Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: The Reel Safety Issue

Posted: November 24, 2015    |   Cathy Wetherell

With Thanksgiving weekend kicking off the holiday movie season, millions of Americans will be visiting their local theaters to take in the latest releases. As they do so, a few high profile incidents have placed the cinema industry in the spot light recently.

While any loss of life is tragic and unacceptable, a closer inspection of the facts surrounding theater shootings reveals that this concern may be misplaced. As is often the case, media attention has elevated fears in the general public disproportionately to the actual risk.

In fact, FBI statistics reveal annual averages of 11.4 “active shooter” incidents and 35 fatalities from 2000 – 2013. Only 46% of these took place in business locations, and with roughly 6.5M business locations in the US (excluding Healthcare and Education), the odds of an active shooter incident at a commercial establishment in any given year are only 0.000081% – or once every 1.2 million years.

These odds notwithstanding, theater security is at an all-time high. But, with this effort to assure the movie-going public that they are safe and protected from the unthinkable, are we overlooking bigger and more likely safety threats?

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), cinemas draw more people than all theme parks and major U.S. sports, combined. In 2014, this equated to over 200 million people attending the cinema at least once and over 1 Billion total theater visits.

Understanding the ubiquity of the theater experience in our society, what is the biggest single risk to the US population? Cardiac Arrest.

Contrary to popular belief, Cardiac Arrest can (and does) strike at any age, and 600,000 Americans suffer from it every year. The risk of cardiac arrest does increase as we get older, and as an interesting parallel, per the MPAA, the share of tickets sold to 40-59 year olds were at an all-time high in 2014 while 60+ year olds accounted for 13% of all tickets sold.

So, how often does Cardiac Arrest take place in theaters? A recent study of screen locations in Southern New Jersey revealed an average of 2.3 Advanced Life Support (ALS) 911 calls per location over a 12-month span (more than half of which are likely to be cardiac arrest). Extrapolating this across theater locations nationwide amounts to 13,429 ALS 911 calls each year.

From the theater owner perspective, a show of force may be comforting for some, but for the balance it creates and perpetuates a heightened level of concern about an event that has a very low probability of occurring. Again, this is not to imply that this topic, or any other safety topic, should be taken lightly. Instead, I am merely suggesting prioritizing safety measures based upon the most proximate and likely threats to movie goers.

For all of you who go to the movies, should you be more concerned about theaters’ onsite security or an onsite AED (your best / likely only chance of surviving cardiac arrest)? The next time that you go to the movies, take a look for an AED. If you don’t see one, ask – it could save your life.


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