Guests attending a sporting event or concert are there to enjoy themselves and get lost in the rhythm of the music or rooting for their favorite team. For them, security often doesn’t even cross their mind. However, for security professionals at the thousands of venues across the country, maintaining a comprehensive and effective security strategy is always top of mind.

Big or small, the same principals apply. Ensuring the operation and security of an event center requires teamwork among all stakeholders, including the leadership team, operations, guest services and others.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Atlanta, Georgia-based stadium home to the National Football League’s (NFL) Atlanta Falcons, Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Atlanta United and numerous other major events each year, can see 72,000-75,000 guests enter through the doors per event.

With that many people moving through the event center, it can be a challenge to prioritize and assess potential security threats when preparing for a major event. But it is one the security team is prepared for says Joe Coomer, Vice President of Security at AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE), the organization comprised of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Ninety-five percent of what we do and how we do it is based on risk and risk assessment,” Coomer says.

On a weekly basis, Coomer and his team perform a dynamic ongoing risk assessment (DORA) to assess the threats in the local, regional and national environment. This involves cooperation with an extensive network for local law enforcement and private-sector partners such as area hotels and restaurants.

Providing security for an event can mean more than just protecting those inside of the venue. One example from Coomer involves a concert event that drew tens of thousands of people to bars and restaurants near the stadium just to be able to hear the music from the outside.

“When it comes to those situations, we have to think about what kind of duty of care we need to provide to our network of neighbors,” Coomer says.

Staying informed 

When it comes to event security, staying on top of emerging industry trends is a key part of the job. One way to stay apprised of potential issues is maintaining communication with other security leaders within the industry.

Through this ongoing communications with other event security professionals, Coomer and other leaders have noticed an uptick of ill-fitting behavior by fans since 2020.

“It is something a lot of sports and entertainment folks across the country have noticed,” Coomer says. “There just seems to be a kind of a step backwards in fan behavior. Some of it is involved with impairment, but it is also that social interaction. I think during COVID, a lot of face-to-face communication skills were lost. So bad behavior has definitely been a topic of conversation.”

Another concern at the forefront for many security leaders is providing a safe environment at the pre-arrival point of a venue. Well-known incidents such as the bombing outside of a concert venue in Manchester in 2017, or more recently the shooting after a parade celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl that killed one and left at least 22 injured, are just some examples that security leaders are keeping top of mind.

Joe Coomer
Image courtesy of Coomer

One of our concerns is removing that target at the gates — that biomass — while making sure we get our guests in, in a timely, safe manner and making sure their screening is thorough.”
— Joe Coomer, Vice President of Security at AMB Sports and Entertainment

At most venues, there is a mass of guests gathering at the pre-arrival point before moving through inspection and entrance to the event. Coomer says these mass gatherings are of concern because a security incident could arise — anything from a targeted attack to someone having a medical emergency while driving a vehicle. It is important to balance guest satisfaction of an easy entrance process while also maintaining a thorough and effective security inspection.

“You have this unscreened or ‘unclean biomass’ at your gates and it's our responsibility to get them from ‘dirty’ into the clean zone,” Coomer says. “One of our concerns is removing that target at the gates — that biomass — while making sure we get our guests in, in a timely, safe manner and making sure their screening is thorough.”

Put security to the test

No matter how well thought out, enterprise security leaders won’t know the effectiveness of their security strategy until it has been tested. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Coomer says they have implemented what they call a QAT program, or Quality Assurance Team.

“The QAT is our constant testing of what we do and how we do it,” Coomer says.

In addition to the QAT, the stadium goes through a third-party audit and penetration, which tests different security scenarios.

“Can they get in the gates without a ticket, can they bring an oversized knife in to the through our gates, can they use a bogus credential, or an invalid credential to access certain parts of the building, etc… we use all that to help validate our security programs,” Coomer says.

Importance of community

When it comes to building an effective security strategy, one thing that has been a key to success at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is working together and community. Coomer encourages security leaders to connect and communicate with community stakeholders.

“The community that we have in place with our public safety partners and our private sector is just unmatched,” Coomer says. “Our community interacts, talks and engages constantly. Heaven forbid, there's that moment were we have to go in front of the TV cameras to explain something, that will not be the first time that we would have met each other. We meet on a constant basis, there's constant communication between our public sector and our private sector, leaders throughout either the downtown, working with our airport, working with our transit system, making sure that the guests of Atlanta and those fans coming in Mercedes Benz stadium are getting best in class service.”