Balancing Security and the Fan Experience in Sports Security
Entertaining the public is a unique animal.
Entertaining the public is a unique animal. The sheer volume of fans that can attend a football game or a concert and the logistics can make it seemingly impossible. It’s a true balancing act to secure a facility, fans, players and employees on the professional, college and high school level while not infringing on the fan experience.
“It’s something that we deal with every day,” says Paul Turner, Director of Event Operations & Security for AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. “People don’t have to go to concerts or sporting events at our stadium,” he says. “We are competing with their large-screen TV at their home, so we have to create something special for them. That’s a reason why we exist: there’s something special about seeing an event live.”
Turner is responsible for securing the venue and all event planning and management for the stadium, which not only holds Dallas Cowboys football, but also holds many collegiate sporting events and concerts throughout the year. He manages the risk for each event differently, but for the most part, looks at who is attending the event (demographics), the size of the crowd, the crowd expectations, when the crowd will arrive and when they will leave, the configuration of the venue (it changes from a football game to a concert) and weather.
“This sports security profession has thankfully evolved over the years so that we have many more guidelines and tools to help us do our jobs,” Turner says. “There is more academic rigor of what we do. We now have a formalized knowledge base, standards, practices and guidelines. But our goal hasn’t changed: we want people to enjoy themselves, go home safely and come back again.”
One specific standard and guideline is the NFL’s Fan Code of Conduct. Another is the implementation of metal detectors at all MLB stadiums this year. Turner welcomes them. “The NFL audits us to ensure that we are meeting or exceeding their standards. Those grades are revealed at owner’s meetings, and each owner wants a good grade and full compliance. So we welcome the standards, and we welcome the audits to ensure that we’re in full compliance.”
Guidelines specific to Turner and his risk management process are training and consistency of the messages he sends his to team and to the thousands of part-time workers employed by the stadium.
“Technology is good but it’s only as good as the people that are using it,” Turner says. “We need to make sure that our legions of part-time personnel are invested in doing a good job, and training is key to that. High tech tools are good to have, but we must remember that the vast majority of our security efforts rely on the human factor. So we must remain focused on ensuring the high performance of our personnel.”
Turner says he and his staff find efficient and effective ways to reinforce training because for part-time staff, the work is not done daily. “One way we do that is to be consistent with security across each event,” he says. “For example, we screen all bags, no matter the event, so that staff doesn’t even think to deviate from that. We also look for people with good interpersonal skills. We tell our staff that during the course of an event, you may screen 1,000 people, and there’s no more important guest in our mind than the one that’s immediately in front of you. Every guest is important.”
Donald Paisant is Chief of Public Safety for the SMG New Orleans campus. This includes the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Smoothie King Center and Champions Square. He and his team are responsible for the overall planning, organizing, coordination and directing the daily and event operations as it relates to all security and safety matters for the SMG New Orleans campus. “We have a full-time staff, 24/7 coverage of commissioned armed public safety officers who man stationary posts and patrol our campus on a daily basis. In addition, on event days, we have in excess of 900 public safety personnel working large events such as football games. The public safety personnel include SMG commissioned armed public safety officers, non-armed game day security guards along with officers from the Louisiana State Police, New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Department,” he explains.
As with Turner, Paisant says that each event in the Superdome, Smoothie King Center and Champions Square poses unique challenges and risks, so “we are always challenged to provide maximum security coverage with a minimal impact upon the attendees and our employees. We have been successful in providing these security and safety programs by educating our employees and the patrons who would be attending events at our venues. Furthermore, we have recently learned that the Smoothie King Center will be honored at the NCS4 Conference this summer as a Facility of Merit. This award is given to a facility that has demonstrated innovative and outstanding safety and security strategies.”
One area in which Paisant is spending time is emergency preparedness plans for weather. The Superdome was used as an evacuation area for many New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina, with disastrous results. Paisant says, “Our facilities are no longer used as an evacuation shelter as they were for Katrina. Many lessons were learned from that event, not only here at SMG but also in the city. Today, we now have partnerships and a have a comprehensive plan to secure all of our facilities during a weather emergency or other natural disasters. “Our facilities were not designed to hold 30,000 people for a week,” he says. “I previously worked in the hotel industry in New Orleans, and hotels had the same problems that the Superdome did during that time. Hotels lost power during the storm, and they’re not equipped to be used as evacuation shelters either.”
