Feature Article - August 2019
Find a printable version here

Serve & Protect

Crowd Control & Security Strategies

By Dave Ramont


Network cameras can also monitor entrances, exits, ticket stands, stairways, escape routes, concession stands, concourses and seating areas, enabling centralized monitoring for optimal crowd and traffic control. "When stadiums implement network surveillance solutions, crowd control and monitoring is a key and critical function to ensure the safety and well-being of fans," said Mark McCormack, national sales manager for a Swedish manufacturer of network cameras for security and surveillance, with offices worldwide.

A venue is able to monitor on-site through a centralized video management command center. McCormack explained how if a venue detects a suspicious situation developing, personnel can instantly zoom in to see what's going on. "They'll be able to see the difference between a friendly encounter and an angry shove, or even discern a weapon in a troublemaker's hand. That way, the security staff is always ready to take the kind of fast action that prevents a minor scuffle from developing into a dangerous brawl."

According to McCormack, other benefits of network surveillance include access to high-definition live and recorded video from any authorized computer or mobile device; seamless integration with access control systems, smoke and fire alarms, and emergency buttons to enable quick verification and/or response; automatic alerts for trespassing and perimeter breach; automatic camera tampering alarm to ensure continuous operation; and efficient incident investigations through quick access to relevant video, with video quality that's valid in court.

At the new Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, McCormack's company was involved with the installation of more than 850 cameras to oversee the property. The cameras can quickly adjust to lighting conditions from near darkness to bright sunlight and flashing strobes. McCormack said the cameras have helped the Bucks' security team visually document everything from a bartender stealing drinks to vehicle accidents in the parking lot. "Thanks to the recordings, the Bucks have averted potential lawsuits, ousted unruly fans and even recovered damages from careless delivery drivers."

"It's important for all venues to have the proper technology in place to protect their staff, athletes and fans, or alert law enforcement of a potential issue," said McCormack, adding that smaller venues are presented with similar challenges when it comes to safety and security. "Larger college venues are implementing solutions at a more professional scale, while smaller colleges and high schools are looking to boost security, but on a relative scale based on the number of visitors the venue typically serves."

Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo has more than 22,000 students and enjoys a robust athletics program. Matt Kulik is an assistant athletic director there, heading up gameday operations. He thinks a big challenge is finding the right balance between being safe and not overdoing it, adding that they've gone through a lot of changes recently as far as what they allow in the stadium. "About two years ago we went to a clear bag policy similar to the NFL. That was a huge first step; we got some complaints but mostly the feedback was positive." He pointed out that some schools like Ohio State have gone to a no bag policy, but he feels that could have an impact on who actually attends WMU games.

Kulik said the screeners are the first line of defense at an event. "If you can get a gauge on someone you think may be an issue or someone that looks out of place, the ushers/bag checkers are usually the first to see the person." He described doing yearly training with ushers and doing training with full-time staff who work each event. "We have an emergency manager on campus that we've done trainings with in the past. We've found it's very worthwhile to do tabletop disaster-type exercises; sometimes they may seem far-fetched, but those are exactly the type of situations you need to prepare for."

In the past year, WMU Public Safety has brought on two bomb-sniffing dogs, which Kulik said gives them the ability to sweep the stadium and lock it down prior to gates opening. "Prior to that we were just doing visual inspections."

Kulik said that since the press box elevation is much higher than the rest of the football stadium, the police use the roof as a lookout. "In the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, areas outside the stadium have become a huge concern, and to be honest are a larger liability than what you have going on in the stadium at most times."

Different types of events require different planning concepts, according to Hall, such as if the event is in a stadium or if it's an open access event, such as a marathon. "Stadiums/arenas have a defined perimeter with limited ingress/egress points that can be controlled with staff or locks. Open access events are more difficult and require an assessment of the most vulnerable points." This could include starting and finish lines.

Hall described other factors to consider when planning security strategies, such as if the event is between rivalry teams. "This would be determined by a risk assessment and historical data from previous match-ups." Game time can impact the level of staff and security needed since evening games might have more inebriated attendees. "Also, if tailgating is an option, there's a need to monitor these areas," said Hall.

Kulik said they allow tailgating at football games, opening parking lots four hours prior to kickoff. "Not only is alcohol consumption a concern, but you get a lot of people that just show up to tailgate and never make it to the game." He said when the weather is good they might have 8,000 to 10,000 tailgaters, and police will clear the lots around kickoff, which can take over an hour.

Some venues hire outside security firms, and DeMeo said this depends on the ownership group. "Some like more control, so they utilize in-house security. Others like to transfer risk by contracting with an event security company. It's contingent on budgets and the amount of financial resources organizations are committed to spending."

Kulik said that while they haven't used outside firms in the past, they've realized they needed a different type of person for the more sensitive areas. "So we're going to start using an outside security firm at football games starting this fall."

Indeed, certain areas of venues have restricted access: player entrances, press boxes, locker rooms, VIP suites, catering kitchens, etc. Network cameras help secure these areas, and some stadiums integrate their access control systems with surveillance cameras to visually verify the person using the key card or badge matches the face in the database. McCormack said facial recognition is a boon for stadium security. "This technology can help prevent undesirables or potential intruders from entering the event."