What is the state of the intercollegiate athletic event security industry today? What issues or changes are impacting sports event safety and security? These questions may have been on the minds of public safety and security experts from across the country when they gathered recently for the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) Intercollegiate Sports Summit. The summit provided opportunities for discussion on a number of topics and general reflection on how best to protect fans, athletes and venues.
The facilitated sessions provided an open door to listen and learn from top national leaders in the field. As expected, there were shared issues of concern irrespective of size or scale of the campus or event facility.
Here are some thoughts on critical issues for the industry today and in the foreseeable future.
Terrorism — U.S. citizens and sports fans cannot escape the impact of world affairs and violent extremism. The mass shooting in San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon bombing and the attacks in Paris and Brussels all hint at the threats and trending tactics for which security officials, administrators and facility managers must prepare. Terrorist tactics continue to evolve in form and function and will require attention, in-depth study, planning and resources to identify potential exposures and preventive tactics in response to various levels of threats.
Staffing — There is consensus in the industry that it is increasingly difficult to find enough qualified people to work events — whether they are hired as employees of the venue, engaged through a contracted security firm or simply volunteers. The challenges include background screening and retaining a sufficient pool of intermittent workers to meet the increasing need for help. Public safety administrators are not immune to this problem. Many police and fire agencies have experienced a decline in regular full-time personnel at the same time that demand for extra-duty work and overtime assignments for events has increased. Adding temporary staff as ushers, for gate security, and to work parking lots and in other areas of support makes training requirements far more important, particularly for volunteers and others assigned to safety or security functions.
Patron screening, alcohol and weapons — Security risk assessments have connected the dots between carry-in items and increased problems in crowd management, greater security concerns due to intoxication, and threats from weapons or other personal items that might be used to cause damage or harm. In past years, ticket holders entered a sports venue unchecked, with few restrictions on what they could bring into the event. Stadium and arena policies on bags, purses, seat cushions, umbrellas or camera lenses are now being widely re-crafted.
Two recent trends are greatly impacting this issue. The first is the growing number of intercollegiate stadiums, arenas and sports venues allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold or served. Though this gives the venue more control over fans' consumption, it is expected that some fans will continue to secretly bring in alcoholic beverages to circumvent concessions pricing or simply to drink during a game where alcohol is not served on site.
Second, through legislation and court rulings, more states now allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public campuses. Exceptions are sometimes carved out to allow campus officials to retain some restrictions on firearms and ban weapons at large gatherings or sports events. The concept is rife with nuance. Legislation recently passed in Kansas, for example, creates a provision that colleges and universities cannot prohibit concealed carry weapons unless a building has "adequate security measures."
Policy decisions for limiting carry-in items are not always easy and in some cases require legal foundation. Facility managers, athletics administrators and safety officials must come to agreement particularly on the balance between the amount and type of pre-event screening and patron gate flow. While metal detection equipment may seem an obvious answer to the firearms issue, acquisition of magnetometers and security wands are costly for venues. Security experts point out that implementation is not as easy as it sounds. With any new or additional security measures, pre-event public information and communication becomes an important factor in providing good customer service and limiting entry delays for fans.
Expanded use of venues for non-sporting events — There seems to be increasing overlap between the worlds of stadium managers and arena managers. The multipurpose use of college stadiums and arenas is not unique or new in itself. Managers of campus facilities are reporting a wider variety of events and proposed uses of their venues, from university commencements, concerts, entertainment shows and political campaign visits to other sporting events such as hosting professional sport teams, international soccer matches or a running race course routed in or through a football stadium.
Moreover, large stadium concerts are trending in some cases toward multi-day music festivals. These stadium and arena events can also include additional public/private aspects such as commercially sponsored pre- and post-game parties, marketing and promotional sponsors in public plazas, additional entertainment stages, beer gardens and satellite food service. The wider variety adds complexity to safety and security planning, and often exposes additional public venues in need of security staff protection. An important line on a résumé for event directors and facility managers will be "prior experience planning a wide variety of major events."
No easy answers
The common thread running through all of these issues is the bottom-line cost of event safety and security. It is helpful to think like a fiscal manager. Are there objective performance measures that can be used to build a case for needed resources? Is staff working at peak capacity? Are security costs increasing? Are there opportunities to inform and guide administrators and executives about the local and global threat assessment? Where can partnerships be leveraged to acquire staffing or resources at a lower cost? What is the most economical and efficient distribution to maximize available resources for event safety and security? Is there benefit to privatizing or contracting out services? Is it wise to employ an outside third party to manage overall event security?
There are no easy answers. Safety officials, facility managers and athletics administrators continuously search for a reasonable, rational and efficient staffing mix for such functions as controlling traffic and parking, securing entry gates and countering terrorism.
The world of business affairs may be unfamiliar to many public safety administrators. It's important to take the time to learn. Make an effort to understand budgetary interests in partnership with athletics administrators and venue managers.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Gameday with the title "Breaking down the critical issues facing today’s security professionals"