The new partnerships with the Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana National Guard help to ensure that the facilities will be secured during future weather emergencies and that evacuations, if needed, will be as smooth as possible. For example, he says, traffic routes into and out of the stadium area would be rerouted during an emergency to ensure that they can get there faster and with minimal pedestrian traffic. For outdoor events, Paisant now has five large enclosed garage shelters for thousands of people, if necessary. But it all comes down to balancing those plans with the public needs, he says. “We can train for evacuations all day,” Paisant says. “The human factor is the challenge. There will always be people who are told to evacuate and will sit there and not move. We tell our staff that when something goes bad, our patrons will look to you first. A lot of people have been coming to our stadium for 30 years or more, but when something goes bad they may not immediately respond to the evacuation instructions.”
A Great Fan Experience at IU
All major sporting event organizers face great challenges in the development and enhancement of effective emergency management capabilities. Many sports venues and event organizations have increased security preparedness, enhanced response capabilities and developed emergency plans in recent years. However, difficulty remains in preparing and training for the wide variety of emergencies that cannot be rehearsed in real life.
The Emergency Management & Continuity at Indiana University (IU) is a relatively new department – five years old. Debbi Fletcher is the Bloomington Director of IU Emergency Management & Continuity, working with a group made up of representatives from Athletics, Law Enforcement, EMS and Event Services for athletics and other events that are held on university property, including the two largest venues, the IU football stadium and basketball arena.
“We take care of the people who come to the show,” Fletcher says. In the past, Fletcher says, emergency management at IU events was not a well-oiled machine as it is today. “Now when we plan for an event, we invite all agencies that are involved to ensure that we are talking the same language, even down to the exact communications platform that we plan to use. We are present before and after an event and working together as effectively and efficiently as possible. It is definitely a balancing act to ensure a great fan experience with a safe fan experience, just like the NFL. But how we are a bit different than NFL sports is that sometimes our fans can get more emotional with wins and losses. But we both have to be customer focused.”
One of Fletcher’s main concerns is unpredictable weather. “We have a multi-tiered approach with our emergency management plan, including weather issues, so that we don’t have to make split-second decisions,” she explains. “But a big part of that approach is training our event services people, ushers and ticket takers on what to do when weather issues arise. We do tabletop exercises and throw some scenarios at them and ask them what to do. And that’s emergency management. But the plan is only as good as people who know it. We also use social media to push information out. Yet, social media is a challenging communications vehicle, and keeping up with it is very difficult, and the information doesn’t get vetted, so we have to be careful with how we respond.”
Another part of Fletcher’s multi-pronged approach to emergency management is a change in how any student or non-student event will run. “In the past, if you were a student organization and you wanted to have a concert, you informed the university,” she explains. “That was in the past. Now have standards and a structure, and anyone wanting to hold an event on campus has to go through a student department under the Dean of Students and then meet with us to discuss procedures for inclement weather, uniformed officers, signage, and more. In some cases, some organizations won’t hold an event because they don’t want the oversight, or they won’t hold it when they realize the costs involved to hire uniformed police officers. But for us, that’s the standard that you will meet, if your event will be held on IU property.”
“In the past we didn’t have to talk about the ‘what if’s and the risks,” Fletcher says. “Yet, as bad as the Boston Marathon tragedy was, it could have been so much worse if they didn’t have planning in place. We learned from Boston. We learned that we all have to be on the same team.”
Preparing for the “What If”
At a recent all-school assembly in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, it took less than two minutes for 1,600 students and staff to evacuate the gymnasium at the Menomonee Falls High School. In doing so, the district became the first in the country to deploy SportEvac, which is a simulated training, operation and planning software that allows sporting event organizers to develop and enhance effective emergency management capabilities.
According to Ryan Anderson, Athletic Director of Menomonee Falls High School, discussion about the need for such an emergency scenario plan began last fall, at a meeting with local community leaders. “That’s when I realized we have a couple of very big holes,” Anderson recalls. “At that point, when asked what we would do in case of a major weather incident or explosion, I would have said we should run as fast as we can.”
Anderson sought to find a model for the entire school to follow for fire drills and other types of evacuation situations. He reached out to fellow sports security colleagues and reached out to the staff at The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), which then put him in touch with SportEvac. Funding for the project came from the school’s athletic department, not tax payers, which made it easier to sell the project to the School Superintendent, he says.
Developed in collaboration between Incontrol Simulation Solutions and (NCS4), the program creates 3-D simulations of venues, such as the high school gymnasium in Menomonee Falls. The simulations help create assessments of safety and security, and the subsequent development of emergency plans and procedures. Since the district agreed to be the first in the nation to try the program, Menomonee Falls received a discounted price of $15,000 to be spread over three years, a savings of $10,000.
“The program helps with the human element when there’s an emergency,” Anderson says. “Most students in a crowd will know the exits points. The part that concerns me is the visitors and the guests, and that’s when our public announcement system comes into play with this program. Our PA announcer now has a script to follow.”
