How text messaging helps your security department

New Orleans, La., Aug. 5 -- On one hand, text messaging is about the worst thing someone can do for their own safety. Head down, thumbs on the phone, typing LOL's, :-)'s, and ROTFLMAO's, a person text messaging is rarely aware of their situation. As they walk down the street, focused on the phone, they are barely aware of their surroundings. They stumble on curbs, bump into others while sending their texts, and it's just plain terrifying when you're driving on a parkway at 60 miles an hour and you see the driver of the car next to you writing a message or an email on his iPhone.

So now that I have abused the concept of text messaging in its relationship to personal safety and security, I'm going to turn on a dime and tell you that text messaging could be one of the best things for security since the advent of the key.

I spent this past week sweating through my suit in New Orleans, La., where the University of Southern Mississippi was hosting the National Sports Safety and Security Conference and Exhibition. Put on by Dr. Lou Marciani's team at the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security (NCS4), the event brings together venue operators, stadium security managers, university police representatives, and chiefs from organizations like NASCAR, the NFL and Major League Baseball. The speakers mix in fun fan trash-talking about rival teams (whose head of security is often standing there with them), but on the serious side, the conference does a great job sharing best practices.

One of the consistent messages that came from this conference was how leagues and stadiums are implementing text message programs. These facility operators (like the San Diego Padres, Jacksonville's EverBank Field, and even the NFL and MLB as a whole) are encouraging fans to send text message of inappropriate behavior in the stands. Where fans before were sometimes leery of reporting violators (it's usually reports of obnoxiously drunk fans who probably deserve ejection) for fear of reprisals, they now can text their seating area report directly to the command center without it being obvious that they were the person who stood up and pointed out the unruly person to an usher or security officer.

I want to share some best practices based around these programs:

1. Signage is key. A number of the venues that said they were accepting text message reports noted that they have signage throughout the venue, on program guides and even in parking areas.

2. Expect to have more reports than you had before. If you're tracking incidents, you'll see a distinct increase. That doesn't mean your stands are more unruly than ever before; it just means you're hearing about incidents that you never heard of in the past.

3. Add guest services to the mix. Forward thinking venues weren't just using text messages to report security issues, but also to handle guest services. Where is the ATM? Can you fix my broken seat? Can we get a hot dog vendor over to this section?

4. Develop an app. A number of stadiums (or teams) are developing game day smart phone applications, and those apps can be used for guest services and security communications with the fan. It doesn't have to simply be them reporting drunk fans, but your security team could also piggyback on the app to alert persons of traffic issues, evacuations, or even weather circumstances that would affect fan safety.

5. Have someone ready to handle this influx. If it's coming in by text message, you need someone on your security staff trained to rd the rlly short txt msgs that will be piped into your gr8 cmnd ctr, k?

Is it effective? Tracey Evans, the assistant general manager for EverBank Field (an SMG operated venue) had nothing but positive things to say about EverBank's program that allows guests to send text messages to request assistance, and here's what Jeff Miller, the director of security for the NFL has to say:

"Text messaging has been a huge bonus to us. It is an early warning system. Fans in the stands are going to pick up on those [security incident] indicators before police or our security people might know. That allows us to intervene on the early side. We can send someone down to talk to that fan so that we don't have to get to the point where they need to be ejected or arrested."

Most facility managers I spoke with at the conference said that it was a sports security tactic that could also be applied in the corporate facility world as well, especially on corporate campuses and multi-floor office towers. The reality is that a certain percentage of your guests and employees are now more likely to send you a text than to actually call your security office. Adapt to that social change and use it to your advantage!

About the author: Geoff Kohl is editor-in-chief and associate publisher of SecurityInfoWatch.com.

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