Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Terrorism | The Big Elusive Kahoona: Sports Stadiums

I love going to football games at Commonwealth Stadium. There's nothing better than hanging out in the parking lot with good friends, eating some good food, maybe playing a little cornhole, then heading in amidst a sea of blue and white and finding my seat as the band plays On, On, U of K. Indeed, football is a fundamental part of the American way of life and each fall millions of fans gather in stadiums across the US to support their teams and continue this great American tradition.

From a security perspective though, you know what is interesting? You never really hear about terrorists targeting football stadiums (or any US sports stadiums for that matter), save during the lead up to the Super Bowl each year. We all know security is extremely tight for the Super Bowl, but what about the hundreds of games before the Super Bowl? Now that I think about it, I can't remember when the targeting of sports stadiums during the regular football seasons was a subject of discussion of a news segment or Sunday morning talk show or anything. I can't recall reading anything about the targeting of sports stadiums during the regular seasons either. In fact, the only time I can think of sports stadium terrorism being addressed by mass media (again, the Super Bowl aside) is toward the end of the 2001 movie The Sum Of All Fears, when a terrorist nuclear bomb detonates during a Baltimore Ravens game, killing thousands and almost setting off a nuclear war between the US and Russia. Thank the Lord Jack Ryan was there to save the day.

A quick Google search reveals some thought on the issue, an article written by private security firm CEO here, a Time media segment on sports terrorism there. But nothing comparable to what you'd think would be found for such a obvious and devastating potential threat. Terrorism discussion seems to focus on airplanes and airports, the presidential inauguration, and other big events, along with critical government infrastructure in Washington.

So is the targeting of sports stadiums across the US just not really that big of a deal? Not a serious threat? I would think it would be, and I'm sure there are plenty of security folks who would agree. Any one of the hundreds of sports stadiums across the US would seem like a perfect target. Take Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Kentucky Wildcats, as an example. The stadium has a capacity of 67,606, more than four times the average number of people in and around the towers on September 11. There are hundreds of staff, players, and workers in and out of the stadium during any given week with little to no obvious security in place (hopefully it's there and we just don't know about it). There is no real force protection at the crowd entrances during the games, unless you call this security; yes, they check your coats and bags, however, I'm thinking about a couple vans and some fertilizer at 60 miles-an-hour. And again, Commonwealth Stadium is just one among hundreds of stadiums filled with people each Saturday during the fall football seasons.

The objective of terrorism is to attack a civilian population in order to create political and economic disruption. The attack itself is secondary to its after affects. Fear is the terrorist's primary weapon, bombs are just the method used to achieve their end. If one or two stadiums were attacked, not only would the enormous concentration of people allow for maximum causalities, but the economic aftermath would be devastating to the industry. A very plausible scenario in which after a major terrorist attack on a stadium Americans are afraid to attend games, attendance drops by forty and fifty percent (if not more), games are canceled, the lost revenue is in the billions, etc. can be imagined. This is all not to mention the effect on the
American psych; a foundation of American life would be shook to the core. The fear affect would be even greater if a stadium like Commonwealth were to be attacked, because "if it can happen there, in Kentucky, then it can happen anywhere." When asked why he chose his location, the potential bomber of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, last week said, "because nothing ever happens there."

Over 3,000 people were killed on September 11, with approximately another 6,000 were injured, in a terrorist attack that changed the US and the world forever. For 9 years now, the American security establishment has been thinking up ways to prevent the next 9/11, yet it seems that a major vulnerability is not being addressed, at least in the public discourse.

And if as a result of this blog post, UK hires someone to beef up security at Commonwealth Stadium, please don't let it be the guy who came up with this idea (see picture above).

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