Security manufacturers are currently working with clients to make sports arenas of all kinds a safer place for supporters, players, administrators, staff and media
Anything that can incite a crowd surge is a security threat in a sports arena

Security at sports stadiums is making headlines across several countries during a week when UBM announced that Protection & Management 2015 (which includes the IFSEC International trade fair) will feature Karren Brady (Baroness Brady), a career soccer executive, as one of its inspirational keynote speakers.

As I type, inquests are being held into the deaths of some of the 96 people who were killed in April 1989 as a result of crushing at a soccer match in Sheffield, England. The disaster occurred in an era of pitch-side fencing and segregation of rival fans into pens, measures that are now rare but still used in South America.

Strategising a safer stadium atmosphere

Security manufacturers are currently working with clients to make sports arenas of all kinds a safer place for supporters, players, administrators, staff and media. In the United States, the National Football League (NFL) is equipping security officers with smart readers that allow them to rapidly gather information about fans (including taking a photograph) while they are ejecting them. Ray DiNunzio, the NFL’s director of strategic security (and a former Assistant Section Chief with the FBI), is investigating how the information can best be collated through a database and then dispersed to keep these fans away from other stadiums. A stadium with minimal anti-social behaviour is a family-friendly stadium, and the more children there are at ball games of any kind, the more will be spent on merchandise and refreshments.

Spectator behaviour is also assessed after NFL games, and the Oakland Raiders are using search light beams that they shine on patrons who are considered to be dawdling in parking lots. The advent of megapixel cameras has made facial recognition to identify known troublemakers at sports grounds a reality, and there is a particularly successful application at an ice hockey stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia. Of course, baseball and basketball are also major sports in the United States, but they tend to take their lead on security best practices from the NFL, which has a comprehensive code developed and certified in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, with much of the protocol stemming from anti-terrorism measures.

The advent of megapixel cameras has made facial recognition to identify known troublemakers at sports grounds a reality
A stadium with minimal anti-social behaviour is a family-friendly stadium

Maintaining security without suppressing the frolics

There must of course be a balance between using advances in security technology to factor out inappropriate behaviour and ensuring that spectators (paying high ticket prices) feel welcome at a venue. Any owner of a sports team knows that the comforts of a fan’s home and oversized television screen are always an alternative to handing over cash at the gate. Camera surveillance can also be used intelligently to assign stewards to each area of the ground as the sectors fill up so that patrons always feel the distribution of marshals and first-aiders is appropriate.

The security community may have recognised that intelligent scene analysis can create an alert when a specific area becomes overcrowded, but end-users and decision-makers such as stadium owners and police chiefs are likely to take a lot of convincing. But there is one application of analytics where manufacturers can consistently show 98 percent accuracy, and this is the video turnstile – simple counting of people from an overhead video camera.

Security threats

A soccer enthusiast friend of mine who works as a security consultant describes how, at a top division game in west London, he and friends watched their stand filling up way beyond its capacity to the point that it would have been obvious to a child that the terrace was full and people were gaining entry with forged tickets. Fortunately, this incident post-dated the 1989 disaster in Sheffield and, in the absence of perimeter fences, the crowd was able to spill onto the pitch. But many people at the front of the crush sustained broken limbs, and it remains the single most frightening event of my friend’s life. People-counting cameras mounted above turnstiles remove this risk completely.

Security patrolling

There is one application of analytics where manufacturers can consistently show 98 percent accuracy, and this is the video turnstile – simple counting of people from an overhead video camera

Protocol for manual checking of a spectator and his/her belongings when entering an arena must balance rigor with a sense of proportion. One of the highlights of my 40 years as a sports fan has been seeing an Irish boxer win silver at the London Olympics two years ago but the thoroughness of the body search I was subjected to by a member of the British Army (deputised after G4S proved unable to meet its obligations as official security provider) before I entered the ExCeL Exhibition Centre was excessive. It eclipsed any screening I’ve experienced while travelling, and that includes protracted scrutiny by an armed Israeli Border Police officer at Ben Gurion Airport.

As I go through scrupulous but proportionate checks (which may include occasional pat-downs) on alternate Saturday afternoons when visiting the newest soccer stadium in the UK to watch matches in the second tier of the English game, I often reflect on a famed incident in which supporters of Inter Milan stole a moped and somehow managed to get it into the San Siro Stadium, set light to it and throw it onto a terrace below. If you don’t believe any of this, a search on ‘Holy Vespa’ in YouTube will reveal the footage. This is hardly a topic for humour but it can at least be noted that nobody sustained even the slightest injury.

Anything that can incite a crowd surge is a security threat in a sports arena, and there were disturbing scenes at a game between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade last October. After 41 minutes of play, a drone hovered low over the pitch at the Partizan Stadium trailing a banner with an Albanian flag and a map of “greater Albania” promoting nationalist claims on neighbouring states including Serbia. Wary of likely trouble at the game between two Balkan nations with a long history of political rivalry, police had already banned rank-and-file Albanian visiting fans from attending the game. The appearance of the drone may have been a protest.

A Serbian player grabbed the banner and was immediately backed up by Serbian fans who ran onto the pitch and attacked Albanian players. The bemused English referee led the teams off the pitch and the game was abandoned. Sport, which is supposed to bring people together, continues to exacerbate ethnic, cultural and religious differences. Ironically, this particular disturbance was caused by a drone, a device often fitted with a surveillance camera and used by police to monitor crowd behaviour and promote safety.

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Jeremy Malies European Correspondent, SourceSecurity.com

Jeremy Malies is a veteran marketeer and writer specialising in the physical security sector which he has covered for 20 years. He has specific interests in video analytics, video management, perimeter intrusion and access control.

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