In October 2005, as the final seconds ticked off the clock and Oklahoma University (OU) sealed its 43 to 21 victory against Kansas State, an announcement washed over the 84,000 fans gathered in the football stadium: a bomb had gone off outside the stadium and attendees could not leave.
When fans finally exited the venue 30 minutes later, OU student Joel Henry Hinrichs III was dead, killed when an explosive device attached to his body detonated near Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. After an FBI investigation, authorities determined that Hinrichs had no intention of harming others and his death was ruled a suicide.
The incident at OU is just one in a long line of threats to sports venues across the United States and the world, stretching from the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972 to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Now, any sporting event can be selected as a worthy target,and with more than 2,450 stadiums in the United States alone, there are many of these critical infrastructure targets to choose from.
Complacency in responding to emerging threats could result in lost assets, injuries, and deaths. The National Football League (NFL) addressed this concern with its clear bag policy for entry into any football game—a controversial and unpopular decision, especially for female fans.
The policy, adopted in May 2013, requires fans who carry in bags to use bags that are clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC that do not exceed 12” x 6” x 12.” The league also allows fans to bring in one-gallon, clear, plastic freezer bags, and small clutch bags that are approximately the size of a hand. These rules are similar to policies that were already in place at the University of Michigan, Penn State University, and others.
“Our fans deserve to be in a safe and secure environment,” said Jeffrey Miller, NFL vice president and chief security officer, in a press release on the policy. “Public safety is our top priority. This will make the job of checking items much more efficient and effective.”
Following the NFL’s actions, in January 2014, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced that metal detectors will be required by 2015 in all baseball stadiums. The policy was developed with the aid of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an effort to “standardize security practices across the game,” said MLB spokesman Michael Teevan in a press release. All 30 teams will be required to implement security screening for fans, either with hand-held metal detection or walk-through magnetometers.
Although there are many obstacles to overcome, the ultimate goal is to provide a secure venue where sports fans are safe watching their team and the stakeholders are responsible in their efforts to provide a safe and secure environment. Two ways of doing this are by understanding the current liability landscape and through improvements in facility design.
During the February 2014 Super Bowl, DHS provided support to the State of New Jersey and the NFL to help secure MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford and establish a perimeter around the facility. Efforts included teams to secure transit to and from the stadium, equipment scanning of cargo entering the stadium, air security enforcement, maritime and waterway security, and the addition of screeners and checkpoint lanes at Newark Liberty International Airport for the influx of fans arriving by air for the game.
This was part of the department’s efforts through the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act of 2002, which allows businesses to have a cap placed on liability due to terrorist acts where Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technologies (QATTs) have been deployed. Many venues in the sporting world have qualified for the act designation and are among the more than 685 applications that have been approved, according to DHS.
When venues achieve designation, they are encouraged to develop and deploy antiterrorism technology, and private corporations have seized on the opportunity to promote the financial incentive of enhancing technology and infrastructure to create a secure ring around venues. These methods include 24-hour awareness of the interior and exterior of the venue before, during, and after the event, such as the security operation surrounding the 2014 Super Bowl.
The SAFETY Act is just one part of the initiative to improve security at critical infrastructure in the United States, clarify liability, and ensure that insurance is available to cover terrorist attacks. This became a major concern for the private sector following the collapse of the Twin Towers, when the courts decided that the World Trade Center stakeholders should have known that the building complex was a potential target for terrorist attacks. Consequently, the stakeholders should have provided more mitigation to occupants in the buildings, the courts determined, resulting in $39.4 billion in losses from the towers’ collapse.
Following the incident, many insurance providers began to exclude terrorism coverage from their policies. This ultimately threatened the economy; commercial project leaders and many industry investors require terrorism protection to begin construction.
After the insurance companies’ move, the federal government decided to take action, and in 2002, Congress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which allows the federal government to assist with compensation in the event of losses from a terrorist attack. It was renewed by Congress in 2007 and is currently being debated for extension through December 2019; otherwise, it will expire at the end of this year.
With the changing liability landscape, constructing new stadiums and retrofitting them to improve the fan experience and security is now a focus. Venue owners of the NFL, MLB, National Hockey League, and National Basketball Association are taking pride in developing new, elaborate facilities, and have recognized that stadium construction analysis and design can help them achieve their goal of protecting the up to 100,000 people who attend a game.
New stadiums can be engineered for increased safety. For example, to ensure maximum security new construction can avoid dangerous major industrial areas, highways, freight railways, and bodies of water. The structure should also be protected against earthquakes, lightning, and bombs.
Additionally, it should have all glassy, show areas away from where the fans stand. This means putting up a large expanse of glass near the entry could result in a shower of glass on fans if a sniper or bomb blast blows it out.
Venues should also be less porous. In particular, ballparks should not expose their outfields to adjacent neighborhood buildings where a sniper could lurk. There are now numerous companies that promote building protection, bollards, barriers, safety glass retrofit, hydraulic lift gate closure, hazardous materials detection technology, and other security services to protect the integrity of the building and the fans.
Along with improving the safety features of the materials in the facility itself, ingress and egress issues should also be of concern to venue owners: patrons have been crushed to death on several occasions. One of the worst incidents of fans being crushed at a soccer match was at a match at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, in 1989 where 93 people were killed and 180 injured when fans surged forward in severely overcrowded stands, according to The New York Times.
