Redefining Security

How our circumstances shape us, and why a crowd management strategy is more important than ever

In the fall of 2020, sports fans began making their way back to stands for the first time since COVID-19 forced mass shutdowns. For many, this signaled a return to normalcy and a promising outlook for a struggling industry. Teams and venue owners had to act swiftly to determine how to safely reopen once local officials gave the go-ahead—all the while balancing public pressure and ever-changing guidance from states and localities.

Now, industry leaders are taking stock and asking themselves what the future of sports security looks like—not only as it relates to COVID, but as it relates to the fan experience and expectations, other security threats, the role of technology and training staff.

REDEFINING PHYSICAL SECURITY IN THE COVID ERA

Sports complex security has traditionally focused on physical security. However, over the last year and a half, we’ve seen sports venues and crowd management partners evolve to guard against more elusive public health threats.

In response to pandemic-related risks, crowd management strategists have implemented additional protocols to prevent overcrowding, keep attendees socially-distanced, and monitor and COVID-19 symptoms. Many venues have adapted by adding signage to remind fans to wear their masks and social distance, tapping security staff to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing, conducting temperature checks, creating section blocks to keep strangers from co-mingling and expanding the number of entry points to reduce crowding.

As more people get vaccinated, security experts anticipate that temperature checks and strict social distancing guidelines will be eased in deference to public health guidance. However, the comfort level of fans and workers will also impact when and how these protocols are relaxed. After more than a year of being told to stay away from people, it will likely take fans some time to feel comfortable sitting next to strangers again.

Some venues have designated vaccinated and non-vaccinated seating. That way, there’s a level of risk awareness and vaccinated individuals can feel more comfortable co-mingling or removing their masks to enjoy concessions. Whether or not venues will require proof of vaccination for attendees later down the line remains to be seen, although it’s clear that vaccines will play a major role as more venues increase capacity and see the return of more fans.

A number of venues have also introduced mobile concessions apps to limit long lines and crowding at concessions stands. The flip side is that these apps can create confusion for fans who are less tech-savvy. Most likely, as we continue to ‘return to normal,’ these apps will likely become optional.

CHANGING THE GAME FOR GOOD

While some of these pandemic-related measures will gradually be phased out, others are here to stay.

Though fewer fans have been attending, most venues have still required the same amount of staff to oversee ticketing and security, keeping all access points open to spread attendees out as much as possible. Because of this, speed of entry has stayed the same or even picked up at some venues.

However, as more arenas and stadiums move back to full capacity, there will be less space to accommodate everyone and security personnel will need to find creative ways to keep people moving through in a timely manner and maintain a more personalized experience.

Public health as a subset of security is also here to stay. Fans and workers have become more conscious of their own health and the symptoms of those around them. As a result, enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols are likely to continue.

TAPPING TECHNOLOGY TO PRIORITIZE SPEED AND EFFICIENCY

How we approach security today is largely shaped by past security crises. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic will impact venue security and crowd management for years to come, other tragic events continue to define the work we do and how we do it.

For example, the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed the way we think about security in every area of life. Because sporting events are mass gatherings, they are considered high-target spots. Security significantly increased at games after 9/11 and, for a time, people were tolerant – and even welcoming - of the extended wait period and lines to get into stadiums and arenas.

However, as time goes on, public patience and understanding wane. Now the challenge has become how to maintain highimpact security strategies while optimizing the fan experience. In just the last five years, sports security personnel and crowd management experts have begun to evaluate technology and procedures for greater speed and efficiency.

As a result, there continues to be increasing investment in updated technologies to make routine procedures such as bag checks and body scans move faster—and avoid mistakes such as detection of car keys or cell phones that require a second scan and personnel attention, inevitably holding up the process for other attendees.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Security Today.

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