Best Practices For Game Day Security At Athletic & Sport

Introduction

On September 11th, it became abundantly clear that stadium and arena operators needed to incorporate security safeguards at America’s sporting venues. Increased foresight and precautions have become an integral part of standing orders at athletic venues not only for protecting existing facilities, but also in the defense of future sites. The authors of this article formed a team of researchers who conducted a nationwide investigation on the current game day security operations at Division I college football and basketball sporting venues. This research highlighted a number of security precautions that should be taken into consideration during all phases of facility operation: from initial design through post-event debriefing. The authors realize that every venue is different and therefore each site presents unique challenges that stadium, athletic directors and arena managers will need to overcome. For that reason alone, the checklist was constructed by relying on an extensive review of literature along with personal contacts with prominent security professionals across America. An initial instrument was pilot tested for content validation to a select group of Division I institutions along with a small number of professional experts including the Vice Presidents of Security for all four major professional sports leagues. This work resulted in the creation of the “Game Day Security Operations Checklist” that consists of 38 items vital to security preparations at stadiums and arenas.

After designing the instrument, it was sent in a survey packet to all Division I athletic directors and university directors of public safety. The athletic directors chosen to participate in the study were identified through the 2002-2003 National Directory of College Athletics (Collegiate Directories Inc., 2002). The remainders of the study’s participants were identified through a combination of Internet research and personal phone calls to individual institutions. In addition to the Game Day Security Operations Checklist, the survey packet included a cover letter that informed the participants that all information gained from completed surveys would be used by the researchers solely for statistical purposes and would be held to strict confidentiality and anonymity for security purposes.

The participants were asked to rate the frequency with which they implement each of the 38 security measures on a 5-point Likert-type scale. The scale was set as follows: 1 indicating no emphasis (this is not part of our game day operations), 2 indicating moderate emphasis (we feature this at 50% of our athletic events), 3 indicating priority (we feature this at 75% of our athletic events), 4 indicating we feature this (this is part of our standard operating procedure), and 0 indicating no opinion.

One hundred and twenty-one different schools responded to the survey and that is representative of 38% of the Division I colleges and universities in America. Completed surveys were received from all 31 polled conferences.

How Does Your University Match Up Against The Best Prepared Football Stadiums

Figure 1. presents 21 concepts along with the mean score for the most secure stadiums versus stadiums operating at a lower level of security. At the request of numerous athletic directors and a reporter at AP News, the research team also categorized the costs of implementing each precautionary measure. Individual prices are not listed since the costs for each of theses measures varied according to geographic regions. Three levels of cost classifications were utilized and they included: Prohibitive, Moderate, and Low. The authors have included the actual Game Day Security Checklist as a separate addendum for those colleges and universities that did not participate in this research and who might wish to fill out the checklist prior to reading the results listed below.

Figure 1. Differentiating Concepts for Football Stadiums

Security Concept Most Secure Stadiums Lower Level Security Stadiums Cost To Implement Denoted as Prohibitive ($$$), Moderate ($$), and Low ($)
Establish Central Command 4 1 $
Venue Lockdown 4 1 $
Bomb Sniffing Dogs 4 1 $$
90 Minute Pre-event Concession Delivery Minimum 3 1 $
24 Hour Security 4 1 $$
Restricted Areas 4 1 $
Photo Ids for Employees 4 1 $
Formal Risk Management Plan 4 1 $
Pre-event Training 4 1 $$
Coordination with State Police 4 2 $
Formal Evacuation Plan 4 1 $
Awareness Nearby Explosives 4 3 $
Under Cover Surveillance 3 1 $$
No-fly Zones 4 1 $
Mobile ER 4 1 $
No Re-entry 4 1 $
1 Crowd Observer for every 250 Spectators 4 1 $
Security Patrols in Parking Lot 4 1 $$
Periodic Broadcasts Regarding Security Factors 3 1 $
No Carry-ins/ Backpacks 4 1 $
Post-event Debriefing 4 1 $

How Does Your University Match Up Against The Best Prepared Basketball Arenas

21 concepts were identified as being those security measures that separated the highest scoring basketball institutions from the lowest scores in the study. Figure 2. presents these concepts along with the score connected with the top 25% most secure arenas verses the lowest quartile of arenas operating at a lower level of security.

Figure 2. Differentiating Concepts for Basketball Arenas

Security Concept Most Secure Arenas Lower Level Security Arenas Research Cost Denoted as Prohibitive ($$$), Moderate ($$), and Low ($)
Establish Central Command 4 2 $
Venue Lockdown 4 1 $
Bomb Sniffing Dogs 1 1 $$
90 Minute Pre-event Concession Delivery Minimum 2 1 $
24 Hour Security 4 1 $$
Restricted Areas 4 2 $
Photo Ids for Employees 4 1 $
Formal Risk Management Plan 4 2 $
Pre-event Training 4 2 $$
Coordination with State Police 4 2 $
Formal Evacuation Plan 4 3 $
Awareness Nearby Explosives 4 1 $
Under Cover Surveillance 2 1 $$
No-fly Zones 1 1 $
Mobile ER 4 1 $
No Re-entry 4 1 $
1 Crowd Observer for every 250 Spectators 4 1 $
Security Patrols in Parking Lot 4 2 $$
Periodic Broadcasts Regarding Security Factors 3 1 $
No Carry-ins/ Backpacks 4 1 $
Post-event Debriefing 3 1 $

The Best Prepared Football & Basketball Conferences
Football fans anxiously anticipate the release of the preseason top 25 Coaches Poll just as basketball fans burn the midnight oil creating their March Madness brackets looking forward to the Final Four. Just as there can only be a certain number of dominant teams on the gridiron or hardwood, so there are a handful of superior athletic conferences when it comes to Game Day Security Operations. The researchers have discovered the following elite conferences that indicated compliance with the proposed security concepts 75% of the time or more along with their total score, out of a highest possible Game Day Security Operations Checklist total score of 152.

