Copyright 2016 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.
Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
COLUMBUS - For 359 days this year, traversing Woody Hayes Drive to Ohio Stadium could not be easier. Starting at the road's westernmost point, a 1-mile drive east is all it takes to reach the home of the Buckeyes.
Making the same trek on an Ohio State football Saturday, however, is a small window into the massive security operation that goes into a game day in Columbus.
To complete that mile-long journey - and to get anywhere near the stadium - one must have a correct parking pass to turn onto Woody Hayes Drive, clear up to six different law enforcement checkpoints, cross temporary speed bumps, weave through barriers designed to slow vehicles, and maneuver across the bridge over the Olentangy River.
And all of that is possible only if an explosives-detection team or K-9 unit has not stopped the vehicle for further evaluation first.
Ohio State football attracts some of the largest crowds in American sports, which local law enforcement matches with a complex security plan for each game.
"The unique challenge is that we have 107,000-plus in the stadium and you got 20,000-plus outside of the stadium tailgating, and we need to provide a safe environment for our fans, the visiting team, their fans, and visitors," said Craig Stone, OSU's police chief.
"And we still have a campus we have to operate, so that's a challenge to have our population grow that much on game day."
To help manage the large crowds, virtually every major public safety agency in the state plays a role. In addition to the OSU and Columbus Police Departments, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Franklin County Sheriff 's Office, the U.S. Army, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security all have a presence as well.
According to a public records request, Ohio State also has a contract with private security firm Contemporary Security Corporation through 2018 with a mutual option to extend through 2020 for the purpose of providing stadium security.
All of the entities present, whether public or private, work under a unified system run through a command post in the press box at Ohio Stadium, where a separate athletics command post oversees game-day operations.
Mike Penner, who oversees internal operations for Ohio State, said providing security for a stadium of that size - 108,750 people attended the Buckeyes' most recent home game - requires a special effort.
"The whole public-safety mission is one mission made up of a whole lot of agencies to make it work," Penner said last month. "The checkpoints are just part of the public safety plan everyone bought into."
For certain games, like the one Ohio State will play against Michigan today, Ohio State seeks even more outside help from fellow university police departments.
With the University of Toledo students on break and the Rockets football team out of town this week, the UT Police Department responded to a call for additional support. UTPD will send a K-9 unit to Columbus to aid Ohio State for the Michigan game.
"It truly does take a large effort, and you need to rely on resources outside of your agency when you're trying to provide security for such a large crowd," UT Police Chief Jeff Newton said. "Considering the crowd on the outside of the stadium as well, it's a monumental effort. We're happy to participate."
Penner said that OSU identified roadways as a possible threat to Ohio Stadium. The changed traffic patterns create a "buffer zone" around the stadium that prevents any large vehicle from building speed near the facility or the bridge on Woody Hayes Drive.
Stone and Penner meet every Thursday to discuss the upcoming issues, then give a debriefing to game personnel - ticket takers, ushers, security guards, and the like - about six hours before kickoff.
OSU's environmental health and safety department uses portable air monitors to check for airborne chemicals and radiation on site, cameras watch virtually every inch of the facility, and communication between agencies is nonstop.
Ohio State instituted a no-bag policy at the stadium for this season, to which Penner said most fans have beenresponsive.Thatchange also allowed security guards to do a more thorough job, Penner said.
"That allows the staff working the gates to focus more on people and less on bags," Penner said. "They're watching their surroundings and not the bags."
Penner said the most congestion starts about 45 minutes before kickoff, when many fans begin to arrive at their ticket gates. After that, he said the operations staff "spends the rest of the game reacting."
For the most part, Penner said problems are dealt with rather simply, ranging from a bathroom running low on paper towels to a ticket issue to a "bio-spill" - a nice way of saying somebody vomited and it needs to be cleaned immediately.
The only variable over which the staff has no influence is sometimes the most frustrating: weather.
The Buckeyes went through a home weather delay for the first time in more than two decades during a September game against Tulsa. Severe thunderstorms at halftime forced security personnel to evacuate the playing field and the stands, and the fans who stayed were told to take shelter in the Ohio Stadium grandstands.
Penner said most everything has a plan - he just prays the weather also cooperates.
"I'm looking at the forecast all week to determine what my stress level is going to be," he said.
The weather looks as if it will cooperate today, with cool temperatures but no severe weather in the forecast.
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