While the New York Mets are entitled to have the occasional bad day in Citi Field, John McKay and Sara Bollock realize that is not an option for their team.
McKay, the Executive Director of Security for the National League Mets and a former Lieutenant with the NYPD for 24 years, who, along with Bollock, the Director of Ballpark Operations at Citi Field, head a collaborative effort to ensure the safety and security of baseball fans, players and staff who congregate in the 41,000-seat stadium in Flushing for 81 home games each year. Opened in 2009, this ultra-modern, yet throw-back-style facility is clad in brick, limestone, granite and cast stone, with a brick façade that closely resembles the masonry used at Ebbets Field, home of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
Citi Field replaced the four-decade-old Shea Stadium, the home of the original Mets who brought baseball’s second team back to New York in 1962 following the Dodgers move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957. Shea Stadium was originally built as a multi-purpose stadium, where the Jets of the National Football League also played and was not a baseball-friendly place for fans. But many stadium aficionados rank Citi Field as one of the sport’s crown jewels with its excellent baseball sight lines, wide concourses and ample parking.
Coordinating with Security Stakeholders
Protecting the home turf nestled between the bustling crossroads of 126th street and Roosevelt Avenue, Citi Field takes a coordinated effort with the Met’s security staff of more than 250 full-time and seasonal contractors, the New York City police and fire departments, NYC’s Counterterrorism division, along with service personnel and staff working games inside and out of the stadium.
McKay says that staff and stakeholders meet every day prior to an event or ballgame. The 3:30 p.m. meeting is held prior to opening the gates. The group discusses anything that might be unique for the day like some sort of promotional giveaway or planned attendance by a national or international dignitary, celebrity or VIP.
“The good thing with us is we have always put a high value on security here (at Citi Field). We have learned to look at what we’ve seen happen at other stadiums like in the UK at the Ariana Grande concert,” says McKay, referring to the suicide bomber who blew himself up outside near the entrance of the Manchester Arena during Grande’s event in May 2017. The blast killed 23 people including the bomber. “Then there was the soccer match in France where bombers tried to enter the stadium but couldn’t because they were padded down and detected with (bomb) vests preventing them from entering the venue. They also blew themselves up outside. We use those events and the video as training to show the people out front that you are important. The people that work the gates must understand that they are on the front line and are our eyes and ear on the outside. Now once those fans get in (Citi Field) then it is our responsibility.”
Following the Ariana Grande incident, the NYPD Counterterrorism Task Force created a unit that covers Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden. “They used to send only six guys with heavy weapons and long guns, but now it is at least 10. They cover three of our gates; leftfield, rightfield and the Rotunda. So if you are a bad guy coming here to do something bad, they will be the first thing you see,” adds McKay.
Building a Security Model That Works
Dr. Lou Marciani, the Director of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, said in a recent conference address at the Center that it is critical for sport managers to be cognizant of their capabilities to better respond and recover from man-made or natural incidents by being security-minded and more prepared than ever. He added that although there is no assurance of absolute security in combating the threat of incidents, effective planning and management systems can reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable while reassuring customers, employees and participants that the administration is serious about their safety and security.
“Preparing for worst-case scenarios must be addressed within a facility’s safety and security operational plan. Calling 911 is not a plan or option. Hard lessons learned from the past have forced us to recognize the need for more efficient planning, knowledge of on-site resources and understanding of a pre-designed crisis communication protocol around a facility’s command post,” said Dr. Marciani. “We are not able to eliminate risk altogether, therefore we should identify the most appropriate measures to reduce risk to as low as reasonably practicable.”
Video surveillance and facial recognition are two of the many advanced technologies employed at Citi Field. Bollock explains that there are IP-cameras set up around all of the stadium entrances to help track people that have landed on the Mets’ infamous “Blacklist,” or commonly known as DNAs (Do Not Admit). Individuals who have made the DNA list have run afoul of the law in or around the grounds of Citi Field previously and if spotted trying to enter the park are arrested and charged with trespassing.
“We will get a notification here (in the Command Center) if we get a match and the operator will call the supervisor down in the Rotunda who will approach the individual, ask for identification and if it is a match then the NYPD gets involved. So, basically we only have a few seconds from the point of when they come into our questioning them,” says Bollock.
Bollock adds that the problem is more prevalent than one would think since security also deals with ticket scalpers who are detected on camera inside and out of the stadium. The video surveillance is also keen on spotting anything from larcenies and fighting to assaults outside the facility to the dreaded “field runner” inside the stadium.
Bollock had high praise for the NEC facial recognition technology being used that now employs detailed measurement parameters to capture an image like nose, ear, and jawline. “Now, even if someone is wearing a hat and sunglasses we are still able to pick up on that ID.”
Centralized Security Platform is a Homerun
McKay and Bollock say that being able to bring all their security technologies into a unified platform has been a huge advantage for the security staff, citing the that the previous systems that run video surveillance and access control on separate networks were a handicap. Citi Field recently upgraded and meshed security technology operation with Genetec’s Security Center platform, allowing it to provide an interoperable and blended approach to its IP-based security networks. The security operators are now able to coordinate video surveillance, access control, social media monitoring, automatic license plate recognition to communications, intrusion detection, and analytics into a seamless solution.
“When you are on an open platform and you have access control, cameras all tied to together, it allows you to add on from there. Like NEC for example, we are working on developing an employee facial recognition (system) at the back of the house for day-of-game workers. If they are not scheduled to work that day and try to scan in that hit will tie back to access control. It’s exciting stuff for us and we now feel the sky is the limit when it comes to building out our future security solutions. We are able to bring almost anything we can think of to life,” says Bollock.
Citi Field launched Security Center with video only in 2015 and added access control in 2017. The system now boasts 187 surveillance cameras, with more than 200 views when considering the multi-view cameras. There are 115 access controlled doors and senior staff has mobile securing apps to monitor video and doors.
“The technology has made security a lot more proactive and fun. Back in the day at Shea, you might have had one camera – nobody had video. The cameras, facial recognition, the social media monitoring really allows you to control the entire ballpark. You can’t control fan behavior but we can certainly monitor their behavior and apply resources where needed before situations get out of hand. We are a lot more proactive then we used to be,” admits McKay.
Bollock’s new technology toy is an intuitive geospatial tool that provides almost endless possibilities for tracking, monitoring, analyzing and predicting potential risks and threats at the ballpark and the surrounding areas. It can also be used for observing threatening weather as well. The solution, known as Live Earth, delivers real-time situational awareness by unifying all systems, devices, sensors and data streams on a single interactive map. It is a cloud platform and is billed as a complete, out-of-the-box solution that requires little to no implementation time.
Bollock says she appreciates the fact Live Earth can create geofences and set alerts for activity in a specific area, track objects, measure distance and review past data in a larger context. The operator can even share data (screenshots and videos) and interactive scenes for unparalleled communication continuity.
“We are in New York so we have a lot of security. You don’t have the option to scale back. Live Earth is a new security technology option that brings plenty of new capabilities to our team,” Bollock admits.
About the Author:
Steve Lasky is the Editorial Director of SecurityInfoWatch Security Media, which includes print publications Security Technology Executive, Security Dealer & Integrator, Locksmith Ledger Int’l and the world’s most trafficked security web portal SecurityInfoWatch.com. He is a 30-year veteran of the security industry and a 27-year member of ASIS.