Serve & Protect

Crowd Control & Security Strategies

When it comes to crowd control and security at sporting and other events, concerns and strategies have evolved in recent years. And while unruly fans, seat jumpers and those sneaking in contraband are still concerns for security personnel, facilities these days need to be on guard for bigger threats, while still keeping their event inviting and accessible to fans. This includes venues of all sizes—including colleges, high schools and elementary schools—that have had to reevaluate procedures and adopt new strategies.

In 2006, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) created the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), with the mission of supporting the advancement of sports safety and security. The center achieves this through academic research, annual forums, professional certification programs, facility assessments, training, laboratory evaluations and partnerships. The NCS4 collaborates with professional sports venues and leagues, intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics, marathon events, government agencies, professional associations and private sector firms.

Stacey Hall, Ph.D., is a research fellow at NCS4, and has been referred to as one of the nation's leading experts in sport security. She has co-authored two textbooks on the subject and presented at conferences worldwide. Hall has worked with college sport venues and K-12 school districts, conducting risk assessments and developing sport safety and security systems, as well as developing training programs for sport venue staff.

Hall believes all venues have increased their security efforts in recent years. "The smaller venues/events may not have the resources for major technological advances, such as CCTV (closed-circuit television) or license plate recognition. However, they have enhanced their policies and procedures, which is very cost-effective. Training staff is imperative, and organizations are starting to understand the importance of an educated and prepared workforce. Basic training in security awareness and identifying suspicious behavior is key. Background checks of employees are critical to detect any possible insider threat."

James DeMeo has more than 25 years of experience working in the security industry. He is an adjunct instructor for the Tulane University School of Professional Advancement, teaching graduate students about event security and risk management. He is CEO of USESC, a company specializing in training and continuing education for sports and event venue staff. They provide training modules and also work with facilities directly.

"It's a multi-pronged approach when dealing with the ongoing, ever-evolving threat continuum," said DeMeo. "My duties involve providing continuing education/career development resources, risk assessments, site visits, threat and vulnerabilities assessment, proactive event staff training, verbal de-escalation skills training, distance learning education, pre-attack indicators toward violence, workplace violence, active assailant/active shooter, threat and behavioral analysis and confined space protection for today's stadiums, venues and arenas."

Screening processes are often more thorough then in the past, and a big challenge for security personnel is dealing with patrons who are carrying prohibited items, which can clog up checkpoints and even cause complacency among personnel. Hall pointed out that it's helpful for the prohibited items list to be clear to spectators in advance, through ticketing outlets or public media. "A lot of venues now are not allowing bags into the venue; some have adopted a clear bag policy. This helps with the search process before games and also speeds up the waiting in line." She said the front-line staff are the eyes and ears of the organization, and must also be trained in emergency and evacuation procedures, besides basic security awareness.

Good PA systems are an asset for keeping patrons informed, and some venues employ stewards to share information and may incorporate an information desk. Prominent fixed signage can communicate information in addition to LED boards that can share and update relevant information. Communication between team members during an event is also essential. Two-way radios are reliable, though telephone systems are also utilized. Codes or names must be agreed upon in advance to avoid confusion and one line might be designated for emergency use only. Some facilities have found maps to be useful for locating alternative routes or exits around the venue, which might be printed on fixed signs or promotional material.

When large crowds of people are gathered, clogging and surging can lead to crushing or trampling. Therefore it's crucial to manage the movement of these crowds. Logistics and layout can be a big part of this equation, and some simple steps can be considered, such as staggering the entry process. Have employees keep guests moving by supervising entry and exit points, and navigate people away from potential bottleneck areas such as gates, stairs or narrow corridors. Make sure walkways are well lit and free of obstacles. "An important rule of thumb is the recommended crowd management ratio of 250:1 by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)," said Hall.

