It’s a situation unlike any other: hundreds, maybe thousands of people packed into a confined space, unfamiliar with the exit procedure, quite likely in the dark. Add to that the threat of an emergency situation, and risk managers for theaters have their hands full.
In today’s world, the risk of an active shooter situation is increasingly top of mind for theater businesses, ranging from smaller movie cinemas to large show venues. But for risk managers, juggling the need for enhanced security measures with the desire to not put off customers is a tricky one.
“Security concerns in a theater are increasingly on people’s minds. The issues that theater owners face though in trying to increase security, are difficult,” said Kurt Meister, senior VP at Distinguished Programs, a risk management and insurance firm with specialist knowledge of hospitality and cultural venues.
“People want to go to the theater as an escape, to get away, not worry and be transported somewhere else – they don’t want to worry and be reminded about how much of a sitting duck they might be in the case of any type of emergency,” Meister told Corporate Risk and Insurance. Read more: Why a business might never re-open following a disaster
Managing the risks surrounding any type of emergency situation is difficult, but for the risk of an active shooter event, it can be even more complex.
“Theaters are struggling with what they can do to improve security. Bringing in guards, or even armed guards, and X-ray machine technology are all very expensive options,” Meister said.
According to the VP, the latest research suggests that venue-goers are happy to make a trade-off and allow for some intrusion where they will feel the benefits of additional security – but in reality, there remains prohibiting factors.
“Nobody really wants to pay for them, and nobody wants to be delayed in the line or have their show or movie delayed because people can’t get into the theater. Either way it’s going to add to the ticket price, the experience, and the delays in getting into the theater,” he said.
“When thinking about what they can do to increase those security measures, [risk managers] have to balance what is the cost versus what is the benefit of worrying customers, of taking away from the experience – either emotionally, or just in terms of the physical lines in getting in. It’s a tough balance, but it’s something that they have to consider.”
While slips and trips are the number one risk for theater venues in terms of frequency, the potential for a catastrophic event due to an active shooter, or any other kind of individual with ill-intent, is the top emerging risk today.
“There aren’t many other locations, other than a sporting event or a museum, where large numbers of people congregate at one time, are unfamiliar with where the exits are, are unfamiliar with the immediate emergency evacuation plan, and have never been through a fire drill,” Meister said.
He added: “Getting people out and keeping people safe in an emergency situation is really the biggest concern.”