Playing the "A" Game

Playing the "A" Game

The cardboard fans are gone and the real fans are back, making up for lost time. They are packing stadiums, the bars and restaurants surrounding them.

They’re not just going to the games. Sports venues have stretched beyond the stadium proper to incorporate pavilions and entertainment complexes, owned and managed by the franchises that feature retail, hotels, theaters and much more. They are a 24/7 destination for fans and tourists. Game days now include the equivalent of sprawling block parties, putting added strain on security teams entrusted to maintain public safety in stadiums and throughout adjacent entertainment districts.

Smart technology can ensure that security teams are up to the task, empowering them with tools to provide situational awareness and respond to escalating threats quickly and effectively. The same technology can also deliver operational efficiencies that enhance the fan experience while providing a financial return on investment.

If you’re responsible for security at an arena or stadium, your team has surely put substantial effort into creating an environment where fans feel safe. Here are three things you can do to keep it that way.

Audit your systems regularly and continue to enhance them. Security threats are perpetually evolving. For example, high-rises may be constructed around the perimeter of a stadium, offering clear views inside and representing new attack vectors. Systems may also need adjustment.

Growing foliage can obstruct cameras’ fields of vision. Roadwork can alter vehicle and pedestrian traffic patterns around and into the stadium. Lighting may change. Special-event staging or signage can affect camera coverage.

For reasons like these, edge devices strategically placed, focused, and calibrated during installation require periodic review. More cameras, readers, and sensors may be needed. Also, newer technologies may be better equipped to address particular challenges. Following are some worth considering.

Specialty cameras. For poorly lit areas, thermal cameras can discern individual bodies in extremely low light while flipping back to a standard video setting during daylight hours. Security radar can be paired with cameras to detect, classify, and track people and vehicles even in poor weather conditions and are a fantastic option for enhancing perimeter security.

20MP cameras can view an entire section from across a stadium and zoom in to provide enough detail to identify individuals. Unlike traditional PTZ cameras, which create blind spots where they are not focused, 20MP cameras simultaneously capture and display multiple views. They can also be pointed outward from the venue, with the ability to zoom in on people and vehicles up to a mile away.

Body cameras are gaining acceptance within security environments. When worn by security personnel, they provide invaluable video documentation of security events as they unfold and can also protect stadiums from frivolous liability lawsuits.

IP audio. It is surprising how many stadiums invest in state-of-the-art video and access control solutions, but rely on bullhorns and antiquated public address systems for communications. Security teams can use IP audio to issue live and pre-recorded announcements from a Strategic Operations Center, either site-wide or targeted to specific locations throughout the property. Authorized personnel may also make announcements directly from their mobile devices.

Audio responses can be automated. For example, if a camera senses somebody shaking a gate, a pre-recorded audio message will warn them that law enforcement has been notified and that they should leave immediately. If the troublemakers comply, the need to dispatch a human officer is eliminated.

Analytics. Analytics make systems smarter by providing actionable insights about what's happening, allowing security teams to focus their attention where it's most needed.

Many of today's cameras come with at least some edge analytics included. Depending on the manufacturer, analytics can sometimes be added to cameras at the edge or, if not, can be applied as a server-based solution. Overcrowding, wrong-direction traffic, people counting, and object left behind are particularly relevant in stadium environments.

Facial analytics can be used proactively and in a forensic capacity. At concerts, it has been used at gate entrances to alert security of identified stalkers who may pose a threat to the performer. When integrated with access control, facial recognition can allow VIPs, suite-holders, or stadium management to move seamlessly between public and restricted areas of the stadium. In a post-event investigation, facial analytics can scan through hundreds of hours of video to find clips featuring a person of interest.

Analytics don't just apply to video. IP Audio systems can identify the sounds of aggression, like a scream or loud verbal argument, and differentiate a gunshot from a car backfiring. Sounds like these may alert security of a problem before cameras capture anything.

Integrations. The more your systems communicate with each other, the more they can streamline security operations and automate workflows. For example, cameras linked to gunfire detection sensors can immediately focus cameras at the location where the shot occurred. Access control readers can trigger or bookmark video recordings each time someone enters or exits a doorway. License plate recognition (LPR) systems can differentiate between white-listed and black-listed vehicles, automating or restricting their access to parking garages and loading docks. IP Audio integrated with cameras can automate the broadcasting of messages pertinent to the situation.

When adding new solutions to your facility, determine whether they integrate with existing systems. Custom integrations are always possible, but many manufacturers have developed easy-to-install, out-of-the-box integrations with a wide array of complementary technology partners.

Consider the Future
You will want the freedom to address unforeseen security challenges without ripping and replacing the systems you’ve already invested in. Your ability to do so will depend significantly on which manufacturers you’ve selected.

We often use the term "futureproof" when talking about technology, but a more accurate description of the concept we're describing is "future flexible." Any solution has a finite lifecycle, but there are ways to extend its useful life and increase the probability that it can keep pace with evolving security risks. Manufacturers who offer affordable and convenient software and firmware updates, unlimited system scalability, open APIs that allow for easy integration, a wide variety of technology partners, and the flexibility to mix and match devices are most likely to provide system that will continue to deliver value for the long-haul.v

Remember, projected lifespan is a significant factor when calculating total-cost-of-ownership. Often, solutions with the lowest up-front purchase price ultimately cost the most because they need to be ripped and replaced due to their inability to grow and adapt.

Leverage Your Security Investment to Improve the Visitor Experience
A recent NCS4 study found that nearly 3 in 4 fans consider a venue’s security when deciding whether to attend an event. An even higher percentage want security measures to be visible to them. Simply having robust systems in place improves the visitor experience by delivering peace of mind. Fans can focus on the game instead of worrying about their safety. However, security technology can enhance the visitor experience in other ways too.

More and more, security systems are performing double-duty, assisting with operations and adding conveniences. For example, data analytics gleaned from video cameras can evaluate crowd density and traffic flow, allowing for stadium management to keep concession areas, restrooms, and other facilities appropriately staffed and stocked. Biometrics allow season ticketholders to bypass long lines at gates and enjoy ticketless entry. LPR can automate access to VIP parking areas. IP audio systems can direct fans to their seat sections or the nearest exit.

Operational efficiencies do more than improve the fan experience. When event attendance increases, so does revenue. And, when overhead is reduced because technology allows stadium personnel to do more with less, profitability also goes up. It all translates to quantifiable ROI.

Handling stadium security is analogous to playing whack-a-mole, with non-stop events requiring prioritization and attention. Expansive entertainment districts now surrounding event venues have made the board bigger and the action faster.

By enhancing security systems on an ongoing basis, planning for the future, and focusing on the fan experience, stadium security teams can stay on top of their game, creating smarter, safer environments that do their team’s brand proud.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2022 issue of Security Today.

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