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Shooting during 'Batman' premier may alter movie theater security practices

Shooting during 'Batman' premier may alter movie theater security practices

AURORA, Colo.—The risk management and security procedures for movie theaters could change as a result of a gunman killing 12 people after bursting into a Colorado theater complex early Friday and opening fire during a premier screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” risk management experts say.

“I do not believe it is industry practice to do any kind of risk assessment” at movie theaters, said LeConte Moore, managing director at DeWitt Stern Group Inc. in New York. “This will change how all movie premieres of any stature like this are conducted from a risk standpoint.”

Some 71 people reportedly were shot at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo., which is owned by Plano, Texas-based Cinemark Holdings Inc.

A masked gunman dressed in black, who later was apprehended near the scene, reportedly entered the theater at approximately 12:40 a.m. Friday through an emergency exit, threw some type of smoke canister and then opened fire on the packed theater.

“Every theater owner and operator obviously is going to have a heightened awareness based on what has occurred,” said Lance J. Ewing, industry practice group leader, hospitality and leisure, at Chartis Inc. in Cordova, Tenn.

Mr. Ewing said, however, that risk events occur in many public settings.

“As tragic as this is, it's not a new phenomenon for us,” Mr. Ewing said in citing shootings in public locations such as malls, sporting events and political rallies. While expecting public calls for heightened security at movie theaters, Mr. Ewing said, “We need to put in prevention and risk mitigation, but there are times when there are truly tragic criminal acts.”


He said he knows of some movie theaters that employ off-duty police officers for special events, but said he's unaware of any that routinely have armed security guards or search procedures.

Most movies theaters have standard closed-circuit television surveillance cameras posted at points of access around the facility and at areas where cash transactions take place, said Kevin Wilkes, vp and security practice leader at Willis North America Inc. in Pittsburgh.

Some movie theaters in high-risk areas partner with local law enforcement or private security and have additional security personnel on-site during high-risk times or movie events that may affect that particular theater, he said.

In cases such as the “Batman” premier, fans often are dressed in costumes with masks, Mr. Wilkes said. Eyewitness reports from the shooting indicated that patrons initially thought the gunman and smoke were part of the show.

“This might be something going forward in the future that certain organizations or movie theaters may wish to consider looking at their policies regarding this a little more harshly in terms of allowing persons to enter the theater in costume or donning any type of masks,” Mr. Wilkes said.

Police elsewhere were taking steps to protect theater-goers at “Dark Knight” screenings.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement that “as a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort level among movie patrons,” New York police would provide coverage at theaters where “The Dark Knight Rises” is screening in all five boroughs.


In Chicago, the police department said in a statement: “We are in contact with our law enforcement partners investigating this incident. We will remain vigilant in our enforcement efforts and give special attention to movie theaters throughout the city.”

Cinemark said in a statement it was “deeply saddened about this tragic incident.''

The National Association of Theaters Owners industry trade group also issued a statement., saying, “Guest safety is and will continue to be a priority for theater owners. (Association) members are working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures.”

In addition, Warner Bros. canceled Friday's premiere of the film in Paris. In a statement, the studio responsible for the film also said it was “deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident.”

Most movie theaters do not increase security measures and would not buy special insurance for movie premieres such as those for “The Dark Knight Rises,” where many patrons are expected, Mr. Moore said. “People just carry that under their corporate insurance,” such as general liability and umbrella insurance, he said. “That's really what's going to respond in this case.

“There's a lot of risk assessment that goes into the entertainment business, but this is another factor of the entertainment business—the real estate factor—it's just a movie theater,” Mr. Moore said. “It's not known to have high risk. The one high risk that everybody hears about is fire.”


This event could change the landscape of security risks for movie theaters, which may re-examine their prevention and protection efforts to reduce exposure to such acts of violence, Mr. Wilkes said.

“This is definitely an anomaly. This isn't something you see as a common occurrence across movie theaters,” he said. “It's very hard to prevent truly random acts of violence like this from occurring.”

Mr. Moore agreed that with regard to random acts of violence such as the events in Aurora, “no one thought of that.”

“We can't prevent everything in the world…especially random acts of violence,” Chartis' Mr. Ewing said. He said, however, “There is training for how to respond to a live shooter,” as there is for other crisis situations such as an earthquake or fire.