When we asked John Bertsch, director of public safety emergency management for the IRONMAN Triathlon World Championships, what safety and security issues keep him up at night he chuckled and replied, "A lot. We are on a volcanic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with 2,700 world-class athletes representing more than 80 countries ocean swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles — in 90-degree temperatures and 80 percent humidity — and running a 26.2-mile marathon through the lava fields."


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Bertsch recently became the first person in the participatory sports industry to be awarded the Certified Sport Security Professional (CSSP) certification by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4). Bertsch has been in and around law enforcement and public safety for more than 26 years. He served stints in the USCG-AUX, Coconino County Sheriff's Department, Hawaii Fire Department and most notably, as the police commissioner for the County of Hawaii. He has also competed in numerous triathlons, marathons and sporting events as well as contributing as a youth soccer coach for more than 15 years.

When asked what motivated him to attain the CSSP, Bertsch said the answer is simple. "Read the names of the professionals that are on the list; it's the 'who's who' of the best in our nation in spectator sports safety and security. CSSP is the highest and most prestigious certification the sporting industry has to offer, and I am honored to be the first to represent participatory sporting events." Bertsch believes the CSSP provides him with credibility by being recognized and accepted by his peers in a professional setting under the auspices of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security.

The Bertsch Resume

In 2007, John was the Hawaii County Malama Award recipient for outstanding contributions to the community and sports. He is a volunteer fire captain, a 20-year member of Department of Homeland Security-United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, a member of the US Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security – Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Hawaii State Law Enforcement Officials Association, Federal Law Enforcement Foundation, Hawaii Fire Chiefs Association and the National Volunteer Firefighters Association. Director Bertsch sits on the Advisory Committee for the Department of Defense – US Army Garrison Hawaii Pohakuloa Military Training Area and the Board of the Hawaii Pacific Parks Association for the Department of Interior National Parks Service.

Regarding the CSSP exam, Bertsch found the application of certain concepts regulating spectator sporting venues particularly challenging. "Theoretically, guidelines and practices should be universal, but in reality, we are inherently different. All of our outdoor venues are stood up in less than 36 hours and removed completely eight hours after the last finisher. This could be anywhere in any city. My colleagues in spectator sports have the ability to perfect and harden their fixed venue every day of the year."

To others looking to prepare for and attain the CSSP, Bertsch recommends never giving up. He describes it as a broad-brush-approach-style exam with specific knowledge-based questions. Oh, and he says you have to study.

For those who make it to Hawaii one day, Bertsch describes the perfect scene as a hammock strung between two palms on the beach during sunset and a Mai Tai with the pineapple wedge firmly nestled on the rim. This kind of relaxation is well-deserved after effectively managing safety and security for an event as mighty as the IRONMAN Triathlon World Championships.


This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Gameday Security with the title "The unique security challenges of participatory-sports events"