How Paris will forever change event security
One night after the frightening terrorist attacks struck Paris, Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum officials carefully walked through their security plan before the Dead & Co. concert. With the event expected to draw more than 10,000, they took the extra step of having local police lead bomb-sniffing dogs on a sweep of the arena prior to the show.
About 600 miles away that same night in Orlando, Amway Center officials preparing for a Zac Brown Band show set up walk-through metal detectors, the same equipment used for Magic games. It was done at the request of the band’s security detail even though there were no threats of terrorist activity, said Allen Johnson, arena executive director.
All facilities in North America operated with a heightened awareness last week after the horrific attacks in Paris killed 129 people and made a sports facility a prime target. In the days after the incidents, arenas and stadiums diligently reviewed security protocols, which in some cases included making adjustments outside their buildings.
Industry experts interviewed for this story spoke of new safeguards being introduced, specifically bomb-sniffing dogs and the increased use of metal detectors. To this point, though, it’s still unclear how far the heightened vigilance will go, said Jerry Anderson, a consultant for Super Bowl, Final Four and College Football Playoff operations.
But one thing is clear: Facility managers, crowd management professionals and security consultants all agree that Stade de France operators saved many lives by stopping one suicide bomber with a standard patdown before he could enter a stadium filled with 80,000 fans for the Germany-France soccer match. The terrorist, holding a game ticket and set to enter after the match started, wore a vest full of explosives. He detonated the vest after it was detected by the patdown, killing himself and one bystander outside the stadium. Two more suicide bombers killed themselves outside the stadium.
“The stadium guys in France did their job,” said security design consultant Dan Donovan. “Had the timing been different, though, [the terrorists] could have done a lot more damage, and that’s a concern.”
The incident sent shock waves throughout the sports and entertainment industry, and forced venue operators, leagues and teams to reinforce security procedures with full-time employees and part-time staff.
For the most part, their facilities have the equipment in place to detect explosives. Across sports, league officials have required the use of walk-through metal detectors, called magnetometers, in addition to physical patdowns and the use of handheld wands to scan patrons. Many arenas have used walk-through metal detectors for years.
The NFL will install those detectors at all 31 stadiums by 2017, according to Anderson. In the meantime, teams continue to use the handhelds, which league officials say are effective, and are deploying more uniformed officers outside their stadiums to spot suspicious behavior. A few years ago, the NFL placed restrictions on handbags brought into the venue as a further deterrent.
“We all prescribe to a set of standards that are rigorous, and government is involved,” Anderson said. “Paris will cause us all to revisit those standards.”
The Paris attacks come less than three months before the NFL celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl. The game is set for Feb. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“It doesn’t necessarily make us change things, but it does put everything into another round of review,” said Keith Bruce, president and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee. “There’s already a very well-organized plan with federal, state, local and private forces, so you just double down to make sure everything’s as tight as it can be.”
At Prudential Center, the New Jersey Devils underwent a full review of security protocol with the possibility of making some adjustments in Newark, according to Scott O’Neil, the arena’s CEO.
“Changing security protocols over time is something that should be routine,” O’Neil said. “You don’t want to give the same look for a sustained period, and that’s true now more than ever.”
Across the Hudson River, Barclays Center increased security measures inside and outside the arena. “Some measures will be visible, some will not,” said Brooklyn Nets CEO Brett Yormark.
While many executives spoke of increased measures, virtually all who responded refused to provide further details because of the sensitivity of the issue.
After Paris, there’s a renewed focus for securing the perimeter around a facility. The post-9/11 barriers installed at arenas and stadiums may stop vehicles from crashing into buildings, but the mobility of a suicide bomber poses a different dynamic.
“A person carrying a backpack or wearing a jacket [covering a bomb vest] is difficult to identify until they get to the secured area,” Donovan said. “Each stadium is going to have to ramp it up.”
Donovan, consulting for new facilities tied to the Braves, Falcons and Warriors, is helping to “future-proof” projects with the newest security systems. Donovan noted it comes back to costs and the willingness to invest. As it stands now, bomb-sniffing technology runs well into six figures, he said.
“The return on investment isn’t there compared with using canine units, but even then, not everybody is using dogs to assist in that effort,” Donovan said.
In Greensboro, the canine units are the first layer of additional security, said Matt Brown, the coliseum’s managing director. Arena officials are also considering the use of professionally trained “spotters” during major events to identify potential suspects outside the facility. In the past, undercover officers working the perimeter of the building have focused on catching ticket scalpers. Now, “we’re better off using their skills to prevent terrorism,” Brown said.
Officials at Contemporary Services Corp., a crowd management firm, stressed a need for uniformity in educating part-time security workers responsible for wanding fans and operating the magnetometers. There’s a large gap in that critical aspect of crowd management depending on the market, according to Damon Zumwalt, president and CEO of Contemporary Services.
“There are a lot of states with zero requirements for becoming a security officer,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. It raises a serious issue. Every person should go through a background check and mandated training.”
Those front-line workers are key for helping teams and venues stay alert for potential terrorist activity, facility operations consultant Russ Simons said.
The Paris attacks were “horrible in every way, but it’s reflection of what many of us have thought could occur for a long time,” he said. “It’s a strong wake-up call for all facilities, regardless of size. We can’t afford to be complacent and think it’s somebody else’s problem.”
Staff writers Terry Lefton and John Lombardo contributed to this report.