Revamping Security Procedures

March 29, 2019


Note: This is the second 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.

by David Stern and Nicole Sorce

On Sept. 7, 2018, in the final minutes of its Homecoming football game, gunshots rang out at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa. The gunshots had come from a parking lot adjacent to the stadium and involved students and community members who had previously been in the stadium. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Hoover High School learned more than its share of lessons from its incident last fall. The biggest one was that a basic security plan is not good enough, regardless of the community.

Sherry Poole is in her first year as Principal at Hoover, with 16 years in teaching and administration within the Des Moines Public School District behind her. She is also a former police officer. When she reviewed Hoover’s security plans for open-air events upon arriving at the school in July, they looked sufficient.

The procedures included radio communication among school administrators and on-site police officers, and limiting fans to using only one entrance at Hoover’s football stadium. “These were the same systems that were in place at my previous schools, so I didn’t really question them,” says Poole.

But within the incident’s first moments, huge gaps in Hoover’s security protocols were revealed. “Not only was I dealing with the announcer, but the opposing team didn’t have a radio, so I couldn’t communicate with them right away,” says Poole. In addition, the plan for evacuation was obviously not working.

In the aftermath, Poole had two goals. One was to help the community heal (see “Response Plan” below) and the second was to revamp Hoover’s security protocols for athletic contests.

“The reality is that we live is a world where there are guns, and open air events are vulnerable to situations that are out of our control,” says Poole. “What we can control are the systems we put in place: Where are we evacuating to? What are our safe spots? How are we evacuating? Who’s on radio and who’s not?”

To start, Hoover enhanced the lighting surrounding its property. “We now light up the entire block any time we host a game to ensure that people feel safe,” says Poole. “For our football games particularly, we gained permission from the owners of the nearby parking lot where the shooting happened and the City of Des Moines to set up portable lights, which we rent, in that area. The area is very visible now.”

Lines of communication for all key players were also addressed. Personnel who didn’t carry radios previously, such as Hoover’s marching band director and the opposing school’s principal, are now assigned radios. Visiting principals and athletic directors must exchange their phone numbers with Poole and Activities Director Melissa Floyd. The announcer not only has a radio, but a script to read in an emergency situation.

In addition, Hoover widened the gate of its football stadium entrance to be able to evacuate more people at once. “We also strategically planned with our police officers, administration, and announcers. For example, if shots ever occur at the south end of our football stadium again, we know where the flow of people should go,” Poole says. “And we’ve partnered with a church across the street from our school, which serves as our safe area to evacuate people to.”

Hoover’s revamped plan also involves more mobility, as Floyd and on-duty police officers now utilize golf carts. Other major changes include polices that ban bringing backpacks into sporting events and require students to show their photo identification upon admission.

“Because of what happened, our entire district is reexamining security at open air events,” says Poole. “There have been many hours of conversations with other principals and athletic directors in our district about what we are going to do in each individual building and as a system throughout all of our games to make this better.”

Poole was glad she could reach into her experience in law enforcement to guide Hoover through the changes, but she would have liked to prevent the panic after the shooting in the first place. “What I wish I would’ve looked at is the system n place prior to our first football game. Being new to this school and the role of principal, I don’t feel I did my due diligence in determining our gaps and what we had to do to solve those,” she says. “It took this event for me to realize a new system had to be put in place so that everybody feels safe.”


After the event occurred at Hoover High School lasts fall, Principal Sherry Poole was eager to put an upgraded security plan in place. But first she focused on healing the community. The homecoming dance was cancelled and Poole individually responded to 106 parent emails the next morning.

In the week after the shooting, Poole had counselors at the ready. “We ran focus groups for students who has been at the game, and we talked through a lot of fears,” says Poole. “We invited parents to also take part in the focus groups so they would know how to talk to their children.”

From there, Poole aimed to reverse the inaccurate stigma that was now attached to Hoover following the incident. “When the news first hit the airwaves, it stated that ‘shots were fired at Hoover,’ which correlated to the public that we were an unsafe school,” says Poole. “Many conversations had to take place to change the narrative and ensure that the perception that many had outside of our community was not the reality.”

To get that message out, Hoover staff made T-shirts with the words, “Peace, Love, Hoover” on them. “We spread the ‘Peace, Love, Hoover’ message every way we could—via social media, at school, on our website, and through alumni,” says Poole.

One more piece of the puzzle was playing two minutes of football in order to complete the game that was halted just short of its final whistle (as required by the state association). Poole realized this offered a great opportunity for the community to show its strength in the face of adversity.

Hoover urged community members to fill the stadium for the mini-game, which took place on a Monday afternoon, three weeks after the shooting. “Packing the stands was so important to show our unity,” she says. “We also had to show that we are a community and we’re going to win this. One event doesn’t define who we are.”

Although the action was to take only two minutes and 15 seconds, Hoover put the typical game activities in place. The media was present, and cheerleaders, band members, and the student fan section assumed their normal positions. A photo was taken of the two teams together prior to finishing the game.

“For us, it was a healing event. A lot of people showed up for two minutes,” says Poole. “ It really showed how the community came together to say, ‘Some people chose to try to disrupt an experience that was a positive for us, so we’re taking that back and having that positive experience regardless.’ The story is ours, and the outcome is ours.”


At the Thornton Academy, in Saco, Maine, which recently revamped its security plan for football games, success meant focusing not just on the nuances of events, but also on the specifics of location. The school is situated on an 88-acre campus, which blends into the surrounding neighborhood and is bordered by bike trails. Therefore, it faces unique challenges when it comes to monitoring the various access points during sporting events.

For Athletic Director Gary Stevens, a member of the NCS4 Advisory Board, figuring out how to address those challenges started with talking to local law enforcement. “Our partnership with law enforcement was key,” he says. “Not only did they help us develop the plan, they helped us write a description of what needs to take place on game day.”

Thornton has a school resource officer, who is a member of the police force, and Stevens invited him and the community’s deputy chief of police to talk about how they should address a variety of security concerns. Together they were able to draft a comprehensive safety and security plan for after-school activities.

“They worked with me very closely in terms of game coverage, where we should place people, and what the roles of our security personnel should be,” says Stevens. “We also talked about keeping an eye on our perimeter and inspecting the facility before an event. Another element is the role of ticket people in terms of checking for suspicious looking things and people. Lastly, we set up communication chains so that everyone is always informed about potential challenges.”

Stevens then hired a director of security, who is a former state police officer and Thornton alumnus, to coordinate and carry out these protocols on game day. He manages a three-pronged plan:

Parking: Thornton’s parking attendants are from a local security firm. Part of their job is to park vehicles and welcome spectators, but they are also trained to look out for anything suspicious.

Security Personnel: Three officers from the Saco police department and the school resource officer form the bulk of the security for the venue itself, an expense the Thornton athletic department budget covers. An officer is placed on either side of the facility, scanning spectators for any suspicious activity. Another assists ticket takers and those selling items.

Oversight: The director of security stands with Stevens on the sidelines and is in constant radio communication with the rest of the security personnel.

Stevens considers the security plan a living document. “These protocols are always subject to revision each year, or even week to week if we see something that we didn’t address or that needs to be tightened up,” he says. “All of us in athletic administration have an obligation to create a safe environment for our students, coaches, and spectators.”

Next week: A look at how two college athletic departments are preparing against an active shooter.


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

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