Anderson says that after the successful implementation of the program to the football field, soccer field, gymnasium, pool and tennis courts, he’s looking at a model for the entire school for fire drills and other types of evacuations, to ensure that all schools in the district – the high school, the middle school and elementary schools – are on the same page.
For their efforts, the district has been selected for the National High School Sport Safety and Security Facility of Merit Award. The award is given to a program that has performed above and beyond normal operations, has demonstrated an innovative approach to enhancing safety and security, or has resolved a significant safety/security issue or incident.
Video Surveillance System Helps MetLife Stadium Keep an Eye on Safety
Located in the Meadowlands and part of the MetLife Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, MetLife Stadium is home to the New York Football Giants and the New York Jets. The $1.6 billion stadium was financed and built by a joint venture between the two teams, who operate it through the New Meadowlands Stadium Company. The stadium opened in April 2010 and boasts a seating capacity of 82,500, making it one of the NFL®’s largest stadiums. On February 2, 2014, MetLife Stadium played host to Super Bowl® XLVIII.
MetLife Stadium wanted to replace 26 IP cameras located at the perimeter gates of the stadium and also to deploy 180° panoramic-view cameras in place of the 27 pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras that covered the exterior perimeter. Given the large crowds they attract, each football game, concert or other event has its share of unique challenges, including monitoring fan conduct, crowd management situations and dealing with medical emergencies. MetLife Stadium’s main goal in upgrading its surveillance system was to ensure a safe, secure environment that would contribute to a memorable guest experience. Incident prevention and monitoring were additional key goals of the project. MetLife Stadium staff members are challenged with trying to determine what happened after an incident occurred. There are often various versions and accounts from those involved and from independent witnesses. Clear recorded video is needed to reveal what actually happened.
Prior to the new camera system being installed, MetLife Stadium used four PTZ cameras to monitor the seating bowl area, and these cameras were only used reactively when an incident came to the attention of the stadium’s Command Center. With the new camera system, every seat in the seating bowl is monitored at all times. Being able to have their Command Center personnel go back in time and review everyone’s actions is an extremely valuable investigative tool for stadium security personnel and for public safety agencies. Among the stadium security management team’s other goals are to identify and examine objects left behind, monitor security screening procedures, investigate slip-and-fall incidents, observe staff performance and provide surveillance for counterterrorism efforts.
Because MetLife Stadium was designed to be a network-controlled building, IP cameras were part of the original design. When it came time to install cameras to cover the seating bowl, IP was the only platform considered, according to Danny DeLorenzi, Director of Security for MetLife Stadium.
“To run an analog system would have been cost-prohibitive due to cabling, and the cables would be single-purpose. If upgrades were necessary, the project would have to be completed all over again,” DeLorenzi says.
DeLorenzi and the rest of MetLife Stadium’s security management team is using a surveillance solution built around megapixel imaging technology from Arecont Vision to ensure wide area coverage with extreme detail and to enable forensic zooming on live and recorded video.
Corporate Security Services deployed more than 130 Arecont Vision megapixel cameras throughout MetLife Stadium, including MegaVideo® Compact 10-megapixel (MP) cameras located around the bowl of the stadium to provide a view of every seat in every section; SurroundVideo® panoramic 8MP cameras provide 180° coverage of entrances and common areas; and MegaDome® 2 3MP cameras with remote focus and wide dynamic range (WDR) are located in the stadium’s security entrance areas. Arecont Vision WDR cameras provide detailed video where bright and dark images exist in the same scene. The megapixel cameras are controlled using Genetec Security Center, a unified video management system (VMS) which is monitored by a centralized security command center within the stadium.
Arecont Vision worked with Corporate Security Services’ designers to provide a layout of the camera locations required to cover the area, which McCabe says helped with the installation. In the end, all the cameras were installed in easily accessible and serviceable locations.
Because of the high level of detail it provides, one Arecont Vision SurroundVideo panoramic camera covers the same area as multiple IP VGA resolution cameras. By using Arecont Vision cameras to reduce overall camera counts, MetLife Stadium’s security team was able to achieve its goal of implementing an unobtrusive high-performance video surveillance system. With a reduction in the total number of cameras implemented, the system can be more efficiently managed.
MetLife Stadium’s policy is to initiate real-time recording 24-hours prior to game day, at which time every camera within the stadium is recorded at its full frame rate. Incidents are recorded prior to, during and for several hours after a game or other event. This allows the security staff to easily search and play back detailed video of any reported incidents from any of the cameras to determine what happened.
