By Dan Mendelson
Sports is big business. The $60 billion a year industry is growing, as is concern over fan safety. After all, potential attackers are looking for something that gives immediate global impact and sports certainly does that.
But the concern isn’t just about terrorism. Lone wolves, active shooters and even unruly patrons can disrupt the fan experience. Creating a worry and hassle free event that doesn’t interfere with the experience is key, and could determine whether a fan returns to a venue or stays home.
The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) has helped security professionals strike the right balance between experience and safety since its inception. NCS4 is the nation’s only research center focused on spectator sports safety and security. Its recent partnership with Interpol expanded that scope, and promises to create a global platform of excellence and best practices within the international sports community.
We recently spoke with Alison Crumpton, director of communications and logistics to learn more about what NCS4 does, the Interpol connection and its work to improve safety and security at sporting events here and around the world:
How did the organization wind up in Mississippi?
NCS4 got its start ten years ago, within the University of Southern Mississippi, after several faculty members and administrators identified a need for standardized protocols within the sports security industry. A grant from the Department of Homeland Security turned concept into reality. Our initial focus was on collegiate events which Homeland Security had labeled soft targets. But we’ve since developed polices that address the concerns of pro stadiums, high school events, small races and even marathons.
You conduct research and offer educational materials to members and others, but NCS4 is best known for its training programs. Tell us about that.
Training is what put us on the map. We teach nationwide, and topics cover everything from risk and incident management to sports and special event evacuation.
Can you provide a couple examples? Who’s the audience?
The risk management course emphasizes collaboration. Management teams enhance their basic knowledge through scenario-based training modules, with the expectation they return to their sport venues and coordinate development of a sports event security management system. The incident training program helps event managers better plan for incidents that could occur during an event. Athletic department staffs, campus safety personnel and emergency response supervisors are some who’ve taken the course.
Why the need for programs at the high school level?
High schools aren’t immune to safety threats. When the bell rings at the end of day, kids are still on campus, whether at sports practice or the chess club. What are we doing to protect them? NCS4 works with school districts to develop after school safety and security management programs tailored to the needs of the individual facility in question. We offer courses for principals, law enforcement, athletic directors and security team members
Tell us about your certification programs
We offer a professional certification for upper management, directors of security operations and command staff. The Certified Sport Venue Staff certification is a two-part credential composed of a training certificate and background screening. We also offer certification programs for venue staff, or what is known as front line staff. Training is done online, and includes a background screening (criminal check).
What are the benefits for event service companies and stadiums that opt for certification?
If you’re sending your staff out to an event, it’s important that they have a firm understanding of their role and a basic overview of their surroundings, which is part of what certification provides. Plus, the background screening safeguards against hiring people with a criminal past; if something comes up in the check, you’ll learn about it.
You also host events throughout the year. Tell us about some of those.
Our professional development events are designed to enhance the current knowledge base in each market segment. We host four safety and security summits annually: marathons; colleges and universities; professional sports facilities; and interscholastic (high school) athletics, where participants share lessons learned and effective safety strategies. These summits become the building blocks for each segment’s best practices, and are made available for download on our website to anyone in the industry.
Our largest event is the National Sports Safety Conference. This annual meeting provides the latest information on technology, products and services, as well as education for safeguarding the assets and spectators at sports events. The 8th annual conference is slated for July in Orlando.
Guarding against terror attacks aren’t the only concerns facing event managers and security personnel. What other situations can disrupt the fan experience?
Weather threats, intoxicated fans, active shooters or just someone wandering aimlessly – the list is endless, and all have the potential for disaster. If there’s an approaching hurricane or tornado, is there shelter in place? Who is the point person and what is the plan for an active shooter? And what about outside the venue; is it secure? You have to be able to get fans into and out of an event safely.
Developing an effective strategy requires training, planning and a coordinated effort between management and front line staff.
Can there be a one-size-fits-all approach to safety at these events?
It’s difficult. There are unique challenges that just weren’t there in the past. Facilities today are multi-purpose; they can host a sports event one day and a concert the next. What works at one event may not transfer over to another. Cost, too, is a factor. A smaller venue may not have the resources that a larger one does. You can’t always prevent the worst from happening, but everyone on the team should know what to do in an emergency, and that is achieved through communication, planning and basic guidelines.
Taking cost out of the equation, are there one or two components that can reduce risk that any/all security programs should include?
Effective risk management training is imperative at sporting events due to the potential of mass casualties and catastrophic social and economic impact. As indicted through research, there are significant gaps related to effective incident command control, emergency response preparedness and evacuation capabilities at sporting events due to lack of team training and exercises for those responsible for game day operations
You recently announced your partnership with INTERPOL. Tell us about the agreement and how it will shape NSC4 programs going forward.
The vision of the agreement is to create a center of excellence and good practice platform to help INTERPOL countries in planning and executing physical security and cyber security preparations for major sporting events. A major part of the agreement is to enhance capacity building for international policing and agencies devoted to sport safety and security through high-level training and technical assistance, academic program, workshops, seminars, working group meetings, conferences. The National Center will be blending our national and international efforts.
Will the levels of security we are seeing now around sports become the norm?
I think that levels of security are going to continue this way for quite some time in light of all that’s going on in the world. Sports is a big part of the culture; people want to go to a game without worrying about security checks, crazed fans or terror threats. The challenge is to provide a seamless experience, one that doesn’t compromise their enjoyment.
The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) will host the 2016 National Marathon Safety and Security Summit on December 12-14 at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, MS. The unique aspect of this year’s summit will be the integration of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon into the enhancement of the 3rd edition of the national marathon safety and security best practices.
Events in 2017 include the National Intercollegiate Security Safety Summit, January 24-26; Professional Sports Facilities Summit, March 7-9; and National Interscholastic and After School Security and Safety Summit on March 28-30. Learn more about the NCS4 by visiting www.ncs4.com
Dan Mendelson is president of Unitex Direct, a full service uniform supplier located in Walled Lake, Michigan. Since 1992, Unitex Direct has provided uniforms, accessories, equipment and promotional products to security, public safety, event services, aviation and hospitality companies. Unitex Direct offers complete in-house customization services to complete your uniform look. It offers volume manufacturing programs to suit every size customer and has the purchasing power with leading industry brands guaranteeing exceptional value. To learn more, you can meet Dan at any of the first three NCS4 summits, visit www.unitexdirect.com or connect with him on LinkedIn.