How truly safe are US FRC events? (Specifically Champs)

Let me begin by prefacing this that I hope this thread can remain civil and respectful despite the question at hand. I am asking this from an honest perspective, this has been a question I have had ever since 2019 when I went down to Houston Champs to compete. My experience with travel to the US (from Canada) is very limited in the past 5 years, being 2 trips to Houston (one being champs), and 1 trip to New Orleans. Before that I have travelled to other states (New York, Hawaii, California, Florida, Oregon, alongside a few others) but those are much further in memory and I can not adequately draw from those experiences.

When I went down in 2019 to attend Houston Champs, I experienced the security measures at the venue where everyone needed to file through a single chokepoint, have their bags checked, in order to get inside the venue. To me, from an outside-US experience, this both very much felt like security theatre and actually made me feel less safe attending. For context, I can’t think of many events here in Canada that have security measures like that beyond the airport. It was very foreign to me, but talking to various friends from across US states (both in and out of FRC), they all spoke about it as it being just the norm for any sport event and the likes.

The question becomes for me, how safe are US FRC events? I am asking this because of recent high profile mass-shootings in the US, recent discussions about safety and champs, and the fact that this question has constantly been at the back of my mind ever since that trip. As well, attending other, lower profile, events in the US hasn’t made me feel this way, only attending champs has ever made me question my physical safety.

I would attribute the reasons to this: (and I am focusing on Houston Champs as that is the only US FRC event I have personally attended)

  • The amount of people in an extremely crowded venue.
  • The lack of available exits, and the crowding of entry points.
  • How while security checked every bag, it felt heavily like security theatre and would lack the teeth to actually stop a threat.
  • (This one is Texas specific, and does not apply to all events) The Texas open-carry laws and the ability to carry handguns without a license.
  • The event being a high profile event, and therefore a possible target.

I am very curious what other people think. I am coming from this as a Canadian used to a very different culture around safety, as well as with different laws surrounding weapons. And before you brush this away as “it’s just some Canadian not feeling safe in the US because of media”, this isn’t just me with this concern. During that champs, I talked with a fair few other Canadians attending, and many felt the exact same safety concerns. This is a reasonable concern, and I would very much like to hear what the broader Chief Delphi community has to say regarding this (with all FRC events). Thank you.

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I’m not sure if I have seen anyone actually get stopped by the bag check people or even what they’re looking for. In my experience I’ve never had any safety concerns at competitions. Had event where someone had to get picked up by an ambulance though I don’t think it was related to robotics.

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My wife and I were discussing this yesterday after the shooting in Texas. I’d like to say that we’re all safe from gun violence at events, but I fear that’s a platitude and not actually real. Now that I’m primarily a volunteer, I attend more than just 2-4 events, so my exposure is higher now.

I can’t say I’ve ever felt uneasy at any events here in MI. Not once, even at the Detroit Champs. It’s easy to get comfortable when you see so many people that you recognize at event after event, that you tend to let your guard down. I think it’s a good thing to let your guard down at events. This is meant to be fun and educational. Stressful? Undoubtedly, but not fearful.

That’s not to say that I shouldn’t be keeping my eyes open for something potentially off, but I am not the one to make that determination, nor approach someone. If I really get a strong, gut feeling that something isn’t right, there are plenty of people I can talk to to raise awareness so things can be handled properly, should the issue ever arise. I hope it never does.

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They’re looking for outside food and drink more than weapons, I’m pretty sure.

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Yup, that is the primary reason those bag checks exist.

The security check points are likely put in place by the venues more than the event organizers. They protect the venue’s interests in terms of concession sales more than they protect the participants and spectators from violence.

Good, old fashioned monopolistic capitalism at work.

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I didn’t give a second thought this year to being safe in the venue, but that hasn’t always been true. When KC was at the MCC venue a few years back, there was a sudden realization of danger, when both the head regional director and regional partner came rushing towards the exit while warning to keep students inside the venue. My mind immediately went to a FIRST student being in mental distress, possibly with a weapon. It didn’t seem like a large leap, we all know the challenges kids face and the possibility of this all in our events.

