Ever since the disaster at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where Arab terrorists slipped into the Olympic compound and killed two Israelis and took nine other athletes and coaches hostage, major sporting events have been terrorist targets. This author was NBC’s on-air security commentator at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when a bomb exploded in Centennial Park, killing one visitor and injuring 111 others.

The location of the attack came as no surprise. All of the venues were extremely well secured but the mayor and other city official – some of them, regrettably, playing the race card – criticized what they alleged to be the exclusionary nature of the Olympics and demanded that there be some area set aside where so-called “ordinary people” could participate and revel in the Olympic spirit. At least partly for that reason it was decided not to secure Centennial Park – a decision that, in effect, was the same as painting a large bulls-eye on the site. No magnetometers were set up in or at the entrances to the park, and there was no requirement that handbags and backpacks be X-rayed or even hand-checked.

It was clear to all of the security professionals involved in the Atlanta Olympics that, if a problem occurred, it would probably be in Centennial Park. And that is exactly what happened: Eric John Rudolph, an anti-abortion and anti-gay activist, decided to leave a bomb near one of the television towers in the park. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the post-9/11 world, it is actually very surprising that, as of late June 2005, no major sports or entertainment venue on U.S. soil had been attacked by terrorists.

Fans, Fraud, and a Blizzard of Flying Glass

But terrorism is just one of the security challenges faced today by the operators of such facilities. Access control, rowdy behavior by fans and/or athletes – the Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game, for example – ticket fraud, theft, and muggings (especially in parking areas) are just a few of the major problems that facility managers have to deal with in a typical working day. However, a potential act of terrorism remains the most troubling threat, according to many managers, because it is the most difficult to prevent, especially if it involves a lone terrorist, wearing a bomb belt studded with ball bearings or nails, perhaps, who walks into a stadium or arena or other sports facility and blows himself up – taking with him, of course, a number of other people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A related problem is that, although the managers of most sports facilities have created and promulgated emergency response and evacuation plans, relatively few have carefully crafted and exercised terrorism contingency plans, especially when those plans involve such esoteric threats as chemical and biological attacks.

The best – i.e., not only the most effective but the most cost-effective as well – security measures and systems are those that are designed into a facility at the outset. But retrofitting stadiums, arenas, and other venues is invariably more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive than building security measures and systems into the original design.

A good example of a first-rate security operation can be glimpsed at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. However, and despite the quality of the security personnel there and the thoroughness of their training and procedures, the building itself presents numerous problems – the most difficult of which, probably, is the large amount of glass, sloping outward over the entrances, on the face of the building. A bomb blast in the parking lot could turn untreated glass into a blizzard of flying projectiles, killing and maiming dozens, even hundreds of people. It should be recalled that 223 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured – ninety percent of them by flying glass – in the Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Facility Design Recommendations

Following are a few security recommendations that should be considered in the design of sports and entertainment facilities:

  1. A security professional should be a member of the design team, along with architects and engineers.
  2. The use of glass, even treated or laminated glass, should be kept to the minimum. All building materials should be tested for flammability and strength against a variety of potential threats.
  3. The structure itself should incorporate progressive collapse features as and where appropriate. The facility also should have, if possible, a reasonable setback to afford it more protection from vehicle bombs. If that is not possible, consideration should be given to the erection of blast walls and the use of blast-resistant materials. Bollards and other barriers also should be strategically placed around the facility to prevent unauthorized vehicles from gaining access.
  4. Doors, portals, and other entrances should be designed not only to accommodate current screening technology, but also should be large enough to accept future technologies as well. All points of access and egress should be unobstructed from a visual or line-of-sight aspect so as to make observation by security personnel both easier and more effective – this design feature also will help when there are crowd-management problems.
  5. Parking areas should not be underneath the facility but adjacent to it. They should be adequately lighted as well – to discourage car thefts, rapes, and muggings – and monitored by roving patrols and/or CCTV. Panic buttons and emergency phones should be installed at appropriate intervals; they also should be highly visible. In addition, consideration should be given to restricting trucks and vans to the parking areas that are most distant from the facility, because those vehicles can carry more explosives than an automobile can and, therefore, represent more of a threat.
  6. The external boundaries of the property should be secured by fencing – combined in some cases with Jersey barriers – to further restrict unauthorized entry. (This would be a particularly important consideration for racetracks. A recent lawsuit alleged that the operators of a racetrack did not exercise enough care in securing the facility, because an impaired individual was able to gain access to an area immediately adjacent to the track and subsequently crashed his motorcycle, dying from the crash.) The introduction of gates will also permit easier, more thorough, and better-controlled screening of vehicles and their occupants.
  7. Plans for emergency evacuation flows should be carefully studied – and computer-simulated as well – to ensure that the structure or facility can be cleared as quickly and efficiently as possible, while at the same time providing maximum access to emergency vehicles and personnel. The same careful attention should be given to the installation and operation of effective fire-suppression and smoke-handling systems.
  8. Ventilation systems should be in areas that are not accessible to the general public, and the vents themselves should be protected by grates and/or other barriers to prevent the introduction of noxious substances, including chemical/biological agents.


