Carmel (Ind.) High School has not had more serious security issues at its athletic events than those that took place on a bizarre night in November 2013. During a state semifinal football game at Carmel, a football official suffered a heart attack on the field but was revived. While the official was receiving medical attention, a fan suffered a seizure in the stands and was treated there. The most tragic event of the night occurred when the father of a Carmel football player had a medical emergency in the stands during the fourth quarter and later died at a local hospital.
With 5,000 students, Carmel is the largest high school in the state of Indiana. Football games attract crowds of about 10,000 people, and basketball crowds can reach 4,000. Carmel has had good security plans in place, says athletics director Jim Inskeep, but the school wanted to refine those plans and also prepare for other possible scenarios.
Due in part to that initiative, Carmel recently became the first high school to receive the Sports Event Security Aware (SESA) designation from the University of Southern Mississippi's National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4). Earning the distinction did not happen overnight. For years, Carmel High School had not only enforced a set of security measures, it developed a relationship with the Carmel Police Department.
To receive the designation, Carmel had to complete the Risk Management for Interscholastic Athletics and After-School Activities course, developed by NCS4, which partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the National Association of School Resource Officers. The course focuses on developing prevention, preparedness, response and recovery techniques at athletic events and afterschool activities.
To date, 11 universities have attained the SESA designation, according to the NSC4 website, including Indiana, Louisiana State, Penn State and Texas A&M. The other seven schools are from Mississippi: Alcorn State, Delta State, Jackson State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Mississippi Valley State and Southern Mississippi.
SHARPER SECURITY STRATEGIES
Carmel administrators were among the first to take the risk management course in May 2014 along with other athletic directors and administrators from schools in Indiana before NSC4 made the course available nationwide.
Inskeep and assistant principal Amy Skeens-Benton have stayed in contact with NSC4, and that relationship grew for most of 2015 as the school reviewed plans and protocols and worked toward receiving the designation.
"It was a chance for us to take a look at what we're doing and how can we get better," Inskeep says. "We felt like going through this designation process was a great chance for us to look inside our procedures and strategies and provide a safe environment for everyone who's coming to our events, including our student-athletes, coaches and staff."
Skeens-Benton, who also took training courses online through the Department of Homeland Security, says most of her job involves safety and security for the school during the 7:50 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. school hours. The risk management course gave the school more information and the motivation to pursue the same kind of attention to its afterschool event planning, she says. Inskeep adds, "Schools spend a tremendous amount of time and resources controlling who is in the building from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., through the school gate guardian and all the other check-in procedures that schools have. And then when 3 p.m. arrives and the kids start leaving, the doors are open for virtually anyone to walk in, whether it's to an event or to practice. That's just not at Carmel High School; that could be at any school across the nation."
Carmel also was one of the first schools in Indiana to start an active-shooter response program, Skeens-Benton says. "I think one of the reasons why we were asked to even participate in that first course was because of that work that we had already done," she says. "NCS4 wanted to help us get better but also take information from us as well. Through those connections, we received information and collaborated with schools all over the nation on all of our practices and protocols."
WORKING WITH LOCAL POLICE
Carmel High School administrators regularly meet with police and fire officials to discuss event planning. Before the start of each school year and sports season, administrators hold meetings with all event workers, including ticket takers, ticket sellers and event managers, to go over security situations and scenarios. Coaches also go through special training meetings.
"The number-one part that we learned [in obtaining the SESA designation] is the importance of training and training everyone," Skeens-Benton says. "Plans are great, and I've seen school systems with unbelievable plans where there are only two people who know what they are. That's the biggest mistake people make."
Carmel High's relationship with the Carmel Police Department goes back 10 years and was a big part of the school's push for the SESA designation. The city of Carmel originally paid for one police officer to become the school's resource officer, whose sole responsibility was to build relationships with the school, Skeens-Benton says. Carmel now has four police officers who are assigned from the department. Those officers come at no cost to the school, which will hire additional security depending on the size of the event, Skeens-Benton adds.
Between 14 and 17 police officers patrol football games, and about six to seven police officers are at home basketball games, Inskeep says. Police are put in high-visibility areas, including ticket booths and entrances to the court. Court storming is not allowed after basketball games, Inskeep says, as barriers are put in place between the basketball court and the stands. Carmel works with the opposing school administration and develops a rapport with students who are in the first couple of rows at games to prevent a court storming.
Carmel also has public-address announcements with written scripts for certain scenarios and situations, such as when fans need to go for shelter. Before large events, local law enforcement will do sweeps of facilities to check if there are any suspicious packages or backpacks.
There are no metal detectors at events, but all students take a breathalyzer test conducted by administrators and teachers upon entering, Inskeep says. That idea came from the student body leadership. "We didn't feel like we had a large problem [with students consuming alcohol]," Inskeep says. "Certainly we had isolated incidents throughout the years, but our student body and our student leaders asked if there was something more that we can do at home football games, for example."
Now armed with the SESA designation, Skeens-Benton says Carmel will continue to seek and learn best security practices to keep the school and community safe — part of the requirements of the SESA designation, which is valid only for a four-year period.
"We're not perfect," she says. "We'd like to be, and we're striving to be. Excellence will be accepted. Perfection is the goal. We're not done. We will never be done."
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Gameday with the title "How Carmel High School became the first high school to earn SESA designation"