NCS4 kicked off its annual conference and expo Monday with the formal introduction of its Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Best Practices Guide. The 100-plus page "living" document is the result of collegiate security and safety leaders brainstorming ideas at NCS4's first National Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Summit last January at the University of Southern Mississippi, according to symposium moderator Paul Denton, chief of police at Ohio State University.
The theme of those brainstorming sessions? Continuous improvement in all aspects of venue safety, a topic that resonated with panelist Sharon Cessna, NCAA director of championships.
Among her duties, Cessna is responsible for the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma. When severe weather — and potentially a tornado — was predicted in the Oklahoma City area during last year's tournament, Cessna made the challenging decision to postpone the evening's games. The decision was both easy (a tornado had killed 24 on Oklahoma City's south side the previous week) and difficult (at the time Cessna called it, 3.30 p.m., it was sunny). But Cessna explained the decision to postpone the games had to be made at a time when teams would still be at their hotels and there would be as few as possible at the 9,000-seat stadium. Despite an effective course of action that resulted in no injuries, Cessna admitted that, looking back, there were still 10-15 things she would have done differently.
And that, in essence, is exactly what the Best Practices Guide is for, to provide collegiate athletics administrators and security personnel with a baseline of protocols so they don't have to rethink what course of action they may have taken in a certain situation. The document itself is broken up into nine topical areas: gameday plan; crowd dynamics/management; emergency action planning; routine non-gameday operations/measures; risk and threat assessment/vulnerabilities and planning; sport facilities design/environment; staff performance/development/training/certification; security and safe aware culture; and technology use/implementation/innovation, information management.
The document that will be continuously updated to reflect the constantly changing environment of protecting intercollegiate athletic facilities. Case in point: an attendee from the University of Oklahoma asked about the use of drones for surveillance of tailgating and traffic, among other security responsibilities. Panelist Jennifer Grant with the FBI's National Joint Terrorism Task Force disclosed that her group receives at least one call a day from colleges about drones. She, along with her fellow panelists, acknowledge this is an area that is still developing, offering more questions than answers at this point, including what organization should regulate drones (since they fly too low to fall under FAA regulation).
But the most important question brought up during the opening symposium, the one question that drives the NCS4 conference year after year: How do we keep everyone safe and secure while ensuring the best fan experience? Follow me on Twitter @AB_Dennis for live updates from the NCS4 conference as leading sports security experts tackle that question throughout the week.