Security Management Procedures

Building a better stadium or arena is only the beginning. What happens after the building is “ready for business” is equally important. Following are some comments and recommendations involving the management, staffing, and operation of such facilities – and, for that matter, almost any other large structure or building ranging from apartment houses and hotels to office buildings and warehouses and factories:

  1. All existing facilities should undergo security assessments on a regular basis, both toentify current vulnerabilities and to keep up with shifting threats.
  2. Perhaps one of the greatest shortcomings of most facilities is the failure to properly screen all employees, especially more transient workers such as ushers, groundskeepers, guards, parking attendants, ticket-takers, and maintenance personnel. All cleared employees should be appropriately badged – and those badges should be carefully checked, close up and personal, at all security points.
  3. Key managers and security personnel should be aware of and trained in the operational procedures and guidelines set forth in the National Incident Management System (NIMS – and also be prepared to work with local authorities and first responders within the NIMS framework, as and when necessary.
  4. Threat assessments should be conducted in advance of every public event, particularly those involving high-profile or controversial entertainers, teams, or political figures, and/or at events where a high probability of alcohol or drug abuse might reasonably be assumed.
  5. Evacuation and crisis-management plans should be developed and promulgated – and then exercised on a regular basis, both toentify shortcomings and to enhance the skill sets and training of those involved in implementation of the plans.
  6. Guidelines governing the screening of people and bags coming into a facility also should be developed, and systems should be installed to detect weapons and, if feasible, explosives.
  7. Each arena, performing arts facility, or stadium should take steps to restrict access by visitors to any space not open to the general public, and all but necessary employees to key infrastructure nodes and sensitive operations areas.
  8. Security personnel should be well trained, not only to control fan/athlete violence but also to handle more extreme contingencies such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Teams, Athletes, and Brands

In recent years, many top athletes have found themselves mired in allegations of drug abuse, sexual misconduct, the use of steroids, violence, gambling, and the acceptance of illegal payments from agents. Former NBA star Jayson Williams, for example, was involved in the accidental death of his 55-year old chauffeur at Williams’s New Jersey mansion. Williams and some friends allegedly were mishandling a loaded shotgun when it discharged, killing the chauffeur, and to make matters worse engaged in a cover-up of the incident.

Another NBA player, Kobe Bryant, was cleared of a sexual assault charge but his career, especially his product endorsements, suffered anyway. Yet another NBA star was found to have more than 300 unregistered and unsecured firearms in his home. MasterCard reportedly backed out of endorsement negotiations with baseball’s Barry Bonds when allegations of steroid use surfaced.

For these and many other reasons – protecting the good name of sports is perhaps the single most important reason – any well considered and well managed athletic or team security program must have programs and procedures in place to test for illegal substances, prevent gambling, and both encourage and enforce appropriate behavior by college and professional athletes. Then, in the event that a serious situation does arise, a well-established and comprehensive crisis-management plan can be immediately implemented to address any problems that result.

Only if proper security, investigative, and crisis-management programs are already in place can the safety, integrity, and profitability of modern sports, and sports facilities, be preserved.

Neil C. Livingstone
Neil C. Livingstone

Dr. Neil C. Livingstone, chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC and an internationally respected expert in terrorism and counterterrorism, homeland defense, foreign policy, and national security, has written nine books and more than 200 articles in those fields. A gifted speaker as well as writer, he has made more than 1300 television appearances, delivered over 500 speeches both in the United States and overseas, and testified before Congress on numerous occasions. He holds three Masters Degrees as well as a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He was the founder and, prior to assuming his present post, CEO of GlobalOptions Inc., which went public in 2005 and currently has sales of more than $80 million.

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