Experts examine security at college stadiums

Researchers from USM program probe stadium safety and security issues

"In our lifetime you saw Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts being ushers," Marciani said. "The new usher is the first responder. Big difference, huh? Sixty-two percent of NCAA schools use an outsource company to manage their security. So the question is, 'Who are these people coming in to manage their security?'"

NCAA officials turned down repeated requests to discuss the issue, even in the broadest terms.

Marciani said certification of credentialing processes, stadiums and risk management plans will quickly harden so-called "soft targets." But one factor that will continue to limit security is money for operations, physical protection equipment and vulnerability assessments.

The best security plans include a buffer zone around the stadium or arena, a hard shell at the fence and enough personnel inside the facility to divide the crowd into small groups for easier monitoring.

As fans filtered into M.M. Roberts Stadium for a Southern Miss game this season, Marciani gestured toward the stands and talked about some of the security features. He said each section has its own observer, and security supervisors oversee three sections each.

An emergency operations center is run by the school police and everyone is patched into the communications network for quick response.

The precautions seem standard, but surprisingly are not universal.

"Some stadiums aren't fortunate enough to attract 30,000," Marciani said. "Some only attract 17,000. So where are you going to get the money to offset the black hole called security? People don't see security, so they don't want to spend money on security."

There have been very few terrorist attacks on sports or entertainment events on U.S. soil. The most prominent was Eric Rudolph's attack at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to protest abortion.

Several security professionals said the Virginia Tech killings and the murders of Mississippi and Memphis athletes this year helped push security into a new light.

Marciani said security leaders understand it takes only one person not checking bags or one credential handed out to someone posing as a media member to create a hole in the net. Or worse, they worry about someone with security clearance working in tandem on a major attack.

"You have to be a hell of a lot more careful about who's delivering the truckload of Coke in the afternoon," said Mike Cleary, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.