Stadiums – Safety and Security

by Iñaki Alvarez

April 20, 2017

Stadiums – Safety and Security

In a previous article we wrote about stadiums as profit centers – about the need for stadiums (if they are not already doing so) to get out of their comfort zones and consider new sources of revenues. None of that can or will happen however, and certainly none of it will be sustainable, if the stadium is not safe and secure. Once you start to lose the “families” (for example) it will be very difficult to get them back. Families, i.e., mothers, daughters, sons, grandparents, friends and other relatives, are the true lifeblood of every successful stadium.

Today’s topic is on Safety and Security. It’s impossible to think about security without thinking about safety – and vice versa. The lines between these two functions are so intertwined that often they are lumped together without understanding the differences between them. To help with that, it’s best to think about safety and security as two sides of the same coin. They both have unique characteristics, however they can only give the most value in combination.

Let’s think of safety in terms of “welfare and well-being.” The following questions will help:

  • Can the people get in and out safely?
  • Are the physical structures safe?
  • Do the lights work, including the emergency lighting system?
  • Do the elevators and/or escalators work?
  • How about all the seats, bathrooms, air quality systems, fire extinguishers, alarm systems, PA systems, etc.?
  • How about signage?
  • Have all personnel been properly trained and prepared in all safety procedures?

Let’s define security in terms of “protection.” The following questions will help:

  • What is the current risk assessment? (Include hooliganism? Drones? Cyber security?)
  • Are there enough police, stewards and other security related personnel and equipment?
  • What is the command and control structure?
  • At any point in time, do you know exactly who is in the building, where they are and what they are (supposed to be) doing?
  • Have all personnel been properly trained and prepared in all security measures?

Did you notice that both lists above end with questions about people? Stadiums, arenas, and event venues are all, at the very core, in the people business. You can spend a lot of money on all kinds of projects, but if the people are not adequately trained and properly motivated, excellence will not be achieved. Additionally, once people are in your “pool” (i.e., once contracts have been established), personnel have to be qualified in whatever roles or functions they have to complete. In other words, they cannot be ‘random’ people picked from off the street. This includes certifications and security checks. All personnel must be pre-qualified. Once qualified, then and only then can they be authorized to work. And once they report for work - once they are in the building - they have to be verified.

The above questions and the various points on staffing are not meant to be all inclusive or comprehensive. For example, further to safety and security, there is the all-important question that often leaves stadium management with their mouths open: how often do you perform full integration testing? How often do you bring various parts of the organization – and the technologies they each use – together and test them as an integrated system? Full integration testing works hand in hand with the command and control structure, and in fact, the command center is (or should be) the ultimate display of integration. In an emergency, the stadium needs to respond without hesitation. Lives may depend on it.

Integration testing starts first at the functional or departmental level (e.g., transportation, medical, or security), taking each piece on its own. Then the testing needs to progress to the corresponding primary interfaces of each (e.g., transportation with security or ticketing with security). Finally, we need to achieve full integration testing. In other words, the entire house, all the parts, all the functions, all the people, all the infrastructure, all the programs, all the services and operations, in full simulation. We’ll delve more into these topics, people, infrastructure, and programs (i.e., the three pillars of event delivery), in a future article.

The best guide to full integration testing is risk management. Risk management will guide each facility in how much testing is required in terms of what needs to be tested, how often and in what combinations or conditions. The most common way to approach this is through “what-if scenarios,” and the accompanying “table-top exercises.” Some common examples are:

What if there is serious inclement weather? What if there is an earthquake or other natural phenomenon? What if there is a bomb threat (mysterious package)? Drones? What if there is a pitch encroachment? Pitch invasion? What if there is a collapse of a structure? What if the lights go out? What if there is a power failure? You get the idea.

There are many other questions and details that are unique to each venue, how it’s used, and how it operates. In addition, each venue will have its own unique characteristics. Many venues, for example, are leased. Some may have multiple umbrellas of authority. Each venue, therefore, will have to develop its own unique checklists. For instance, what needs to happen daily, monthly, and quarterly? What needs to be checked mid-week, day-of-event, or post event? Checklists, if done properly, reduce risks.

