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Safety Changes and the Fan Experience

IAVM, December 08, 2015

by Nathaniel Stahlecker

It started with a sign and grew to an act of terrorism. Security protocols and prohibited items lists across the country went under review when a couple of activists decided to send a message to Bank of America at a Carolina Panthers game. Eleven days later, the first ever terrorism attack on a stadium and the equally horrible acts that followed in Paris. Now most venues are looking at the entire scope of their security plans.

The activist group that decided that repelling at a NFL game would be a good idea was very misinformed. No matter the message they were trying to send or how skilled they are at repelling, they still put their lives and others’ lives at risk. It is not my place to speculate on how they pulled this off, but reading current events is what keeps us sharp. This led me to look at the prohibited items lists for stadiums across the country. Nothing I have found to date mentions anything about rope or climbing gear, however most do include that the stadium has the right to prohibit any items they consider a security risk. The one thing that a written policy like this doesn’t include is human error. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of our staff has not seen climbing gear or other unknown items people may try to bring in the future. We can sit here and write page upon page of prohibited items, but what we need to do is train (and constantly re-train) our staff to ask questions or stop guests at the gates if someone has an unusual personal item.

Signs have been a part of all sports from the beginning. Taking away signs isn’t the answer but setting size limits and rules around proper usage is probably the next best thing. Most stadiums and venues already have these policies in place and probably haven’t had any issues. Personally, my experience has come from working at stadiums with an MLS tenant and I like the approach they’ve made. There is the typical wording about obstructing others’ views/stadium signage, attaching signs to poles, attaching signs to stadium walls/rails, and what type of material a sign is made of. However, most teams have a supporters section where designated members can get access to the stadium before gates open to attach banners to stadium property, set up flags on poles to wave, and use extra noise makers (ex: drums). In addition, these items live at the stadium and are brought in and out of storage by stadium staff before and after each game to avoid any confusion at the entry gates.

Tragedy is an understatement for what happened in Paris, and we need to learn from it. Stade de France faced three suicide bombers and none of them made it past the entry gates. I’m not sure if any or all three actually attempted to enter, but I would like to think that the stadium’s security saved hundreds, or maybe thousands, of lives. On the other hand, at the Bataclan reports stated that 89 lives were lost during the terrorist attacks. I am unaware of the levels of security at this venue, but this is something we have to prevent. It is interesting to see the different levels of security at various venues, and minimal standards are needed. The NFL has possibly set the bar, with most stadiums incorporating two perimeters, one to help reduce prohibited items at the gates, and then again at the gates themselves. Once you’re at the gate, your bag is checked and you will walk through or be wanded by a metal detector. This is a similar gate process that you will experience at other professional stadiums and arenas. It is important that fans understand why these checkpoints are in place, and their safety is worth any delay entering any venue.

This attack has prompted the National Fraternal Order of Police to file a protest against the NFL to change their policies on off-duty officers’ ability to carry during a game. I can see the argument on each side of the table and understand that now more than ever the point to have more weapons for defense does make sense. Nevertheless, this reminds me of an emergency response training I took through FEMA. In the state of emergency, first responders set up an incident command to evaluate the situation, make tactical decisions, and deploy resources. Life isn’t the movies and a Steven Seagal character will probably not be there to save the day. It is important that anyone with any training helps get who they can to safety, and if able to further aid, report to their station to get further information and deployment.

Implementing changes to prevent either of these breaches of security in the future will have several effects. First, expenses will increase as most venues may need to add staff, equipment, or spend more on training, and second the fan experience will change.

Do the changes your venue makes increase the screening time for each guest?

Does this lead to longer lines at the entrance?

If yes, how do you manage the lines to reduce the amount of guests in one area outside the stadium?

Do we prohibit or encourage off-duty officers to carry firearms?

If yes, what do you do if you catch an officer with a beer in hand?

How do you protect the outside areas of your venue?

What type of information and intelligence can we gather beforehand?

What should the max number of items be for a prohibited items list, knowing how much an average worker/guest can remember?

Do you allow fans to still bring signs to games?

What is the proper amount of time spent to train a staff member?

Is it possible to add lines of protection without adding a cost?

Where do safety and security end and an enjoyable guest experience begin?

These questions and the increased awareness and internal reviews should just be the start of larger conversations that should spread across all venues no matter the size or type of events hosted. A general security plan does not fit all buildings or budgets but the collaboration between ourselves and local law enforcement should be at the forefront of discussions. This is where networking not only helps your career but your current employer. I leave this as an open discussion for all to partake.

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