Egress should also be considered during an evacuation, given that victims can be trampled when panicking crowds behave erratically, such as during a fire. Venues can also be held liable for crowd crush incidents, so many are changing their venue construction and practices in response. For instance, festival seating or open admission is no longer a universal practice because crowds can get unruly and can threaten public safety, according to Steven Adelman of Adelman Law Group. Adelman doesn’t consider general seating, such as festival seating, to be a wise arrangement. Assigned seating, railings, sections, and corridors are valuable for crowd management and result in fewer crush situations.
Venues of various capacities in the United States will eventually be required to protect the public with a high standard of security, including MLB and NFL stadiums. The focus on entry security and control of access is only one of many enhancements seen in the last few years that are now necessary to prepare for a wide range of threats.
In the past, venue security was focused on weather related, earthquake related, or firearm related threats. The concerns of today include biological, chemical, radiological, and hidden explosive threats, and venues must take the proper precautions to ensure fans and athletes within their facilities are secure.
Government Programs for Securing Sports Venues
The federal government has designated sports venues as critical infrastructure and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is providing a variety of resources to the sector, taking the lead in sports venue security. One of its first projects was in May 2005 when the agency worked with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, providing funds to the University of Southern Mississippi to develop a model for sports venue security.
These vulnerability models were designed to address hazards and threats, and DHS has concentrated on providing resources for venue owners and managers. Following are a few such tools available to security professionals.
Risk assessment. DHS has created a Risk Self-Assessment Tool (RSAT), which provides an assessment of the venue and a benchmark report, comparing it to other similar venues. Results of the assessment are confidential and can address retrofitting of equipment and physical infrastructure, technology, staff training, maintenance, and creating a virtual ring of safety around a venue to increase security.
Reference materials. DHS also publishes an official Protective Measures Guide for U.S. Sports Leagues and a Protective Measures Guide for Outdoor Venues as a resource for sports venues. It also has created a suspicious activity video, Check It! A Training Guide: How to Check a Bag for Security Personnel, which includes guidelines on checking for false sides or bottoms, and checking for forbidden or hidden items.
DHS has also created another video in the Check It! line on protecting public spaces. This video explains how to recognize suspicious behavior.
Additionally, DHS will also provide site assistance visits for venue owners and law enforcement to receive input on their particular venue vulnerabilities. DHS can also provide evacuation planning for a stadium.
Cubed Program. DHS is also taking an active role in promoting the interconnectivity of cybersecurity and physical security. One recent initiative, the Cubed Program (C3), was announced in February 2014 and is just one of DHS’s recent efforts. The program provides assistance to owners and operators, voluntarily, to use DHS guidelines in managing their cybersecurity. The program provides cybersecurity resources and access to a cybersecurity advisor.
The federal government also provides incentives for participating, including liability protection, procurement advantages, and tax grants.
Reviews. If a sports venue is listed in the Commercial Facilities Sector of U.S. critical infrastructure, DHS will provide tools for a self-assessment Cyber Resilience Review. However, DHS also gives venues an option to allow a DHS representative to perform a security assessment. All findings are then presented in a confidential report.
Insider Threat. DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also offers programs to assist with sports venue security. Its “IS-915: Protecting Critical Infrastructure Against Insider Threat” course provides guidance to critical infrastructure employees and service providers on how to identify and take action against insider threats. There are no prerequisites for the course, which is offered for free on FEMA’s website, but FEMA recommends that participants take “IS-906: Workplace Security Awareness” to provide a foundation for the course.
Surveillance. FEMA also offers another program, “IS-914: Surveillance Awareness: What You Can Do, A Guide to Identifying Suspicious Behavior.” The course is designed to make critical infrastructure employees and service providers aware of actions they can take to detect and report suspicious activities associated with adversarial surveillance—surveillance conducted to gather information about individuals, organizations, businesses, and infrastructure to commit an act of terrorism or another crime.
The course is also available on FEMA’s website for free and also provides additional course documents and training resources for students.
Sports Venue Security Checklist
- Credential all employees and vendors with photo IDs.
- Conduct background checks on all staff working the event, including delivery staff and concessions suppliers.
- Conduct pre-event staff training on emergency plans for evacuation, hazardous weather, terrorism, hostage events, bomb threats, releases of chemical agents, food borne illnesses, fire, structural collapse, and earthquakes.
- Prepare and update a protocol and script in video and audio of emergency instructions for every type of emergency.
- Address crowd management and fan demographics, accounting for the influence of alcohol and fan emotion. Ensure one crowd observer—live or via video surveillance—for every 250 visitors.
- Upgrade to advanced camera surveillance of interior, exterior, and perimeter of the venue for 24-7 coverage.
- Promote the use of the Department of Homeland Security initiative “If You See Something, Say Something” to empower fans and staff through signage and video.
- Assess barriers, fences, and surveillance of the perimeter and install perimeter barriers, bollards, or planters as needed.
- Secure all systems serving the venue, including air flow, utilities, and water.
- Make sure hazmat strips are in place to monitor air quality and detect foreign chemicals.
- Search and lock down the venue before the event; all individuals and vehicles should be searched on arrival.
- Ensure that all parking and entry staff are equipped with radios.
- Have highly visible uniformed security and law enforcement in place to act as a deterrent.
- Secure all concessions.
- Maintain open communication and cooperation with law enforcement.
- Consider using a social media technology for situational awareness to monitor the venue.
Nancy Serot is a business development manager for Phoenix Risk Assessment and a member of ASIS International. Thomas K. Zink is a professor at the Saint Louis University Department of Environment and Occupational Health and founder of Project EQUIPP.