The excellent image quality provided by the megapixel cameras makes it possible for stadium security to identify individuals, and the high frame rates allow them to see actions that occur. Additional benefits of the cameras include Day/Night video capabilities where mechanical infrared (IR) cut filters are used for clear images in low light, H.264 compression to reduce network and storage costs and Power over Ethernet (PoE) to reduce cabling costs.
Planning and Communicating for Open Population Disasters
By Dr. Vivian Marinelli, Psy.D, Contributing Writer
Sports and entertainment venues typically involve accessibility that is open to the public. The majority of spectators have purchased a ticket that identifies where they are
seated, but the venue has no identifying information about the ticket holder. Having a written plan in place to help account for people in the event of a crisis is a crucial element to allow security personnel and first responders to focus on incident management. A predetermined plan also helps with the success of the business recovery efforts.
At a large event, your security staff may have information on the teams, entertainers and their support staff but the attendees are often anonymous. Same holds true for event staff, vendors, media and even tailgaters on site. If a crisis occurs, how would your department confirm involvement, location and status of any one individual…the three pieces of information that will be critical for their families and friends?
The First Moments
In a crisis situation, the first priority of security staff is to get the people out of the way in a safe manner. When a crisis event impacts a large population, the initial environment is very chaotic. Security and first responders are quickly making an assessment of the situation to determine the level of response needed. Basic human instinct will have everyone else moving away from the threat and trying to find family members and friends that accompanied them. As a result, the cell towers in the area will be overwhelmed. During a crisis event when everyone is trying to place calls at the same time, you can easily predict there will be a major disruption.
Expect that families and friends will be calling your organization asking for information on the situation and if their loved ones are involved. Let’s think about a stadium holding 70,000 visitors. Can your telecom infrastructure process thousands of calls in a timely manner? If not, as part of your crisis plan, you may want to include a contract with an external vendor that can provide this support in the form of an off-site emergency call center.
Communicating to the Masses
In addition to a written crisis plan, knowing how to manage communication is key. While security and first responders take control of the situation, your predetermined crisis communication team will handle communication efforts, including social media channels and the news media. Recent crisis events have shown us that social media will play an integral part in the response –especially for those on the ground. Many of those impacted will utilize Facebook and Twitter to get updates and send messages to their families and friends. It’s also an opportunity for security/venue staff to share confirmed information about situation details and safe exit routes. During the Boston Marathon bombings, some family members were notified by their loved ones via Twitter before the notice of the bombings even got the media’s attention.
Your social media plan should include a hashtag strategy. However, this is something that needs to be developed, practiced and integrated into your emergency response plan prior to a crisis occurring. The key component to your strategy is the use of a consistent hashtag to group relevant information together about the crisis on Twitter.
This crisis hashtag strategy also should include:
- Defining the role a hashtag will and must play within your crisis communications
- Guidelines and policies for using the hashtag
- Information on your emergency website explaining how you would like your audience to use the crisis hashtag
- Who will monitor/manage the hashtag
- How to minimize false hashtags and feeds of misinformation
In addition to Twitter, your organizational Facebook page and emergency website are resources for you to communicate and help locate attendees. Communication links should be included on these sites for the emergency call center as well as other agencies involved in the response. Keeping in mind the need for ongoing information, updates on the response and future events also can be posted.
Location and Status
The American Red Cross (ARC) Safe and Well website can also be a resource to track self-reports from those directly involved and inquiries from their families and friends. It requires registration by affected individuals along with their address and phone number. You may want to consider putting this information on the ticket stub and your website to increase awareness of location websites like the ARC Safe and Well program. Loved ones of attendees at your venue can click “Search Registrants” and enter the person’s name and pre-disaster phone number or address. If the missing person previously registered, anything they may have posted about their location and/or status will be visible. You may want to consider working with a consultant to identify other options for self-reporting and inquiries via the Internet.
Every crisis is unique. The best practice for any sports or entertainment organization is to include a number of these technological resources in your emergency response plan, keeping in mind that the focus should always be on the people who are impacted – those directly affected, their families and friends, your organization, stakeholders and the community. By allowing first responders and security personnel to do their job of managing the crisis, the communication team can focus on providing timely communication and support. In the long run, that allows your organization to maintain its positive reputation, focus on business recovery efforts and enhance its resiliency to weather the storm.
About the Author: Vivian Marinelli is the Senior Director of Crisis Management Services for FEI Behavioral Health. She holds a Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology and is a Licensed Psychologist in Wisconsin. She has more than 15 years of work in direct clinical services specializing in trauma and grief counseling to her position, which focuses on assisting individuals involved in critical incidents, such as in the event of a mass casualty disaster.