Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Technology speeds evolution of venue security

In late July 1984, Chuck Sullivan, then-executive vice president of the New England Patriots and owner of the team’s Foxboro Stadium, received a phone call that would serve as a catalyst for change in security protocol at sports venues.

A few weeks earlier, an armed man had walked into a McDonald’s in the San Ysidro section of San Diego, killed 21 people and injured 19 others.

Sullivan was producing the just-launched Jackson family “Victory Tour” and was at his O’Melveny & Myers law office
in New York going over early details of the 55-show tour when Michael Jackson called.

“One of the stops on the Victory Tour was in Knoxville, Tenn.,” Sullivan said. “Some kooky person sent a letter to Michael saying that if he played in Knoxville, Neyland Stadium would look like a replay of that McDonald’s. Obviously, Michael was pretty freaked out.”

Jackson told Sullivan to cancel the show. Sullivan and Walter Yetnikoff, the president of Jackson’s label, CBS Records, told him if he bowed to this threat, his career as a live performer would be over. Jackson conceded, but part of his concessions for the remaining stops included bulletproof vests for all the stage performers and that every fan had to pass through a metal detector.

In the nearly three decades since, venue operators have slowly watched the evolutions of both venue safety and fan amenities, as the seemingly parallel lines have begun to cross.

Venues such as CenturyLink Field have a monster task with security elements such as speedy evacuation plans.
“The integration of physical security with fan experience issues is finally here,” said Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. “With new technology, we can monitor security alongside parking patterns, concession flow, right down to how much beer is left at each stand.”

The Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium, for example, boasts one of the world’s largest point-of-sale installations under one roof, with nearly 800 devices processing transactions. The club last fall integrated IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities software with all its vendors including Centerplate, Daktronics, AT&T, Ticketmaster and Weatherbug. IBM views a stadium as essentially a scaled-down city, complete with cars, parking, pedestrians, merchants, utilities and personnel responsible for keeping all the services running smoothly.

The system became fully integrated for the 2012 NFL season. Tery Howard, the stadium’s senior vice president of information technology, said having real-time insight into all stadium operations has already allowed the team to detect anomalies that would have been missed in the past.

For example, alcohol is not allowed to be served once the third quarter ends, but Howard said the technology detected such a sale. The system is connected to the Daktronics game clock, and an SMS message was sent instantly to the concessions supervisor in that part of the stadium. Additionally, the system detected that a Ticketmaster scanner was improperly reading tickets, and the user was notified immediately.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, owner of the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards and the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, awarded a nearly $200,000 contract this summer to Maryland-based Vision Technologies to convert the Ravens’ security operations from an analog to a digital system. The project included the construction of a command and control center that permits all emergency personnel, concessions, security, maintenance, cleaning, parking and team staffs, as well as city and state transportation management to be housed together in one space during an event.

When it comes to venue operations, getting people out of a stadium is just as important to security as getting them in.
Tom Gabbard, associate director of athletics at Virginia Tech, said a lot has changed since a lightning storm in 2000 caused the evacuation of a Hokies home football game. The school was criticized when a woman suffered a broken leg and several others were injured as fans tried to evacuate. Gabbard and others on his facilities staff are now certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in incident management, and the school subscribes to real-time weather information. Gabbard also established an emergency management department to coordinate all campus evacuation plans and game operational plans.

Several NFL clubs have a team-produced video on the team site, showing fans how to evacuate. Marciani said SportEvac 2.0, the next generation of the virtual, 3-D simulation software created by developers at the University of Southern Mississippi,is expected to be released next year, allowing facility operators to customize evacuation plans to match their venue.