Figure 3. The Best Prepared Conferences

Football (Cumulative Score) Basketball (Cumulative Score)
SEC (100) Big East (88)
Big East (95) SEC (83)
Pac-10 (92) Big 12 (82)
Big 12 (91) Big 10 (81)
Big 10 (89) West Coast Conference (79)
ACC (89) Horizon League (78)
WAC (79)
Mountain West (77)

Figure 3. indicates a number of important results. First, a total of eight conferences participating in Division-I football complied with the proposed security measures at 75% of events while only six basketball-playing conferences achieved the same level of compliance. The researchers believe there are a number of reasons for this discrepancy. First, Division-I football stadiums resemble professional venues to a greater degree than basketball arenas. While this is a generalization, many football stadiums are used almost exclusively for the football games while being located off campus and shut-off from the normal flow of students, faculty, etc. In contrast, basketball arenas are often considered just another on-campus facility. These facilities are often used for classroom space, intramurals, and other daily events. The nature of football stadiums as being isolated from the routine college campus traffic and usage while also being more catered to corporate clients may allow for more stringent security procedures. This is one possible explanation for the discrepancy between the numbers of elite football conferences complying with the proposed security measures as compared to the number of basketball venues reaching the same level of compliance. Another possible explanation is that the number of events scheduled for indoor venues far exceeds the total number of events held in outdoor football stadiums. As usage of a facility increases, so does the cost of securing that venue. With daily usage of basketball arenas, stringent security may tax the university’s capacity to implement the majority of the security measures as part of its standard operating procedure.While a few of the suggested security concepts are admittedly cost prohibitive, such as the deployment of antiterrorism squads and the utilization of biological detection equipment that might be used at the Super Bowl or NCAA finals, in a similar manner that the daily implementation of even the moderate cost items may stress the average athletic department budget, there are methods by which a university may ameliorate this financial burden. For instance, Mr. Bernie Tolbert, Vice President of Security for the National Basketball Association, has suggested rotating the utilization of security concepts from event to event. This will prevent potential security threats from establishing a pattern to a venue’s security measures. Milt Ahlerich, Vice President for NFL Security identified the installation of jersey barriers or other concrete bollards as one of the most important factors. Fifty-six percent of the respondents for football and eighty-one percent of the respondents for basketball have not installed concrete bollards at their venues. While somewhat cost prohibitive, this one time investment coupled with several of the low to moderate cost items like prohibiting re-entry, no carry-ins, and the prohibition of deliveries 90 minutes prior to the event go a long way in securing these sporting venues.

Lessons Learned

The cornerstone of all good research centers on the transformation of theoretical concepts into improved practice. Similarly, just as teamwork is the cornerstone of all successful athletic programs, so communication is the foundation of all safe sport venues. If the unique atmosphere of collegiate athletics is to be preserved, and the excitement of Rivalry Week, Midnight Madness, New Year’s Day bowl games, and the Final Four is to be enjoyed by future generations of fans, then athletic directors and directors of public safety at college campuses need to scrutinize their game plans well in advance of the kickoff and tip-off of each season. Furthermore, coordinated communication must be a priority from pre-event training through post event debriefing. Several NFL teams including the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars have planned and practiced coordinated responses to a variety of disaster scenarios. Stadium and arena managers with the support of their college and university presidents should develop and practice coordinated responses to a variety of disaster scenarios with their local, state, and federal first responders. Just as all players on a team need to have intimate knowledge of where they are supposed to be on the field or court and the responsibilities that accompany that position, so all athletic directors and support staff must be familiar with their particular roles and responsibilities. Simple knowledge of individual responsibility, however, is not sufficient. This is why constant communication both in the air and on the ground from within the hot zone and outside the hot zone is vital to the protection of collegiate athletic events should an attack take place. The head coach serves as the hub of all team communication and game plans just as the central command of a stadium or arena directs all communication efforts and coordinates the formal planning, from risk management to evacuation, that is necessary to securing the safety of players, coaches, the media, and the fanatical supporters in the stands.

Final Thoughts

The Springfield College faculty and students that comprised the Game Day Security Checklist Research Team for stadium designers and operators are hopeful that this easy reference checklist will be useful as the security and operation experts on the front lines develop their strategies to safeguard their athletic and sport venues. The Research team would also like to thank experts Martin Boryszak, Kathy Larue, and John Pantera for their counter-terrorism consultations. A special word of thanks is extended to Larry Perkins, General Manager of the RBC Center in North Carolina, and to the Vice Presidents of Security for each of the four professional leagues, most especially Milton Ahlerich, Vice President Security NFL, and Bernie Tolbert, Vice President Security NBA and Distinguished Weckwerth Lecturer, Springfield College Sport Management & Recreation Department 2003.

Game Day Security Operations Checklist


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