Market Sectors

The emerging field of sport safety and security management

By Dr. Stacey A. Hall
of The University of
Southern Mississippi

Sport and event stadia operators implement safety and security measures to prepare for and mitigate consequences of potential all-hazard risks (natural or man-made). The safety of spectators and patrons has long been a concern for event managers and emergency response agencies. In contrast, the concept of security, especially securing sport venues against man-made threats, such as terrorism, is more recent. Since the tragic events of 9/11/2001, the concept of security has been propelled to the forefront in the U.S. sports industry. 

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, high profile sports events are potential terrorist targets. Therefore, stakeholders responsible for safety and security planning must be able to detect, deter, respond and/or recover from a catastrophic incident. 

Besides terrorism, fan violence and inclement weather are also concerns for event managers. Player and fan violence has become an apparent problem in the U.S. in recent years; for example the Bryan Stow beating incident outside the LA Dodgers stadium in 2011. The impact of natural disasters must also be taken into consideration. The onset of unexpected weather could create chaos at a venue that needs to be evacuated without warning; or could impact the business continuity and recovery implications post-event, such as those experienced by sporting programs in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina.

Established in 2006, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security Management (NCS4) builds capabilities among multi-agencies responsible for sports event security management through research, education and outreach efforts. Research conducted at the NCS4 identified gaps in the education and training of key personnel responsible for sport security operations, and highlighted the need for new innovative programs to ensure that sport security professionals are equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to organize and protect major sporting events. 

This research highlighted: 

  • 62% of athletic directors for facilities at NCAA Division I football schools reported having no formal training, education or certifications in event security management (Cunningham, 2007);
  • A study of risk management practices at NCAA Division I schools found that nearly half (47%) of all respondents had not received training to guard against terrorist attacks at their facilities (Baker et al., 2007);
  • Hall (2006) identified standards for effective security management of sport venues. Training of key personnel emerged as a critical requirement in the following areas: threat assessment, inspection procedures, credential recognition and security awareness;
  • Hall et al. (2010) identified the needs, concerns and future challenges in security management at NCAA Division I football events. These included assistance in conducting vulnerability assessments, training for emergency response planning, crowd control workshops and risk/threat assessment training. 

In light of the research findings, the NCS4 conducted focus groups and interviews with both academic and sport security professionals, in order to guide development of course content and materials. Curricula objectives for the development and implementation of a specialization area in sport event security management for future sport managers should:

( 1 ) provide education capabilities to identify and prioritize hazards, assess vulnerabilities, and determine risks at sports events;

( 2 ) maximize efforts to support and implement the missions of preventing, protecting, responding and recovering, via operational planning consistent with the National Response Framework, National Incident Management System and applicable laws and regulations set forth by the Department of Homeland Security;

( 3 ) develop a critical knowledge base in sport event security management systems to prevent occurrences, reduce loss of life or injuries, and mitigate significant property damage, and;

( 4 ) institute a common language among sport event security personnel to enable effective security management and disaster incident response. 

In conclusion, future courses need to address (a)   potential threats to sports events, including terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), natural disasters, and crowd management problems; (b)   sport security practices and operational plans; (c)   threat/risk assessment methodologies; and (d)   emergency planning, preparedness, response and recovery. Students should have an in-depth appreciation of the threat to sports events, the importance of assessment, training and exercising, and the need for effective emergency response and recovery systems.

A new market has emerged for educational institutions across the nation to offer curriculum and certification programs in the sport security area for aspiring sport venue managers and professionals already in the field. Sport management educational programs in the future must consider implementing sport safety and security courses as part of their curriculum, or include safety and security knowledge content as a module/unit in sport facility/event management classes, homeland security, emergency management and criminal justice courses. 

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