At the Frontline: NCS4 Director Dr. Lou Marciani

It is obvious that an event like the Boston Marathon attack would hit home for Dr. Lou Marciani, the director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at The University of Southern Mississippi. In fact, the attack put these types of outdoor events without a permanent facility on NCS4’s radar where it previously was not.

Established in 2006, NCS4 ( was created to provide an interdisciplinary academic environment to further increase sport security awareness, improve sport security policies and procedures and enhance emergency response through evacuation, recovery operations and crowd management training. Its annual conference will be held July 16-18 at Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando.

Security Technology Executive managing editor Paul Rothman caught up with Dr. Marciani to discuss the impact of Monday’s marathon attack for this exclusive “At the Frontline” Q&A:


What kind of impact did this have for you and NCS4?

Basically, what will happen to us at this juncture is we are waiting to find out who, what, why and how and determine the cause of the attack and all that. Once we know that, we then will pull together — probably at our conference — a forum on this issue, discuss it and look at the best practices that are currently in place and what can we do to make it safer. Once that happens, we will publish best practices for public events like these, and then from there we would move into curriculum development: Do we need better training out there? Do we need to help educate first responders and event owners and operators? We would then hopefully train and conduct exercises down the road to enhance the hardening of those public events.


It seems like the response was very well-coordinated. Do you agree?

Extremely well — you had some courageous people there take action. You saw great coordination and communications; you saw great communications with the hospitals. You saw something that didn’t happen for the ‘first time’ yesterday — in Boston, they do a lot of counter-terrorism training and exercises. That was a well-greased team and very courageous. I would say the response part of this was an A, but you still have to continue to modify your procedures with these types of risk — that’s why we examine what are the best practices, what we can do better, and how do we educate with the goal of mitigating that risk.


At NCS4 you are used to protecting events with set ingress and egress points — whether there are one, or 20, or more — how do you protect an open environment like the one at the Boston Marathon?

We can always harden the event better than what was done (in Boston), but I don’t think anyone could guarantee that events like that are going to be totally safe. It’s impossible.


What are some of the ways to harden it?

We start with what happened — once we know what happened and how it occurred, then we have to start getting everybody together and as a whole look at what’s going on. For example, what London is doing to harden these events, what does New York do — just what we can learn from each other so at the end of the day there can be a new set of best practices. You can cherry-pick things like locking manhole covers and eliminating trash bins, but that’s not what we’re looking for today — we are looking at what happened, what do we need to do about it, how do we solve it, how do we do it better so that the next marathon or parade has at least eliminated some of the risk that existed in Boston. That’s the home run. You are not going to get an event like that totally wrapped like it’s a stadium environment.


What makes the stadium environment so different outside of the ingress/egress advantage?

Access control. You have three layers of perimeter outside a stadium; you can detect and identify earlier, and you still have time at the ticket area to do that. We are good inside the bowls now too — we have practiced these scenarios a million times — we have trained an exercised hard. It’s gotten good. I’m not surprised this happened at a marathon, because just thinking about our enemy — they are going to go for a softer target.


How much of a role do public-private partnerships play for security, especially in a venue like a marathon?

They are critical — the government can only do so much. The private side needs to participate, the public side needs to participate, and the spectator has to participate as well. We’ve done a great job the past few years with ‘see something say something’ and I think that was probably a factor in Boston. That has really been coming on very successfully in this country—you’ve got to take care of yourself first, so look around and if you see something suspicious, you need to jump on it and tell someone.


Can you remember an event where law enforcement was so dependent on spectators and the general public to collect evidence, particularly video surveillance?

 The last one was the police in Los Angeles who were asking for video while investigating the (2011) beating of Bryan Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan in the Dodgers Stadium parking lot (Editor’s note: the two alleged assailants, Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood, are currently still awaiting trial in Los Angeles). I think what that says overall is that social media, cameras, smartphones and mobile devices are changing the way we are integrated into these events as spectators. These public events might not have all the sophisticated cameras that there might be at a stadium because they are portable events — they are there one day and finished and gone the next. The point is, that’s why you heard (the call for videos from the general public) — people are so free today to take video with their smartphones, there is bound to be one of those smartphones that can make a difference for forensic reasons or for the purposes of defining what happened.


Supporters of NCS4 include the NBA, NFL, MLB and a host of other stadium-related sports bodies. Is there a body that would represent marathons that would or should attend the conference and education programs?

We’ve had some race organizers come to the conference, but we’ve never really concentrated on these type of outdoor events. But I can guarantee that at this year’s event there will be representatives from marathons, parades and other outdoor events—they need help and education too. We were so concentrated on stadiums as a priority, but that will change and it’s time for us to at least reach out to the marathon people for now and just chip away so that when we have a national conference like we do, all the constituents are represented. I also think that someone from these marathons—someone from New York, London or Boston — should be on our advisory board, and I will make that happen.