Feature Article - October 2002
Find a printable version here

Security 101

How to make sure your facility, staff and patrons are safe from threats, big or small, from a terrorism threat to plain old petty theft

By Mitch Martin

"Security" may have been the word of the year in the United States.

The Sept. 11 attacks caused a sea of change in thinking about safety in office buildings, high-rises or any other place were large numbers of people congregate. The recreation industry is no exception.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, security for recreation managers meant micro-security: the personal well-being of patrons, staff and facilities. In short, it meant preventing small-scale personal and property crime and vandalism. In the wake of Sept. 11, recreational facilities must be safeguarded as a whole, on the macro level.

Both types of security are important. This article will look at simple ways to improve and maintain security plans.

Park rangers must appear
approachable while maintaining
a security presence.

Although macro-security issues are a response to terrorist attacks, many experts believe recreation facilities should have had overall evacuation and disaster plans in place before Sept. 11. And to be sure, many facilities have had such plans in place for years.

However, the tragedy has prompted recreation facilities to reassess their security plans. Most directly, federal agencies became concerned that parks or recreational facilities would be attacked either at national monuments or facilities that are highly symbolic of American life, such as major theme parks. The New York Times reported in July that Al Qaeda operatives were arrested in Spain with videotapes scouting Disneyland and the Statue of Liberty, among other places, as possible terrorist targets.

Immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. National Park Service briefly shut down all national monuments, fearing they could be potential targets of terror. The park service plans to install video cameras at all major monuments, including the major war memorials and the monuments to four U.S. presidents: Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington and FDR.

Although recreation facilities are seen by some as targets of terrorists, these facilities can also be an integral part of preparedness for any type of disaster.

Public parks departments already are being used as part of disaster-relief plans. Those plans are now being morphed into terror-response plans. For example, in New York and other states, park facilities will be used as "Alternate Care Facilities" in the event of a WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) incident.

The role of park security is part law enforcement,
part public relations.

Terror security hit the recreation industry directly when a personal trainer at a Cambridge, Mass., health club was charged with identity theft in January. The trainer was charged with stealing social-security numbers and other personal information from several club applicants. The Associated Press reported that information was then sold to an Algerian man to create a fake identity. The Algerian man later pleaded guilty to federal charges he took part in an unsuccessful plan to place a bomb in the Los Angeles Airport in 1999.

This disturbing incident combined the remote threat of terrorism with the everyday property crime that is the more traditional concern of recreational facilities.

While facility managers have become involved tangentially in the mind-boggling world of terror attacks, relatively mundane issues of personal security remain important. Facility managers must maintain routine security awareness as, after a long decline, crime appears to be on an uptick nationally.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in June that the Crime Index, a mix of major crimes, rose 2.0 in 2001, according to preliminary figures. Property crime rose 2.2 in 2001.