Securing the World Series a team effort

Tomorrow night, Boston’s storied Fenway Park will host Game 6 of this year’s World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. While the attention of fans will be directed towards the action on the field, a team of various stadium operations personnel from around Major League Baseball will be on hand to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance. One member of this behind the scenes security team that will be present at Fenway for Game 6 and possibly Game 7, if the series goes that far, is Mario Coutinho, vice president of stadium operations and security for Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays.  

According to Coutinho, MLB has a program that uses stadium personnel from around the league for big events like the World Series to help provide “another set of eyes and ears” during the game.

“We work closely with Fenway Park, in this case, their security people and directives and the agencies there that are working to provide a comprehensive security plan,” Coutinho explained. “At the end of the day, whether it is in Toronto, New York or Colorado, we all work with the same principles, we all manage crowds and we try to bring that expertise down to the venue to make sure that it operates free of any hiccups.”

Being the security manager of a large stadium himself, Coutinho said that he always has to be on guard against the unknown. Although issues related to the consumption of alcohol are the most common problem he encounters, Coutinho added that a terrorist attack is a very real threat, which is why security managers across the world of sports have to craft a risk mitigation plan that addresses all of these various threats.

“When we start thinking of managing a building – whether it is here in Canada or in the Unites States – we do look at incidents throughout the country and internationally and say, ‘what if?’ I think from that perspective, those are the questions that we ask and you might say, ‘what keeps you up at night’ and those are the same elements that we look at,” he said. “It’s always trying to put a plan in place or having resources where we can say, ‘what if, how would I handle it and where would I get that information?’”

Crowd control and quelling potential riots that may flare after a game or series is another big issue that stadium security managers have had to deal with in recent years. In June 2011, rioting broke out in downtown Vancouver after the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins. At least 140 people were reportedly injured and more than 100 people were arrested by police.

This threat has not gone overlooked for this year’s World Series. In Boston, restaurants and bars near Fenway Park have been asked to close down after the fifth inning and also to not host any events outside their businesses, which could potentially draw more people to the area.

“These measures are to help control the people who just gather in the area of the venue and may not be part of the actual game itself, but are just there to party as a result,” said Coutinho. “I think anytime you have a large group of people in a small area that risk is there, but I must say that the key for diffusing that is having a pretty thorough plan that’s communicated well with the local police agencies and they have an opportunity to adjust the plan. In some cases, our responsibility is the building itself and outside, but you still need to coordinate with the agencies in terms of what that impact is to your businesses and surrounding area.”     

The bombing of the Boston Marathon in April has had a significant impact as it relates to the way stadiums and other venues handle the screening of bags. In May, the National Football League’s Committee on Stadium Security adopted a policy that restricts the size and type of bags that can be brought into stadiums.

At Rogers Centre, Coutinho said that they have measurement guidelines in place as it relates to bag sizes that are allowed to be carried inside the stadium. The content of all bags is also inspected. If security staff or law enforcement comes across something suspicious, Coutinho said they also have X-ray machines available at their disposal.   

“I think each individual sports team has to take into consideration the nature of their business and the city that they’re at. Ultimately, you could ban all bags if you chose and some stadiums do without finding a league-wide policy,” said Coutinho. “What we do with Major League Baseball is work with them and establish what those guidelines are. We have an advantage that the season is over for the most part and we’ll have all winter to develop those strategies and to communicate them to our fans, but ultimately everything we do is done in the interest of safety and protecting our fans, our facilities and our players. Baseball, unlike the other sports, we play 81 home games and that’s a pretty significant schedule, so whether it’s ensuring a 100-foot perimeter outside your building for vehicles to managing the contents that people walk into the stadium with… those are all measures we have to look at. It is only a matter of time where a walk-through metal detector is the norm at stadiums.”

Coutinho believes that stadiums across North America will begin to rely more heavily upon security technology and video surveillance, in particular, to help support their security operations. Rogers Centre uses a high-definition surveillance system from Avigilon to keep watch over the stadium, which has the capacity to hold 50,000 spectators.

“We can only train employees with so much material. At the end of the day, we’re humans, we make mistakes,” Coutinho said. “Technology can bridge that gap. Our high-definition surveillance system that we employed really makes our job that much easier because we always know we have a record of what is taking place. And whether it’s a slip-and-fall or even just an overall operational issue, we can play back the video and see what took place. We’ve gone one step further and embraced digital radio communications in the stadium and we record all of that radio communication and we can identify to each individual user. Technology is helping us become more efficient, but at the same time be able to react quicker in a response mechanism.”