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Harsh realities have forced us to acknowledge that the risk to and vulnerability of spectators is real. Homegrown and foreign-based terrorists all have one thing in common – finding the softest, high profile targets that provide the greatest impact for spreading fear. America’s four professional sports leagues have come to better understand this axiom and have made significant progress over the last five to ten years to drastically enhance security measures at their stadiums. Encouragingly, as a result of mandatory requirements, professional sports stadiums have or are currently being outfitted with walk-through metal detectors to help deter potential terrorist acts or other indiscriminate violence.
However, in the year 2017 there are still college and university stadiums with minimal metal detection as a part of their security screening.
According to an analysis of attendance numbers in the National Football League (NFL) and NCAA Division 1, between 2006 and 2012, the average annual attendance for the NFL was 17,301,800 and for NCAA Division 1 games it was 34,474,059 – nearly double that of the NFL. Not only does NCAA Division 1 have a significantly higher aggregate attendance than the NFL, but there are 15 college football venues that boast significantly larger capacity than the largest NFL stadiums. On any given Saturday, some of our nation’s largest college stadiums have more than 100,000 students, families, alumni, and fans in attendance. To add additional perspective, the Super Bowl has had an attendance record of more than 100,000 only five times in its 49-year history.
With those stadium sizes and attendance numbers, collegiate sports face significant exposure to risk. While many collegiate football stadiums have taken certain measures related to the bags guests bring into their stadiums, more should consider implementing metal detection. Credit goes to the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security for bringing greater attention to stadium security in collegiate sports, which is beginning to prompt many universities to explore additional security enhancements inline with professional sports. Building a robust security apparatus has many different components, each critically important to building a layered security perimeter around key events.
Clearly, given the age of many of these collegiate stadiums, installing and developing comprehensive security measures can be a great challenge. It’s incumbent upon each to assess risk, weigh the benefits of additional security measures on fan experience, and execute as quickly as possible. “Thinking about” developing a security infrastructure is significantly different than “doing,” and one of those options includes far greater risks.
Most collegiate stadiums would prefer at a minimum to include the deployment of a walk-through metal detection system. One of the most significant challenges is designing a new perimeter with the space required to implement a system. With the appropriate installation, and critical security staff training, the latest technology allows for remarkably increased throughput rates that prevent untenably long lines. Furthermore, additional physical security measures such as bollards can support strategic road closures and vehicle setback from stadiums – keeping unauthorized vehicles a safe distance from crowds and infrastructure. Strategically placed cameras feeding real-time into a key operations center can also help support crowd management and identify problem areas before it escalates.
Ensuring the security of mass gatherings at professional and collegiate sporting events is no small feat. Carefully designed security systems and protocols combined with best practices will help mitigate risks. Every college and university, regardless of size, should consider the great responsibility of undertaking large sporting events. Gathering tens of thousands of individuals to celebrate a school’s brand via the success of their sporting programs should have every school asking, “are we doing enough to protect our guests?” Unfortunately, no one is assured of the absolute correct answer, but taking reasonable steps today will provide greater assurances that our colleges and universities are better prepared to protect their fans.
Vice President, Security & Technology Consulting
Dan Donovan is the vice president of the Guidepost Solutions Security and Technology Consulting group and leads its Sport and Entertainment practice. He has worked with NBA, Olympic, NFL, NCAA, Fortune 500, and stadium executives around the world to help them understand their organizations’ true risks and prepare them for any incident or crisis.