Ask any owner or manager about the one thing that keeps them up at night and you’ll hear a similar refrain – a security breach at their arena. Whether an active shooter, bomb scare, terrorist or just a distracted fan, all staff must know what to do in times of crises in order to operate from a position of strength. Break the communication chain or skimp on security, and your brand will suffer. And the financial fallout could be significant.
James DeMeo has spent over a quarter century helping security leaders develop effective strategies to mitigate risk. In 2015, he leveraged his love of sports and knowledge of law enforcement to form Unified Sports & Entertainment Security Consulting, LLC., where, through education and training, he shares his expertise in brand protection and risk mitigation with event management, contract agencies and venue directors. DeMeo says that investing in security not only keeps patrons safe, but is one of the building blocks to a strong brand.
A former cop and sports enthusiast , James likens the security business to those that play America’s favorite pastime: baseball. Neither bats 1000. But there are ways to improve your average. Read our conversation with him to find out how:
It’s not unusual for retired law enforcement to wind up in the security industry, but your path is far from linear. Tell us about your journey.
I was always interested in sports. In 2012, I earned a masters degree in sports management from Adelphi University, looking for a way to merge my interest with my knowledge base. Then one night a retired detective took me on a tour of the command center for the New York Islanders, where he was working as a security liaison. The interest was sparked, and I made the connection.
You view security as a revenue enhancer. How so?
The fan experience is more important than ever. With so many options, you’re constantly vying for their attention. If they feel unsafe, or if something goes wrong, they might not return. Then there’s the issue of liability. Recent examples include the Chicago White Sox, who were sued for lax security procedures, and the organizers of South by Southwest, who faced litigation over a drunk driver fatality. You don’t want to be that one situation and have it be said that you didn’t do everything you could to mitigate risk, because it could cost you.
Cumbersome security measures can also influence whether to go to an event or stay home. What’s the best way to keep a fan safe without upsetting the experience?
There’s a delicate balance between providing an amazing fan experience and being seen as overzealous. Empower your staff through information and training to protect your brand and organization. Be sure security and guest services understand each others roles; they are the gatekeepers. Make sure they’re trained on basic screening measures like hand wands and metal detectors. And help them establish a rapport with guests to heighten the experience. A few years ago, I helped open the Barclays Center, a billion dollar entertainment center in New York; the security team hi-fived fans on the way out. Research proves that fans who have a better experience return, and that’s a boost to your bottom line.
Can fans shape the experience?
Everyone needs to buy in, including the fans. It could be as simple as “see something, say something,” or it could be tech-oriented. They’re already on their phones upgrading seats, ordering food and finding out the wait in the restroom. Why not encourage them to download apps that allow the anonymous reporting of an intoxicated patron or emergency situation? The information is then sent to a command center which dispatches security or law enforcement to mitigate the risk.
How are venues using technology to keep fans safe?
Increasingly, stadium operators are relying on technology solutions to keep both fans and participants safe. Surveillance cameras that integrate seamlessly with systems give command center personnel a greater situational awareness, and can help venues improve their decision making and better allocate their resources and team. Social media can also reduce risk. Ownership should push out via social media venue expectations before fans arrive so that they know how to behave. Each platform should be responsibly monitored to safeguard against any threats. Again, it’s a balancing act; you have to be respectful, but if a problem occurred at another venue the night before, it’s important to know about it. You need a heightened awareness to operate from a position of strength.
Does the strategy differ from venue to venue?
The strategy is similar but the situation changes. Event managers are typically responsible for more than one event; some oversee 300 a year. But the audience for each is different. You can have a circus one night, hockey the next, and a heavy metal band later in the week. This fluidity means that security directors and managers are constantly tweaking their protocols to better respond to the demographics. Then there’s the event staff. Most are part-timers who may be unfamiliar with the venue or its procedures, so getting them all on board can be a challenge. Make sure they know the basics, like who’s in charge and key contacts. Familiarize them with the exits, so that they know how to lead people to safety during an emergency.
You mentioned the challenges of working with part-time or contract staff. What should be done to assure a smooth transition between assignments?
Certainly a heightened awareness through continuing education and career development resources is a must for those safeguarding these events. On the contract side, a well-trained security officer reduces liability; remember that if an incident arises, all parties will be sued. Take advantage of the resources out there, whether through ASIS or NCS4; making an investment in career development can help you attract and retain a better security officer, and this in turn, reduces liability and raises your stature in the customer’s mind.
Most cite the Boston Marathon as a turning point for the way security is handled at arenas and sports events. Was that the spark?
It was a definite game changer. The Marathon forced us to revisit the conversation over what needed to be done to protect soft targets where fans and participants are present.
What’s different post Marathon?
The days of a quick huddle with men in yellow security jackets will no longer suffice. You have to engage staff early and often. A multi-targeted approach, a partnership between staff, the fans and private agencies, is necessary to keep everyone safe, regardless of the vertical you’re talking about. The Boston Marathon taught us the importance of effective communication between law enforcement, security and event organizers, of assuring that everyone speaks the same language. Today’s approach involves everyone from management to guest services to contract guards and gate security, even fans. All parties must know what to do in times of crises.
What keeps you up at night?
We’ve done a good job securing interior perimeters, but I’m most concerned about a facility’s exterior. Parking lots, tailgaters, people mulling about watching replays on jumbo trons are all softer targets that need more focus.
So what’s the solution?
You have to develop an inside out, outside in, management approach. Use bike patrols; intermittently police tailgaters, and monitor it all through the command center. Above all, everyone needs to work together and share information.
Any Final Thoughts?
The threats and vulnerabilities continue on a daily basis and keep changing, so you have to be proactive and continue to train. Take the research that’s out there and apply it to your staff. Lessons learned is key. If you’re running a venue in a certain state and something goes wrong, it’s incumbent upon you to get on the phone and share that information with peers throughout the country.
It’s a work in progress. We learn more each day.
James DeMeo, M.S., is president and CEO of Unified Sports & Entertainment Security Consulting, LLC., a company that focuses on developing workshops and programs for the gatekeepers, frontline workers, and security professionals working at stadiums and arenas throughout the United States. He helped open The Barclay Center in Brooklyn and worked as security supervisor at Cedar Park Center in Texas. The goal is always the same: enhance the fan experience by protecting them from unnecessary risks. Connect with James on LinkedIn, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more