UK to analyze security plan protocol for campus events


at the CSF water balloon fight in Lexington, Ky., at Johnson Center field on Friday Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Emily Wuetcher

By Morgan Eads | News Editor

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When Brandon Johnson made the decision to rush the field at the water balloon fight on Friday, he said he didn’t expect he would end up in a chokehold.

“I think what they were trying to do was a good idea — having bodies to deter people from going at the balloons,” said Johnson, a 2012 graduate of Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School. “But it may not be a good idea because of guys like me who take it as a challenge.”

After the water balloon fight where six people were tackled by student volunteer security guards, a UK spokesman said the university will analyze policies that allowed the nearly 11,000-person event to take place on UK property without a safety plan being submitted.

Johnson, who was pictured on the front page of Monday’s Kernel, said he was just trying to make his own fun and maybe get some cheers.

On Monday, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said what happened at the water balloon fight was cause for an analysis of the policies for event safety and crowd management for all events at UK.

A safety plan was not submitted to the university on behalf of the Christian Student Fellowship, he said.

Crowd management consultant Paul Wertheimer believes the lack of a detailed crowd management plan was a critical oversight in the planning of this event, especially considering its size.

Wertheimer, who graduated from UK in 1972, was an official for the Lexington Center, which houses Rupp Arena.

He was also involved in investigating the The Who concert where 11 fans died of asphyxiation from overcrowding in 1979.

Wertheimer said it would be advisable for the university to have a requirement for events to submit such a safety plan for approval.

“Bad things can happen to good people if there’s not a proper plan in place,” he said.

Questions were also raised as to the legality of the security methods used at the water balloon fight.

Megan Hastings, a UK graduate and attorney with Oldfather Law Firm in Louisville, looked over the waiver that participants were required to sign before entering the water balloon fight.

Hastings said almost any waiver has the possibility of being overturned in court due to the high number of factors to be considered, but there is no immediate way to be certain if the waiver at the water balloon fight covered the actions of the volunteer security officers.

What was concerning to Hastings was the force used by the volunteers.

“The force seemed aggressive considering the circumstances. That is how people get hurt,” she said.

Blanton said the event gives the university an opportunity to learn and possibly have a more standardized plan for events on UK’s campus.

He hopes to go back and collaborate with CSF to evaluate the event and discuss improvements that can be made for the future.

The possibility for safety or crowd control issues, as well as the number of people expected to attend, would need to be taken into account for each campus event, he added.

For instance, a smaller, more structured event may not require as detailed of a safety plan as a large, open field event like the water balloon fight.

Though Johnson said someone could have been hurt, he was fine after the chokehold.

He said his overall view of the water balloon fight is positive.

“This is my fourth year going, it is always a blast,” Johnson said. “I would encourage everyone to go, it’s a great time.”