Feature Article - January 2015
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Ready for Anything

Improving Sports Facility Safety & Security

By Chris Gelbach

While sporting event security has tightened throughout the nation after 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, safety experts still see room for improvement at the park district, youth sports, high school and collegiate levels. In many facilities, the biggest opportunities for improvement exist in the areas of planning, training and practice to be prepared for potential safety and security risks.

It All Starts With a Plan

According to Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NSC4), 85 percent of effective sports facility safety and security comes down to planning.

"To reduce risks, you need to start out with developing and enhancing emergency plans," Marciani said. "You go into some places and they'll pick them off the shelf and they're 10 years old. Organizations should continuously look at their plans, not just shelve them. It's a living document."

Jay Hammes, president of Safe Sport Zone, recommends that schools and other organizations use a four-box risk assessment to create their plan. Potential risks with a high probability and high consequence go in the left top corner, and risks with low probability and low consequence in the bottom right corner. This helps you understand your gaps and which you need to address first.

In a litigious society, a current, written plan is integral. "If something does happen, a plaintiff's attorney is going to come after you in court," Hammes said. "Besides your credentials, show them your plans. Show them your risk assessment. You've got to have these important pieces of evidence documented."

NCS4 offers third-party reviews of an organization's security planning process through its Sport Event Security Aware (SESA) offering, but groups can also conduct their own assessment by gathering a team of local experts to look for potential gaps in the physical environment, personnel and training that pose potential risks.

"It could be the recreation director, someone from the police department, someone from emergency management, the fire department—and they go around and look at, even if it's just a checklist, here are some of the things I'm finding gaps in," Marciani said.

The documents and plans that facilities must complete for the SESA designation can also give other facilities a sense of the kinds of plans they should be considering. The list includes:

  • Event action plan
  • Evacuation/shelter-in-place plan
  • Cyber plan
  • CBRN/HAZMAT (WMD) plan
  • Buffer zone protection plan
  • Active shooter protocol
  • Rapid notification plan
  • Crisis communication plan
  • Continuity of operations plan
  • Facility policies and procedures

While emergency protocols are important for safety, basic facility conditions should also be scrutinized. While many emergency scenarios you can plan for will never occur, failing to replace a set of aging bleachers or to maintain a playable field poses a clear hazard.

Ensuring good communication with local agencies such as the police and ambulance departments is also key. This can include two-way radios for staff and establishing a direct line to these departments.

At Byram Hills Central School District in Armonk, N.Y., director of athletics Mike Gulino takes these local departments through regular walk-throughs so they're ready in case of an emergency. "They're very familiar with our facility so if we call them and say, 'we need you at the lower field of the high school,' they know exactly where the access points are," Gulino said.

Gulino is a part of a districtwide emergency response team that includes principals, assistant principals, office administrators, health services, some teachers, transportation and the head of facilities. The team meets four times a year to discuss generalized emergency response for the whole school district. Marciani recommends that every facility go through "what if" scenarios with the emergency team at least once a year.

Gulino is also part of a subcommittee that looks specifically at after-school activities. According to Hammes, a lack of attention to this particular area is a weakness he has noticed frequently in his travels to school districts across the country since 2007.

"During the school day, most schools have all their procedures in place, and they do lockdowns and evacuations and all sorts of emergency exercises. But once the bell rings very few schools are doing anything for after-school event security," Hammes said.