At-Game Security on the College Level

April 6, 2019

 

Note: This is the third part of a series on Preparing Against the Threat of an Active Shooter at Your Sporting Events.  Here's a link to read the first article, and a link to read the second article.

by David Stern and Nicole Sorce

It’s easy to believe that gun violence won’t happen at one of your sporting evens, or that your security system can handle all emergencies. But no school is immune. In today’s environment, athletic departments need new and better protocols to prepare for an active shooter at a sporting event.  Here's a look at how two college athletic departments are being proactive in this area.

40K IN ONE PLACE

McLane Stadium at Baylor University is typical for an NCAA Division I BCS school. It seats 45,000, and is at 90-percent capacity most game days. Its security plans are not as typical, however. The school has worked hard to be a step ahead in emergency planning—for all its athletic contests.

In Fall 2016, it became the first school in the Big 12 to install metal detectors at its football stadium. Soon after, it mandated that law enforcement officers be present at every athletic event. It has also implemented a clear bag policy at ticketed athletic events and has developed solid partnerships to enhance security.

Drew Pittman, Associate Athletic Director for Event Management and Facilities at Baylor, admits that not all of the initiatives have been welcomed with open arms. “When we began planning to put in 40 walk-though metal detectors, a lot of people said it’s going to be really expensive or that we shouldn’t buy that many,” he says. “But we felt it was important, and buying a lot of them keeps the lines down. Having shorter lines means less risk outside our gates.

“In terms of threats like an active shooter that involve firearms and other weapons, metal detectors are a great opportunity for us to ensure that those types of items aren’t entering our venue and causing issues,” he continues. “And the metal detectors are at multiple venues, not just at the football stadium, such as commencement ceremonies.”

Baylor has put just as much effort into the “people” part of the equation. The athletic department has partnered with a variety of agencies, such as the campus police, city police, and Rhino Sports, which provides the event staff, security, ticket takers, and ushers. They have also developed relationships with the local fire department as well as EMS providers.

“Partnerships are the foundation of safety and security,” Pittman says. “None of us lives on an island, and we all have to work with other groups. Building partnerships helps ensure that everybody knows how to operate together.”

After forming these partnerships, training is the next step. Baylor uses NCS4’s best practices and its law enforcement officers receive training through the ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) Center at Texas State University. A key part of the training is that it allows different entities to develop working relationships.

“The last place you want to meet someone is at an incident,” Pittman says. “The training provides those opportunities to be able to meet people in an environment that lets you foster relationships earlier.”

One of the challenges of providing security at athletic events is that they constantly vary in terms of size, venue, atmosphere, and the types of spectators who are present. Baylor now has law enforcement officers at every sporting event, but the details change based on the specific security concerns present that day at that location.

“The approach varies based on the venue and attendance,” says Pittman. “Some of the venues may have more entrances and exits than others. We look at each event individually and tailor the staffing accordingly.”

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Georgia Southern University is another school that is fully prepared for an active shooter at one of its home football games, which typically attract 12,000 spectators. Assistant Athletics Director for Game Operations Nick Scull, who serves on the NCS4 Advisory Committee, believes a thorough plan is especially important in his area of the country.

“Being in south Georgia, there’s a lot of open carry laws,” he says. “And guns are now allowed on our campus with a permit. Luckily they are not allowed in our stadium.”

That’s why the first part of Georgia Southern’s plan is having a clear bag policy. “At first, there was some griping and complaining about it, but our fans seem to be used to it now,” Scull says. “We try to explain that we’re taking these steps for their safety.”

Overall, Scull feels that clear lines of communication are the most critical element of any strategy. “We have a command center in our football stadium on game day, and that becomes our point of communication,” he says. “If something were to happen, information would disperse from there to others. Then each area—police, EMS, fire, the press box—would follow a predetermined plan.”

There is also a lot of discussion ahead of time. “We work hand in hand with our public safety office and our emergency management director on instituting policies and figuring out the best set up for security personnel during our games,” Scull says. “We decide that early on in the year.”

Georgia Southern also contracts with EPI Security for football games. “They’re there to check the bags,” Scull says. “We also have a police officer at each gate, and they look for suspicious activities and help the security guards. If a guard sees something, they go to the police officer without making it a scene or talking about it in a way that it might disrupt fans.”

In the event that a shooting occurred, Scull would be specifically responsible for those on the field. “If evacuation is needed, there is an assigned area for each group,” he says. “For example, our cheerleaders would go into our weight room in our football building, our football team would go to the locker room, and officials have an evacuation route that takes them to a van.”

Along with collaborating with others on communication and proactive plans, Scull does his best to keep up on trends and best practices. “There is discussion now about constructing barriers around stadiums because of cars plowing through crowds of people,” he says. “Another big topic is drones going over mass crowds. It’s not allowed by the FAA, but what do you do to stop it?”

The key, he says, is to keep on top of changes and update plans as needed. “Thank God we’ve never had anything happen,” Scull says. “But as things change, you adapt as best as possible. You learn from other cases across the country. And then you implement best practices for your particular campus.”

 

David Stern and Nicole Sorce have served as Assistant Editors for Athletic Management.

 
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