To help get the checklists started, there are four essential items that have to be tracked:

What is it? What is the task? What is the milestone? Who is responsible for it? When is it due? What is the current status? Simplicity is always best. What might be helpful at this point is to put the checklists into perspective. If we are speaking about a major unique event, for example a World Cup, then the checklists would really be a planning platform of some kind that would extend several years. In the case of a FIFA World Cup™, that could be anywhere from 6 to 9 years. The checklists or planning platform would include thousands of items. These items would cover the entire range of categories and functions from Accommodations and Accreditation, to Hospitality, Marketing, Media, and Medical, to Security, Transportation, and Television (and everything in between). For each category, we would have deliverables (tasks or activities) and milestones. For those in Project Management, think Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

If, for example, we are speaking about a match in the regular season schedule, then the checklists would still contain all the same categories but would be much more condensed, as the timeframe is shorter. However, the lists would be used and reused throughout the season. If you have questions or need assistance in building your checklists, please contact us.

Hopefully, this introduction into the differentiation between safety and security, and the advice on people, integration testing, and the creation of checklists helps to facilitate analysis, planning, and eventually, execution.

Now let’s briefly cover technology. How much technology is needed? How much technology is appropriate? Ideally, technology, in whatever form, is built into the financial planning from the beginning (i.e., pre-construction, or the soonest time period possible thereafter). It is amazing however, how many times we see stakeholders proudly “cutting the ribbon” without having planned for who or how the “grass will be cut” in the next week or in the next year. We are exaggerating of course, but you have to admit, in many cases, not by much.

One real challenge with technology, is the rate of change. What used to take decades, now takes months or even weeks. Each advance seems to feed into the ever increasing speed. And not just speed of change, but new multiple directions. Directions that in many cases merge with other lines or blur what used to be clear distinctions. No one really knows where all of this is headed. A clear example is what we are discussing now, safety and security, intersecting with the customer experience.

So how can we manage? There are several valid approaches. One of them is to prioritize. We will be over simplifying here, but hopefully the point comes across. Every facility, indeed every space in every facility, needs to be seen as a possible source of income. Not just the field for competitions and concerts, but every open space, including the parking lots. There are some stadiums that do dozens of paid activities per month, from meetings of all sizes to tours, and maybe even weddings. Why not?

If this is accepted as a priority, and having as many activities per month is encouraged, then it goes without saying that the facility needs to be prepared to manage accordingly. For example, the elevators need to work, and work all the time. Same with the escalators, air systems, light systems, power systems, video and sound systems, etc. This is one area where investing in technology should make sense. Downtimes are simply not acceptable.

Similarly, one of the other cornerstones in our overall solution is managing the people. People will make or break the stadium success story. As the number of activities goes up, then the need to manage all the ins and outs of personnel also goes up. Being able, for example, to convert availabilities into actual assignments quickly and efficiently is a big deal. Similarly, being able to turn attendance and payroll processing from taking several days, to taking several minutes, is a big deal. Here again clearly, technology worth investing in.

Another great example with respect to technology is in the area of access control. We cannot stress this enough: the investments in appropriate technology connect directly with the concerns for safety and security. And we are here to help.

It is unfortunate given recent events that we now live in a time when we have to pay even more special attention to safety and security. All stadiums, in fact all facilities, whether permanent or temporary, are now considered soft targets. In the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued several alerts. Their web site is worth visiting: They have also created a good starting point for checklists: Best Practices in Anti-Terrorism Security (BPATS) for Sporting and Entertainment Venues If you have not seen this document, we strongly recommend it. It is very detailed and will help to assess various measures (checklists).

From an industry perspective, thank goodness we had a safe and secure event like the Super Bowl (NFL). We know that tremendous efforts went into achieving that successful event. Congratulations to the stadium, to the city, and all the parties involved. As mentioned many times, there is a direct correlation between safety and security, and revenues. When people feel secure and safe, the door will be open for them to have a tremendous experience. From a business perspective this generally means they are spending more money before the event, during the event, and post-event. Just one memorable experience has the power of creating a repeat customer, incrementally growing the lifetime value. It is a simple equation.

I would like to conclude this article by paraphrasing a quote from almost 200 years ago by a famous general: “Being prepared is the best way to ensure safety and security.” We hope this article was helpful. We know that there is much more to safety and security. Next time we hope to cover another aspect, Crisis Management.

In his most recent role, Iñaki served as Director of Operations for CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Football Federations), one of the six confederations under FIFA. In this role, Iñaki was responsible for the delivery of all the confederation events including the annual Congress, the bi-annual Gold Cup, as well as most recently the Copa America Centenario. Before joining CONCACAF, Iñaki was with FIFA for 10 years where he held the dual roles of Deputy Director for the Competitions Division and Head of Event Management. The one consistent theme going across most if not all of Iñaki’s experiences is that he has become not just a stadium expert, but also an expert in helping organizations prepare to host major events.