The Ball is in Your Court

April 17, 2013

Lessons from the Super Bowl: Preparing for Power Outages

Katharine M. Nohr, J.D.

The world was witness to a 33 minute black out during the 2013 Super Bowl in the Superdome in New Orleans, which halted play and caught players, fans, and organizers by surprise. The television audience witnessed a successful handling of the power outage, which did not lead to crowd unruliness, injuries or chaos. It appeared that spectators and players patiently waited for the electricity to be restored so that the game could resume.

Event organizers should consider the possibility of power outages when planning events. Black outs can be caused by weather conditions, mechanical issues, or even downing of power lines from impacts by motor vehicles. Whatever the cause, plans should be put in place to address efforts to restore power, communicate with spectators and players, crowd control, emergency illumination, managing evacuation/exiting facilities, handling television and radio broadcasts, and addressing medical and other emergencies without power.
When a power outage occurs, the first step is to communicate to spectators to stay in their seats unless there is an emergency that requires that they immediately evacuate. What means do you have to make announcements in the venue that can be heard without electricity? Is your sound system connected to an emergency generator so that you can make announcements? If not, do you have a battery operated bull horn or microphone that will allow you to immediately communicate safety instructions?

Secondly, do you have an emergency generator that provides power for some lighting that will allow attendees to safely exit the venue and use restroom facilities? If not, do you have sufficient flash lights and lanterns with fresh batteries to assist in illumination? If you don’t have minimal lighting during power outages, you may be in violation of local building codes for public venues. It is a good idea to check compliance to codes, statutes and ordinances regarding illumination, especially for exit signs and thoroughfares.

A large number of spectators will have smart phones with them, which often have a flashlight application or when turned on provide some illumination. Spectators can be instructed to use their cell phones to assist with illumination.

Thirdly, it should be determined what the cause of the power outage is and how long it is likely to last. If the lights are expected to be restored quickly then the primary concern will be to keep the spectators in their seats and avoid any chaos or unruliness while waiting. An emcee that can provide some entertainment or persuasive instruction in this regard can be helpful. Security personnel can be utilized to control the crowds, especially if there are patrons that have been drinking alcohol or there are concerns about fan violence such as when teams have a history of rivalry.

Loss of electricity will also mean loss of air conditioning or heat. If weather conditions of significant heat or cold make the venue uncomfortable or unsafe without electricity, it may be necessary to stop the game and request the audience to peacefully exit.

If the blackout is expected to be lengthy, stopping the event may be necessary. Communication will be required to facilitate an orderly exit from the building or venue. It may be necessary to excuse spectators by sections and rows and escort them out, especially if there is insufficient peripheral lighting.

Power outages will test any organization’s preparedness and the skill of organizers and security personnel. The better prepared the organizers, the more seamless the handling of the lack of electricity will be. Lack of planning could mean chaos, unruliness, or riots that could lead to injury or deaths. In preparation for you next event, consider how you will address the possibility of a black out and add this to your safety plan.

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