Training for Better Sports Security: See Something, Say Something, Do Something
Sports security leaps forward with proactive game day training and information-sharing.
Passing through a magnetometer checkpoint with his family at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game, Adam Stockwell – then an agent with the U.S. Secret Service – was struck by how positive staff were at the security checkpoint and what a pleasant experience they made for fans out of a security screening.
“The country’s come quite a long way. Fans now expect security, and it made me feel good that I could take my wife and daughter to a baseball game, spend a couple hundred dollars, and feel safe about it,” says Stockwell, who is now Vice President of Security for the Milwaukee Bucks. In his new role, he applies that same philosophy of making security screening a positive part of the spectator sport experience: security personnel get customer service training from guest services staff, and he is working closely with developers who are constructing the Bucks’ new home – the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center and its surrounding 30-acre district – to ensure visitor-friendly security is built in.
“Every member of our team has a responsibility for security and for customer service,” Stockwell says.
“Our fans definitely want to feel safe, they want to see security, but they definitely don’t want to be inconvenienced,” says Cathy Lanier, Chief Security Officer for the National Football League (NFL). In an effort to keep connected with fans, Lanier and her team created a Guest Services Information Sharing Group earlier this year, which will share information back to the League and to other NFL venues about what fans are saying about security, different pain points and suggestions.
“At the guest services level, they’ll feel and see and hear those pressures (from fans) before we will,” Lanier adds.
Lanier has also added layers of information sharing with stadium security directors and team security directors, forming two new committees that discuss and revise new NFL security standards, evaluate recent incidents and events and share their insights from the ground. After sending best practices updates through the stadium security committee, for example, 20 to 30 percent of the initial concept ends up changing due to input from stadium security professionals. “We start with the idea of ‘here are the challenges, and here our thoughts on these challenges’ and then after several rounds of communication, we land on something that everyone agrees is effective and doable,” Lanier says.
Jim Mercurio, Vice President of Stadium Operations and General Manager of Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, is a member of the NFL Stadium Security Committee. After 9/11 he created an emergency evacuation video that could be shown to fans before games, and through the NFL, he was able to share his concept with other venues on video boards. He can also glean techniques and tools from other security leaders. One good example is from Mercurio’s respected colleague Roy Sommerhof, Senior VP of Stadium Operations for the Baltimore Ravens, who uses 30 to 90-second vignettes for pre-shift training refreshers on topics like magnetometer use or guest services initiatives; that practice was adopted throughout many NFL teams.
“We recognize that security is not an area where we should be competitive. Let’s leave the competition to the football players on the field, and let’s share best practices and create best standards for when we have our customers in our buildings,” he says.
Sharing information between venues and between clubs has proven invaluable for many sporting event security professionals, including Troy Brown, Vice President of Stadium Operations for the Cleveland Browns.
“In Cleveland, we do an amazing job of coming together as a team, not drawing any boundaries, and working together as a whole. It’s very effective. We cross-train with the Cavaliers, we cross-train with the Indians, we hold joint tabletop exercises and attend each other’s training, we go to downtown hotels’ tabletop exercises and they come to ours. It’s a tight-knit community, all communicating effectively, all following similar procedures, and if something were to happen, we could notify each other quickly,” Brown says.
The beauty of the cross-training is the variety of experiences that Brown and his team can accumulate. Each event is different; the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force might set up a food-borne illness exercise with the Cavaliers, a vehicle attack tabletop with a downtown hotel, or an active shooter training incident with the Indians, and Brown’s team would be able to sit in on all three, participating when needed, all while fostering a closer, more effective working relationship with the other stakeholders at the table, such as the FBI, the local Fusion Center, law enforcement and other first responders.
“People come to our games to be entertained. The NFL is an all-day experience, starting early in the morning with tailgating,” Brown says. “Fans’ concerns are: I want to have fun, I want to blow off steam from the workweek, I want to root for my favorite team... Their focus is more on their experience; our focus is making sure that experience is safe. It’s one of those things where fans will only tolerate so much, so you have to add security in a way that balances with the fan experience. The consistency between our venues helps fans – going to one of our games is not all that different from going to a Cavs or an Indians game; fans aren’t having to change their security habits to come to one of our events.”
In Atlanta, the new Mercedez-Benz Stadium (home of the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United Football Club) is situated right in the heart of downtown, so events at other venues nearby – including the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Aquarium or the World of Coca-Cola – could easily impact operations at the stadium.