Some venues use barriers to keep vehicles and pedestrians separated, and fencing might be used to keep emergency access routes clear. DeMeo pointed out that since fans park their vehicles or take mass transit to a venue, remote areas should be considered soft targets. "We need to be ever vigilant of these exterior perimeters just outside the ingress/egress checkpoints as you enter the stadium. The command center can monitor the space by utilizing technology, but we also need parking attendants, security, law enforcement and bike patrol to direct pedestrian and vehicle traffic, to monitor what's happening outside the stadium as well."

Hall agrees that these areas are a concern and should be monitored by periodic patrols. "Loading docks need to be staffed for arrivals and IDs checked, and vehicles checked when entering the premises. Drones have become popular for monitoring venues/events and the exterior perimeter." Network cameras mounted on roofs can give security a comprehensive view of gate entrances and parking lots, as well as the surrounding access roads, allowing personnel to spot approaching vehicles and capture details that could prove useful later. Video analytics such as license plate recognition can also be utilized.

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."

As far as new technologies, McCormack said radar detection technology is becoming an added security feature at many venues, augmenting network surveillance cameras for another layer of protection. "It allows systems to provide a unique coverage in areas that can be dark or difficult to monitor."

DeMeo said technology integration plays a pivotal role in fan safety initiatives. "Biometrics, fast pass lanes, robotics, license plate readers, access control, credentialing, drone technology, command center controls—the list goes on and on."

Deputy Chief Robert Grossaint, with the Denver Public Schools Department of Safety, said they now have a greater situational awareness and a focus on layers of security, with an emphasis on perimeter security. "We realize that threats have changed, and we've changed with them. We strive to be proactive rather than reactive. We're also thinking ahead and preparing for those high consequence/low probability events that we've seen in other places involving large gathered crowds."

Grossaint said they institute a robust training program, which includes defensive tactics, arrest and control, officers' safety and situational awareness. "We also ensure that our officers have trainings such as Crisis Intervention, Advanced First Aid, Management of Aggressive Behavior, diversity training and implicit bias training. Our personnel also carry tourniquets and trauma kits in the event of an incident that requires such equipment."

"We have a police level dispatch center/security command center that has the ability to lockdown or lockout facilities from a central location," explained Grossaint, adding that they utilize cameras and access control at many of their venues. He also said they leverage community resources, following the "See Something, Say Something" campaign initiated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Hall said this campaign is prevalent throughout all pro sports and most college sports organizations, as are fan text systems, where fans can report bad or suspicious behavior. "To my knowledge, they're being used by fans, and it's providing good analytics to venue managers as they can use this data to determine areas experiencing persistent problems." Hall added that monitoring social media posts can also yield information on potential security threats.

DeMeo said this technology must be used responsibly. "Monitoring what's being posted online, in real time, any threats, must be properly vetted. In a security world, everything is the real thing until proven otherwise."

Kulik said their Public Safety Department uses media monitoring software to gauge any social media threats.

In Denver, Grossaint said they consistently meet with other entities through the Colorado Association of School Security and Law Enforcement Officials (CASSLEO) to vet best practices and strategies. He feels it's imperative for venues to partner with local law enforcement.

In fact, all our contributors stressed the importance of collaborating with local agencies on training and planning. Conducting tabletop or functional exercises allows the team to determine gaps in their emergency response and recovery plans prior to an incident and helps individuals understand their roles and responsibilities, according to Hall. "The multi-agency team that meets and plans before events normally includes the facility manager, campus police, law enforcement, emergency management, fire/hazmat and PR rep."

Kulik said their Public Safety Department at WMU partners with the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Township, Kalamazoo County and Michigan State Police. "They do a great job making sure all the different agencies are on the same page."

DeMeo agrees that information sharing, intelligence gathering and analysis with law enforcement partners is critical. "Skimping on security, cutting corners—security theater, if you will—is a short-sighted view based on all the challenges we're seeing in the world today." And while he's encouraged about steps being taken these days, he thinks there's definitely room for improvement. "It comes down to investing dollars in the right places. Training is crucial. Duty of care exists for providing a safe and secure environment for players, fans, contractors—everybody inside the space."