Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Associated Press
DETROIT — As they watched a Detroit Tigers baseball game, 40,000 sports fans were unaware that dozens of police, security guards and federal agents were swiftly searching the stadium for a possible bomb after someone phoned in a threat to 911.
This April 5, 2012 file photo shows fans outside Comerica Park before a baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, in Detroit. Comerica Park is the latest Detroit landmark to be the subject of a bomb threat. Police say an anonymous caller issued the threat in a 911 call around 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, 2012, as the Tigers were hosting the Los Angeles Angels in front of 34,000 fans. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
Authorities made no announcement over the public address system. Ushers said nothing to the crowd.
Jason Miller, a suburban Detroit rabbi, left the game Tuesday night and didn't learn about the threat until the following day.
"I immediately started thinking 'What if?'" he said. "What if they had to evacuate?"
Miller's concerns highlighted a vexing question for organizers of major public events: Should large crowds be informed about unconfirmed threats to their safety? Or is better to keep the matter quiet until investigators can check into it?
If authorities "evacuate every time there is a bomb threat, there will be a lot of empty places," said Steve Layne of Layne Consultants International, a Denver-based firm that specializes in the protection of libraries, museums and other cultural institutions and public facilities.
"You can't just pull a fire alarm and yell run. An evacuation in the middle of a ball game does cause some problems. You're running the risk of causing injuries."
The threat at Comerica Park was the third bomb threat to a Detroit landmark in less than a week. On Monday, someone claimed to have placed a bomb on the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, in Canada.
And on July 12, a similar threat forced the closing of the Detroit Windsor international tunnel beneath the river. In each case, emergency procedures went off without a hitch, and no bombs were found.
But Miller wasn't satisfied, saying fans "had a right to know what happened."
He said the park or the Tigers "could have in a very safe calm manner informed the crowd, if it was indeed a serious threat."
After the other threats, the tunnel and bridge were cleared of traffic while police and bomb-sniffing dogs searched for explosives.
In Detroit, police followed the stadium's security protocols, and a decision was made not to evacuate, said Donald Johnson, an inspector in the police department's Homeland Security unit.
"We don't make a decision to evacuate unless an actual device is found," Johnson said. "We don't panic. We go step by step. The thought was to find out what we actually had."
In a statement, the Tigers insisted the safety of fans, employees and players was the primary concern.
The team "worked closely and collaboratively with law enforcement officials and followed firmly established protocols," spokesman Ron Colangelo said.
The goal is not to create a panic, according to Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety at the University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg.
"You don't want to get the spectators involved," he said. "Protocol is to do the search. Do it quickly, efficiently."
If the search had turned up a real bomb, an entirely different scenario would have unfolded, he said.
The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety is beginning to keep records of unclassified incidents at all stadiums worldwide. But no one knows how often stadiums receive bomb threats, Marciani said.
"Professional sports and many of the major colleges have evacuation plans," he said. "They do tabletop exercises and refine them all the time. There are pregame processes, in-game processes. If the protocol calls for the movement of people, it would have been done very efficiently in Detroit."
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