It turned out being a worrying incident, but different than first imagined. There was a gunman, but across the parking lot in an abandoned hotel, in a standoff with police. Not a student and unrelated to what was going on inside our event.

I think there are reasons that this real feeling then has been less, including being in a smaller event and being generally with teams with a number of mentors and volunteers to have more eyes. Also, maybe more event awareness on mental health, though I didn’t keep up with those this year either.

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We are merely lucky that nobody has chosen to target a FIRST event yet. The idea of safety in America is straight theatre considering have 1.4-2+ mass shootings a day (depending on where you grab data.)

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The real scary part - There are more guns than people in America - about 1.2 guns per person.

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I’m sure that like me, everyone here who attended Champs can think of 20 ways that weapons could have been brought into the venue without much effort.

I’ve lived within a 30 minute drive of Columbine, Arapahoe, the STEM School, the Aurora theater, and the Boulder King Soopers. I’ve three times held my hands over my head while police pointed their rifles and guns at me and my students as they searched my school. I avoid crowded places like concerts and public celebrations, and accept the risks of grocery shopping and going to work. I still choose to take students to FRC tournaments but I know it’s just good luck that we’ve made it without a shooting, at this point. @MikLast is right. Worse than sad.

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Apparently my bag of Cheetos hurts their bottom line more than the statistical potential of an active shooter.
:grimacing:

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This is like the easiest thing FIRST can fix. GRB has a ton of doors but most of them are closed at champs. Literally why?

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The exit doors by Carver were numerous and available for anyone who wanted to leave. You just couldn’t get back in (one team loaded in through the exit doors).

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You’ll be safe…until you aren’t. That’s kind of America in a nutshell when it comes to gun violence.

I have never seen security at a FRC event that would a) identify or b) deter an armed individual with intent to do harm.

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The sole exception was Champs 2008 and even then only for one day.

WWE for smart people…

Are you kidding? You think you can bring an item marked as “dangerously cheesy” into an event and expect everyone to come out fine?

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Far more likely to get injured or killed in a car on the way to the event then a human hurting you at the event. I have never felt unsafe at a FRC event.

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Even if security were effective at finding food in people’s bags (They’re not, I may know people who have snuck full KFC meals or entire pizzas into the stands before), I doubt they would be able to deal with a gun. Also, I would expect shooters to come in guns blazing which security people I don’t believe can stop.
That’s just on the physical side of safety, I’m not even mentioning other easy to conceal weapons like knives.
On a less physical note, there are some states such as Texas where I believe some people, particularly the LGBTQ+ community, would not be very safe. I’m not going to go into this since there’s a thread here, but I have serious concerns about the safety of some people if many of these laws are allowed to stand.

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To the OP. Some random thoughts I will try to coherently tie them together at the end.

The place public place I felt the highest physical risk was in a northern Ontario Town in Canada. I was in a bar/restaurant with a work colleague from southern Asia. For those who have not figured it out I am southern white American. It was made quite clear that we were not wanted, would not get served, and had best leave. I don’t know if it was because of my colleague, me or something else not explained. Another colleague was badly beaten a few months later in the same place. This is very atypical of my experiences in Canada. Canadians as a group are the friendliest people I know. I would go back (and did) even to that town in a heartbeat given an opportunity.

In college. the local college hangout was also the local biker bar. The club was a full patch group associated with the Outlaws. Never had a issue or felt threaten. I also never injected myself in their business. They are a group that will positively thump you if you gave them a reason. They are also the sort to be armed or have weapons readily available.

The risk of gun violence at an FRC venue is very low. I think somewhat because the participants are not the sort that settle their conflicts with violence. Other risks present: Going outside the venue at the wrong time in the wrong direction. Caravaning over multiple days with the drivers sleep deprived. To decide if you should go. Survey the various risks. Modify the ones you can. Multiply the risk with the consequence. When the juice is no longer worth the squeeze, don’t go. Every person has to decide that ratio for themselves. In my judgement the risk of gun violence in the venue is vanishingly small. You should make your own assessment.

Yep, plenty of doors you could exit through (though be careful, people were often sitting against them outside).
You’ll get weird looks but I never dipped out through one to find it not opening.

Probably should have had those labelled better though…most people take the long way around.

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