Sports and Entertainment Venues Facing Heightened Challenges Securing Events

Dec. 6, 2022
How entertainment and sports venues can blend policy and technology to create a safe environment for patrons

Sports and entertainment venues are attracting huge crowds again, as concerns over Covid-19 have slowly abated and patrons are eager to return to stadiums and concert venues. This is good news for venue operators and puts additional emphasis on the need to create a safe environment for patrons. In order to do so, this means preparing for a variety of potential security threats, from stampedes, brawls, and fan interference to bombings, shootings, and drone attacks. Given the fact that violent crimes have increased in many major cities, spectators and fans are increasingly looking for reassurance that they’re going to be safe when they go out to venues.

While venue operators and their security teams know there is no complete guarantee of safety, following a set of best practices can lessen the risks and put them in the strongest possible security posture. Ideally, the first goal is to prevent a security incident and then, if one occurs, to achieve stability in the venue as quickly as possible.

Securing a Venue Requires Custom Solutions

To establish best practices for a specific venue, you must start with a full audit or assessment to determine how security has historically been put in place and review the physical security structure of the arena or outdoor site.

 Initial questions that should be asked during an assessment include:

  • What does the venue or space look like externally?
  • What's the process, if any, of screening patrons before they enter the venue?
  • What's the distance of the venue from pedestrian foot traffic, automobile traffic, and the venue parking lot?
  • Where are weapons screenings (if they are happening) conducted? Are these screenings performed on the site of the event, close to the venue, or at a further location outside or away from the venue itself?
Next, all existing safety and security policies and procedures should be reviewed to assess possible gaps and the need for updates. It’s important to review whether all the recommendations that were previously made were remediated, and if not why. Additionally, the assessment needs to consider how existing policies comply with the most current local, state and federal weapons laws.

Changing gun laws have in some states allowed for concealed and/or visible firearms to potentially be brought into arenas or public spaces. Many of the changes in laws came in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer that took a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, which resulted in the overturning of a New York State law that had previously barred most people from publicly carrying guns. This has a significant impact on venue operators’ security procedures.

For example, the audit update for a New York venue, then, must anticipate the possible presence of firearms. If a prior audit had concluded that it’s advisable to push the perimeter of the venue out by 200 yards, by having an external fence at the beginning of the property, the new assessment, given the potential threats, could extend that distance even further. This might be a simpler solution with a venue with more wide-open spaces surrounding the structure, like a football stadium. But an arena in a city, like Madison Square Garden in New York City, which only has so much space to expand a perimeter, could be a considerable issue.

Every audit should include a physical penetration test, which assesses all physical security controls, including locks, fences, security guards, cameras, and other security measures. This test attempts to thwart these controls to gain physical access to restricted areas. It also determines if sensitive data can be obtained by hacking into the network. It is better to discover potential gaps in a controlled way than to find out during an actual incident.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned from Past Incidents

A proper assessment should take into consideration previous intrusions or efforts that have been made to get into the stadium to cause harm, and how those vulnerabilities have since been dealt with. The scope of this should include proactive measures, such as canvassing both past and current attendees or ticket holders, who have been or could be potential threats.

A full review of all current technology should also be conducted, including the type of camera system in place, the reach of the system, and whether it is useful as a real-time surveillance system. It’s imperative to not just review the type of technology, but how it is being operated. For instance, a venue may have a top-notch camera surveillance system set up, but if the person monitoring the feed is also charged with carrying out other duties simultaneously, the system will be less effective. Surveillance systems can only be as effective as the people trained to monitor them who then know when to act.

Reviews can also include the length of time that footage is backed up and whether the camera equipment is working to full capacity or needs to be updated or replaced. Today, high-resolution cameras can cover a larger expanse of area than previous ones. As threats evolve, the technology needs to be updated across entertainment venues to keep pace.

Creating a Safer Environment for Patrons

The final, and most important, piece of a venue assessment is figuring out where to start making improvements and doing so on a timely basis. It’s best to tackle the items of immediate impact first. For instance, if a security screener is broken, that's a mandatory fix that needs to be taken care of before the next event.

Then focus on high-level recommendations and improvements. Some of these can be rectified quickly and others may take longer to complete. Try to mitigate these circumstances with other tactics while working on the ultimate solution. For example, if three cameras are broken and cannot be fixed immediately, then temporarily station security personnel in the areas where those cameras are installed.

Beyond those efforts, there are the “nice to have,” big-picture fixes. These may include pushing the perimeter of the event’s entry point into a more public area outside of the arena. If a venue or arena is already near a pedestrian street or transportation station, the venue operator may decide to add security in those places as well.

Finally, it’s important to continually monitor new technologies available to invest in and implement. Screening devices today can differentiate between a quarter, a key, and a bullet inside someone’s bag or pocket. This can help cut back on the bottleneck of crowds that develop while waiting to get through a checkpoint, which often leads to physical security challenges and increased risk.

Coordinate with Law Enforcement

In some cases, city officials, venue operators, and event organizers have decided to cancel or postpone large public events, rather than put attendees in a potentially risky situation—especially ones they cannot control, which could expose both the city and the venue operator to liabilities.

This past summer, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Music Midtown Festival was canceled by the event organizer, Live Nation.  The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that sources familiar with the decision stated that it was done in response to the Georgia Constitutional Carry Act, signed into law in April 2022, which eliminated government permit requirements for carrying concealed or open-carry firearms in public places, with certain exceptions being government buildings, such as courthouses and police departments.

In that kind of environment, it is recommended for venue operators add more private security support and work closely with local law enforcement. Typically, coordination already happens between law enforcement and venue security, as local police departments are responsible for responding to any occurrence within the city limits. But now, venues may want to engage with police departments even earlier to have armed officers standing in the vicinity of the venue and providing surveillance before patrons approach the venue doors.

By asking the right questions and conducting a thorough audit that produces actionable recommendations and is promptly implemented, we can keep patrons at sports and entertainment venues secure. Venue operators can be assured that they have taken the right steps to promote safety without compromising the visitor experience.

About the author: James T. Hayes, Jr. is a 20-year veteran of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and since his retirement, has provided his security expertise and guidance in the private sector. He is currently a vice president with Guidepost Solutions.
About the Author

James Hayes | VP, Guidepost Solutions

James T. Hayes, Jr. is a 20-year veteran of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and since his retirement, has provided his security expertise and guidance in the private sector. He is currently a vice president with Guidepost Solutions.