SBJ/June 5-11, 2017/Facilities

Three new concepts for helping keep sports venues safe

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Don Muret
The Manchester Arena terrorist bombing brings to light some new technologies that North American sports facilities are adopting to prevent such attacks. Here are a few of them.

> BODY-WORN CAMS: The San Francisco 49ers are using web-based software from Visual Labs, a 3-year-old Silicon Valley firm, that allows smartphones to be used as body cameras.

Customized Android devices are mounted on the chest of the 49ers’ guest services staff at Levi’s Stadium. Staff members push a button to record video, which connects those images in real time with the security command center, said Jim Mercurio, the team’s vice president of stadium operations and general manager.

The technology is similar to body cameras worn by some law enforcement. The police department in Dos Palos, Calif., a small town about 100 miles southeast of Santa Clara, is among the early adopters of the smartphone model, with Visual Labs software installed on Android phones. Officials say it’s superior to traditional body camera systems they’ve used, which had issues with limited memory space and battery life, plus faulty designs affecting the on/off button, according to a report in tech publication Ars Technica.

Smartphone body cameras at Levi’s Stadium
Photo by: VISUAL LABS
The technology gives the 49ers the flexibility to use it for a variety of situations inside the stadium, including suspicious activity that could be tied to a potential terrorist threat, Mercurio said.

At the security command center, the live feed tied to the smartphone camera enables officials to get a clearer picture of the incident and make better decisions to resolve it. The 49ers have signed a multiyear agreement with Visual Labs after testing the system last year.

“We’ve been working on it and tweaking it and got it to where we want it to be,” Mercurio said.

The 49ers recently presented the body camera technology to the NFL and there’s a possibility it could become part of the league’s best practices in security, he said. The NFL did not return an email request for comment.

“As technology emerges, we should share some of these ideas,” said Mercurio, who serves on the new NFL Stadium Security Directors Committee. Cathy Lanier, the league’s head of security, formed the group over the past few months to help update security-related procedures.

> NO-DRONE ZONE: In Southern California, security consultant Prevent Advisors is researching the use of virtual fences as a defense mechanism against weaponized drones. Michael Downing, the group’s executive vice president, said the technology sets up an invisible wall stretching up to two miles wide that effectively jams the drone pilot’s signals and reverses the device’s path of travel back to its point of origin.

Prisons are using the virtual wall system to prevent drones from dropping drugs inside their walls. The technology, contained in a 9-pound box, would not constitute a major expense for large organizations, although Downing refused to disclose costs.

Prevent Advisors, part of Oak View Group, is considering whether to buy multiple units for the Arena Alliance, a group of about 30 big league arenas using the company as a consultant. A volume buy, reducing the overall cost, could be completed by the end of 2017, Downing said.

> IWATCHLA: AEG, meanwhile, pushes the use of a mobile application called IWatchLA to report suspicious behavior at Staples Center and L.A. Live, the entertainment district across the street from the arena.

The mobile app is part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “See Something, Say Something” anti-terrorism program. Fans can text tips and photos or call 911 directly through the mobile app.

On its own, AEG’s security department has used the app at various times over the past four years, said Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center and L.A. Live. Posters at Staples Center and video screens around the L.A. Live complex promote the app.

AEG is considering integrating IWatchLA into the Staples Center mobile app, but no decision has been made, Zeidman said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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