According to Joe Coomer, CSSP, Vice President, Security, AMB Sports & Entertainment, “We have weekly meetings with all of our partners, and we review the history of each event coming in – timing, logistics, ejections, arrests, trends that we saw – and then weather events or other factors nearby in play in close proximity in downtown Atlanta.” Coomer also partners with a number of stakeholders throughout the city and the downtown campus to handle logistics during events, such as parking, mass transit capacity and resource sharing. “We’ve had events happen within the downtown campus – a building evacuation in one venue triggers crisis communications and puts us all on alert so we can respond proactively.”
By partnering with other enterprises and landmarks in the nearby area, security leaders can essentially extend their perimeters of situational awareness further out into the city. At STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Senior Director of Security David Born maintains close relationships with all entities in the L.A. LIVE campus, as well as neighbors like the Los Angeles Convention Center, Microsoft Theater, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE, The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles and other venues, as well as local and national law enforcement partners.
“We have a Campus Security Meeting on a monthly basis, and we get all of these entities together and we talk about our campus events that are taking place and any type of security issues or concerns that we have,” Born says. “This maintains the open lines of communication, so if there’s an issue at L.A. LIVE, that information will be communicated to us.
“We invest a great deal of awareness training with our staff of what to look for. We also have increased our visual awareness on the exterior of the facility, with security cameras, additional police and security presence. We are in the midst of a multi-year camera upgrade project with Tyco to increase our situational awareness. Achieving good situational awareness around STAPLES Center requires a combination of technology, personnel, training, collaboration and teamwork,” he adds.
In Atlanta, Coomer is using surveillance technology to study crowd behavior and better evaluate potential threats and strategize for future games, “just like the football teams use cameras to record plays on the field,” he says.
For the Bucks, having a campus makes you think about security more holistically, says Stockwell. “It’s not just four walls,” he says. “We have a large plaza, which is a soft target 24/7/365, even outside of event days. We installed a bollard system around the whole campus and deployed extensive video surveillance with low-light capabilities, we’re debating semi-autonomous robotic patrols, and we regularly liaise with store owners within the campus, as well as law enforcement to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
In Cleveland, Brown worked with Johnson Controls to upgrade the stadium’s 90 analog cameras to more than 350 IP cameras from Axis Communications. “We use technology as an investigative and preventative tool,” he says, as security personnel can detect a fight in the stands more quickly with the cameras and respond promptly before it escalates, and they can also evaluate the events that happened right before the incident to determine an unbiased sequence of events.
Brown is also using technology to manage quality assurance, checking that there are no abandoned gates or staff leaving their posts. However, “while technology is a huge advantage, there’s nothing like human intelligence,” he says.
The training aspect in the event security space is a major one, for situational awareness, emergency management and customer service. For STAPLES Center, which has around 400 regular security team members, getting consistency is an ongoing effort. Training is provided not just in classroom settings, but by getting out into the field with mock scenarios set up around the building so security officers can practice and get feedback.
“Our supervisors run the training,” Born says. “They’re on the frontline, so they know how different situations will emerge and how we can respond. Supervisors are often involved in a security team member’s career from the interview process through training, so they have a close relationship with the team.”
At The University of Texas in Austin, a virtual army of people can participate in game day functions – upwards of 3,500, says Assistant Vice President for Campus Safety James Johnson. Longhorn football games regularly sell out, with more than 100,000 fans attending. While the university has a large support element with its fully-staffed emergency operations center (EOC) and 26 participating agencies, the success of operations depends on frontline staff, especially supervisors.
According to Johnson, training is done at various levels, including “just in time” training before games, attaching a card with emergency instructions to staff lanyards, an all-hands-on-deck meeting the week of each game, and supervisor training. For a severe weather incident, supervisors need to be able to evacuate their section of 2,000 fans to safety quickly, so the university holds a shelter and evacuation drill with them every summer.
“Maintaining communication between our partners and our team members creates a fluid concert of activities that enhance game day activities while reducing risk,” says Johnson.
At Levi’s Stadium, Jim Mercurio is pushing See Something, Say Something further. “Potential threats are always changing, and awareness starts with law enforcement, continues with security, and should always include food and beverage, guest services and engineers. It’s not just a security person’s job,” he says. “We’re promoting ‘See Something, Say Something, Do Something.’ If an engineer is in an environment every day, he’s more likely to find something out of place, so he can contact the command post, take pictures as evidence and take action to intervene. We never want to assume it’s nothing.”
One example of this was when a parking attendant noticed something out of place with a fan leaving the stadium. The attendant made the call to the command post, and security personnel were able to train cameras on that location and call in additional staff. While responders were in route, the fan collapsed and had a massive heart attack. “As a result of that training, knowledge, quick action and being aware, we were able to get resources to her, and she was able to be shocked back to life, and within minutes she was sitting up and talking with first responders,” Mercurio says. “Had we not had some of that training about awareness and being proactive, the outcome surely could have been different.”