Feature Article - January 2015
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Ready for Anything

Improving Sports Facility Safety & Security

By Chris Gelbach

The Importance of Environmental Design

According to Hammes, security can also be enhanced at your facility through good environmental design, sightlines being one important element to consider. "Assess what the fan can see coming into your game," Hammes said. "And ask yourself this one question: Can I see and be seen?"

Hammes notes the example of a large fieldhouse he oversaw as athletic administrator for Wisconsin's Racine Unified School District that featured trophy cases down the middle of the lobby area. "They were blocking our view, so we took them out," he said. This allowed more room for an apron to exercise procedures, and enabled security and attendees to see each other from 25 yards away.

Other environmental features that can enhance safety minimize crowd access to the field and keep spectators a safe distance away. In Iowa City, director of parks and recreation Mike Moran and his team do this by incorporating a safety zone of at least 10 feet between the bleachers and fields. They also include a physical barrier between spectators and athletes on outdoor fields.

"You have to put a border there, and whether that's a fence or a cable or something, they have to know their limits," Moran said. On Iowa City's baseball and softball fields, fences serve this purpose. On soccer fields, the department has had success planting a row of 2- to 3-foot shrubs as a field border. "It lets people see over them, but gives them a barrier so they know their boundaries," Moran said.

At Byram Hills, the fields are likewise set up to limit spectator access to the field. The main multipurpose field features fence around the entire perimeter of the field, along with additional netting, requiring spectators to surmount two levels of barriers to reach the field. "The way our facility is set up, it's really difficult to surge the field because of all the obstacles," Gulino said.

Buiding the Event Team

In addition to creating a plan and optimizing the environment, experts say another critical component of sports safety and security is building the right team—and then training it properly and running regular practice exercises.

For the event team, "you want to pick people you can count on," Hammes said. "You've got to choose people that believe in keeping these kids engaged in these activities after school. And it takes about two years to get your team up and running."

Several options exist to provide basic training to team members, including a 90-minute program Safe Sports Zone offers on how to mitigate liability at high school athletic events. NCS4 also recently debuted a Certified Sport Venue Staff certification that includes online training and testing, as well as a background check. "I worry about what kind of a background you have," Marciani said. "If you don't [when hiring event staff], that inherently creates other risk issues."

In the Iowa City parks department, Moran trains his staff not only on how to handle potential incidents, but also how to help people deal with the aftermath of a tragic event should one occur. "We work a lot, believe it or not, with funeral directors because they're probably the most reasonable and well-versed on how you talk to people about tragic events," Moran said.

Perimeter Control

The level of access control and security needed for different events can vary greatly depending on the situation and available resources. To enhance safety at major events at Racine, Hammes used three steps for gate screening—asking to see a form of ID, conducting a visual search by asking people to open their coats, and using a metal wand detector.

"With those three steps, we'd want to get them through that exercise in eight seconds," Hammes said. "We would have 3,000 people at a basketball game with two lines going through and not have any bottlenecks with it. You have to practice to be able to do this in a timely manner. But we did it."

The checking of IDs without a record being kept was used as a low-cost deterrent. "The disruptive element is less likely to attend a game if they have to disclose their identity," Hammes said. "If you were carrying, or if you had a warrant, and noticed you had to go through this screening process to get into the event, what would you do?"

Byram Hills doesn't yet check IDs, but is considering it. Instead, it maintains a single point of access to the building manned by a security guard, both during school and for after-school events. The Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department scans the IDs of anyone who enters the building. "I want to know who's in the building if we have to lock it down," Moran said.

For big outdoor public events, checking of bags and sending people through a magnetometer or wanding are common approaches Marciani sees at the college and pro levels. But according to Hammes, checking bags is a tougher sell at the school district level.

"You'll have a hard time finding school officials who are comfortable searching," Hammes said. "You're most likely going to have law enforcement doing that. My recommendation is to go along with what MLB and the NFL have—the 12-by-6-by-12-inch clear bag. We should be consistent across the board. If you're going to go to an event in the United States and are allowed to bring something, it should be that."