The Oakland Raiders are most commonly associated with deceased owner Al Davis, the man famous for the phrase, "Just win, baby." In this century, winning has been hard to come by for the Raiders, who have posted five or fewer victories in 10 of the past 12 seasons, including a three-year stretch from 2006 to 2008 in which they won 11 games combined. While the team on the field was anything but elite during that time, it was the team behind the scenes, specifically within its command center, that was developing into the envy of other NFL franchises.
"One of the things that made the Raiders command center the premier command center in the NFL at that time was that we adopted the unified command strategy and procedures that I learned as a federal government employee," says Chad Ladov, former stadium manager for Oakland Coliseum from 2006 to 2008. Prior to his role overseeing Raiders games, he worked at the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Association. "And it wasn't that it was that much different from other NFL teams, it was more that those other command centers weren't fully utilized," he says. "What would you see typically was a contingent of security people and maybe a mix of medical people."
Today, command centers at all 31 NFL stadiums have implemented this modern approach to their staffing and management. Representatives from various police, medical, maintenance, parking and even concessions agencies can be found in a command center, and that approach extends beyond just professional football. Stadiums and arenas in college, and high-profile open-access events, including endurance races, are increasingly improving or upgrading their own command centers.
NO SOFT VENUE
"The one thing that I noticed that was missing from that Raiders command center back then was software to really help manage the command and control aspect," says Ladov, who left to form a company called VenueSoft with a former law enforcement professional. The idea was to build a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software package that mirrored what 911 centers use around the country. After moderate success, he joined a group called In Stadium Solutions — now known as ISS 24/7 — that specialized in patron text solutions. The partnership led to the creation of the Incident Management System, an innovative software tool that deposits all reported incidents from multiple personnel in multiple locations into a central repository in real time, ensuring fast response with no lost incidents.
For command centers still relying on paper documentation and recording, it emerged as the tool they hadn't even realized they wanted or needed.
Paul Turner, director of event operations and security at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, joined the Dallas Cowboys when they were in the last year of construction on the new stadium. He was one of the key people who helped get the stadium up and running under a security command center.
"In the past, command centers consisted of representatives from different services in the same room so you could share information and tell the person next to you that you needed response or assistance somewhere, with people handling things over the radio and jotting things down on paper," Turner says. "Now, we've really leveraged technology that helps make sure we can get information from the staff out working in the stadium and really coordinating and tracking all of our response capabilities to a variety of incidents. So it's become a lot more sophisticated, using software to document and manage and handle all of the responses for different requests for services."
At AT&T Stadium, Turner opens his command center when the parking lots open the day of a Cowboys game — five hours before kickoff — and normally keeps it open until three to four hours after a game has concluded, which can make for 12-hour days. "It's a very long operational period, but it allows us to make sure we have a perspective on the whole context of the event day," he says.
At Ladov's old stomping grounds in Oakland, Greg Desharnais serves as director of events, overseeing such sporting events as Raiders games and Golden State Warriors basketball games. Like Turner, he has seen many improvements in both home venues' command centers as a result of the software inclusion. Says Desharnais, "The customizability of the software is nice — the fact that you can hold departments accountable for how long calls are open, what their response times are, the ability to track incidents and tie a specific incident to a time in the game or certain event markers."
For Joe Chan, security director at the Oakland Coliseum, having the ability to be immediately notified and respond to an incident has made a big difference in controlling potential bigger situations. "At football games, if you let a problem fester, you're going to have more problems later on," Chan says. "The software has helped identify those problem areas right away, so you can address them immediately without letting those issues or problems grow."
Being web-based, various departments can now monitor activity remotely rather than having to be inside the command center itself, which can be a much-needed amenity for venues with command centers that are at physical capacity in terms of personnel. "There are some resources, like housekeeping and engineering, that don't need to be in the command post, but we can communicate with them through the incident management system," Turner says.
"I think being able to track in real time everything that is going on at your event is hugely impactful and powerful," says Ladov, now vice president of business development for ISS 24/7. "The software presents the analytics and situational awareness to find the little problems that you might not be able to identify otherwise.
"For example, I can quickly pull up a report that tells me that my maintenance response time in the upper deck of the 300s is seven minutes. I can then make a decision as a manager to bring in more staff, shift around staff and reallocate resources to get response time down by a couple minutes. Those couple minutes might make no difference at all or they might make all the difference in the world."
ROOM TO GROW
While personnel inclusion and technology advancements have greatly improved sports-based command centers, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
"One of the biggest mistakes still being made is walking away from the unified command approach," Ladov says. "I'll meet with local law enforcement, and they'll prefer to have a separate location with no representative embedded with us in the command post.
"Bringing everyone together in that one room is just that powerful. Forget about the software and the cameras and all the technology. If you don't put all of your important folks in one room together, you are doing yourself and your patrons a huge disservice."
Space, even with the largest and best command centers, is another primary concern.
"When the Raiders came back to Oakland, they had the foresight to build out an entire luxury suite for the command post, which is very rare," Desharnais says. "While we have a nice, large space, there are definitely times we wish we had more space as we put more people in there. Real estate does get precious."
Turner, meanwhile, cautions that more command centers need to think beyond just the people and equipment. "You have to make sure that space and all the technology is on emergency power so that if the venue does lose power, all those things are not going to be compromised in a critical incident. Also, think about sound isolation to make sure that the working environment for those people is one in which they can have conversations and do the work without it being noisy or disruptive, compromising their ability to communicate."
More colleges are investing in their command centers, and after the Boston Marathon bombings, the same can be said for high-profile endurance events. Command centers have yet to penetrate the high school sporting landscape, despite some of the big-time programs in Texas, for example, rivaling a college environment with stadiums built to accommodate tens of thousands of spectators.
Says Turner, "Anytime you are organizing an event and you're bringing thousands of people together, I think it's incumbent to put a command staff in place that is overseeing the event to make sure it's running the way that it should be."
Dennis Van Milligen former editor in chief of Athletic Business (2014-2015).
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "IN COMMAND"