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Volume 21 No. 1
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Venues examine security in wake of attack

Dave Brown didn’t get much sleep the night of May 22 after the Manchester Arena bomb attack. The next day, American Airlines Center would be the site of a sold-out New Kids on the Block concert and Brown, the Dallas arena’s executive vice president and general manager, knew there were security adjustments to be made.

He’s not alone. The terrorist attack in England after an Ariana Grande concert, which killed 22 people and injured dozens of others, has teams and facilities across North America reviewing and tweaking their security procedures and thinking hard about how to expand security around the perimeter of their buildings.

Last week’s attack stands out on two fronts, according to security consultants. First, it occurred immediately after the event as most concertgoers were starting to leave the arena, creating a soft target for terrorists. Second, it occurred in a connector building between the arena and a train station, a public gathering space that brings to mind the plazas and entertainment districts next to arenas and stadiums that may be less protected than the venue under standard security protocol.

The Manchester Arena bomber chose “the most vulnerable spot” for his attack, a U.S. security consultant says.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

“It’s a watershed moment on threats, in terms of the evolution of the threat,” said Michael Downing, executive vice president of Prevent Advisors, part of Oak View Group and a security consultant for about 30 big league arenas. “Obviously, this one was more sophisticated and complex. The location he selected and the time he selected to do it was calculated in that he picked the most vulnerable spot … and we saw the devastation.”

Those gaps in security were a point of discussion last week in meetings among developers of the new Milwaukee Bucks arena that will open in 2018, tied to a future entertainment district. Plugging those gaps remains top of mind for the Bucks, as well as for the Atlanta Falcons regarding the large tailgate plaza attached to new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, said Dan Donovan, the security design consultant for both teams.

“We’re working hard with architects and teams to extend the perimeter as far out as we can, but a lot depends on the local, state and federal agencies we work with in each market,” Donovan said. “We need the right level of support for the areas that the teams don’t control.”

The Manchester suicide bomber most likely knew from conducting pre-event surveillance that there could be a lull in security after the event and which exits would be most heavily used, according to officials participating in a conference call organized by the Department of Homeland Security that included the NFL, NBA, Live Nation, crowd management firm Contemporary Services and the Stadium Managers Association.

In Los Angeles, for events at Staples Center, AEG duplicates its security efforts across the street at L.A. Live, using uniformed officers and bomb-sniffing dogs to roam the entertainment district.

“We’re soft targets. We get that,” said Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Microsoft Theater. “But we’re not the military. We’re a public facility, with 19 restaurants, two hotels and other music venues. It’s all about visibility and educating and training our staff, and the public. It doesn’t start and end with the event.”

In Dallas, American Airlines Center upgraded security to include a greater law enforcement presence with more squad cars, canine units and patrol towers high above the grounds and the plaza next to the building, Brown said.

Brown did not provide greater detail on the adjustments because he doesn’t want to give the “bad guys” an edge. There were no incidents at the concert, which drew a crowd of 15,000, he said.

Oak View Group’s Arena Alliance, which includes American Airlines Center, held its own conference call after the Manchester attack. Downing discussed some tools that sports facilities can use to focus on vulnerable spaces such as pan, tilt and zoom cameras, vapor wake dogs and patrol towers.

“We had several calls with Prevent Advisors … and those best practices validated the things we thought we were already doing correctly,” Brown said. “I’m pretty sure these [new steps] will become standard procedure as we expand the secured perimeter.”

SportsBusiness Journal research director David Broughton contributed to this report.