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Sports venue safety not a given

Increased security is a given at many sporting events these days. Often fans are subject to bag searches, hand-held metal detector waves and even pat-downs. This is supposedly for our own safety. I'm not crazy about it, but I can understand it. But I'd like security measures to be as unobtrusive as possible and applied evenly, but still be thorough, and I don't think that's happening.

Here's an example: at the government building where I used to work, security was increased after both the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks. So every day when I arrived at work, the security guard looked inside my backpack. However, the pack had three compartments, including one smaller pocket on the front of the bag. The guard always looked in the main compartment, which I always opened prior to entering the building, but never into the other two, and no one ever actually felt the backpack. It never left my hands. Since I had my ID badge I never had to go through the metal detector. I could have easily carried a gun into the building if I were so inclined.

Which brings me to Friday night. The SEC basketball tournament was disrupted when a tornado ripped through downtown Atlanta. At least two tears occurred in part of the fabric roof of the Georgia Dome, girders swayed, and debris (including nuts and bolts) fell. Meanwhile, at Phillips Arena, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks finished their game against the LA Clippers without a delay.

Here's my problem: the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings at 9:26 pm. At that time radar indicated that a storm capable of producing a tornado was six miles west of Atlanta. However, no announcement were made at either the Georgia Dome or Phillips Arena. Nothing over the public address systems, nothing on the electronic message boards or video screens.

A fan at the Georgia Dome spoke with the Associated Press. "Ironically, the guy behind me got a phone call saying there was a tornado warning," said Lisa Lynn of Atlanta, who was watching the game from the lower deck. "And in 2 seconds, we heard the noise and things started to shake. It was creepy."

What if the game going on in the Georgia Dome -- Alabama/Mississippi State -- hadn't been in overtime and people were leaving? I know that another game (Georgia/Kentucky) was scheduled to follow, but I noticed at the Atlantic 10 tournament games I attended this week that when one game of a doubleheader ended, a number of fans of those teams left and fans of the two teams playing the second game showed up. Not everyone stayed for both games at any of the three sessions I saw. I can imagine the same thing happens with other conference tourneys as well.

What if people just decided to leave at that time anyway? Maybe a child was sick. And what about people who might have left the NBA game? They'd have headed out right into a storm. Shouldn't someone -- team officials, arena operators, police, anyone -- have warned the fans? Something like "There's a severe storm about to hit, so if you're thinking of leaving sit down for a while as you won't be safe outside" would've been prudent. It's a miracle that no one was killed that night.

So...do you feel safer these days when you go to a game? I don't. -- Joe Guckin