Feature Article - August 2019
Find a printable version here

Serve & Protect

Crowd Control & Security Strategies

By Dave Ramont

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.