that has come to pass.
The Many Faces of Risk
Terrorism incidents make for interesting examples but most risks that sports destination managers are faced with are more commonplace: accidents, ordinary crime, man-made ones like image or product sabotage, or legal challenges, by a disgruntled employee or competitor, and, of course, Mother Nature. Risks like wind storms, energy blackouts, a robbery, workplace violence and fires are far more likely to affect a business, and we would be wise to prepare for them. There are also risks that are of particular concern for sports destinations: common criminals and crowds.
Criminals who prey on sports spectators (and athletes) are found in every sporting event, tourist destination or wherever large crowds gather. They pick pockets, break into hotel rooms and swindle the attending public. Venue resources for combatting these criminals is “crime intelligence,” which will normally come through liaison with local police. a security plan to detect the known threats and some means to sensitize the destination’s visitors, such as public service information brochures, and the destination’s own staff through an adequate amount of training. It can also come from working with a security force familiar with the local area and with various scenarios.
These activities may seem bothersome to an event owner who has not had any problems to date, but they are worth the investment. The common criminals who prey on sports enthusiasts are practiced and they take pains to blend into the crowd. They can be found any place where their “marks” will be: in casinos, golf resorts, recreational parks and sports arenas hosting games or shows. A sports or tourist destination that develops a reputation for being a crime spot will suffer monetary and reputational damage.
Management of crowd behavior and dynamics is quickly becoming a specialty within the field of security. We have always had to cope with large gatherings of people but the crowds are getting larger due to venues that hold increasing numbers of spectators within confined spaces. Any number of things can trigger disastrous crowd hysteria and terrible consequences: fire, a structural collapse, violent weather, violence among passionate, unruly spectators, an actual gunshot or explosion, or the perception by spectators of any of these.
Sports venues that do not plan adequately for crowd control in the event of a trigger will not do well in the event of an emergency. Unruly large crowds are difficult to manage even with the best-laid plans and training. What may seem like a sparse gathering of people within a large fenced-in park or walled-in building can quickly become a hysterical “crowd-crush” of people trampling over one another for an exit. Destination managers are the ones who control the perimeters, egress routes, regular and emergency exits and, as important, emergency management staff — and they had better be ready to deploy emergency plans quickly and effectively. The consequence of sloppy planning will eventually cost the venue in terms of money and reputation many times the cost of good preparation.
So, how should a destination prepare for potential crises? Let’s explore a practical way.
Business Continuity Planning: The Best Solution
The continuation of any business, when hit by crisis, depends largely on the type of crisis and the amount of preparation the destination put forth in anticipation. A business continuity plan (BCP) is the best tool an event owner or venue can produce.
BCPs can be complex and esoteric; however, the best plan is an uncomplicated set of instructions in simple language. There are some manuals available that are geared to walk a business owner or one of the company’s staff through the creation of a BCP in minimum time if hiring a security force or a security consultant is not in the budget – or if, perhaps, the event owner or the venue just prefers to handle this aspect of planning.
However a sports destination decides to create its business continuity plan, it should also turn it into a program with regular staff training, updated assessments to be sure that the venue adapts to changing conditions in the environment and technology and updated strategies to assure all applicable laws are being followed.
The assessments and strategies of a plan that stays static will become outdated and ineffective over time. And a good plan that is not “operationalized” (meaning one that is not put to practice and tested) is worthless. So, produce a simple plan that identifies your venue’s realistic risks and devise thoughtful, actionable responses to crises…and test them regularly.
An effective BCP will have the following components: a risk assessment, risk mitigation strategies, a business impact assessment, an “early warning” system, a crisis response program and business continuity strategies. These are created in the order given and they generally build on each other. All members of the event owner or venue staff team should be familiar with this script and should be comfortable with it, should it need to be put into action.
To Be or Not To Be?
Destination managers who recognize the importance of safety and security in their venue will budget for and produce a good business continuity plan that includes risk and crisis management programs that protect its visitors, staff and assets. Operating with only a perfunctory regard to the risks that a sports destination faces is to invite an unnecessary crisis that can lead to a business failure. SDM
1 Island, Jacques R. Your Plan is Your Parachute: A Simplified Guide to Business Continuity and Crisis Management. Quest Publishing, publication pending in October.