By BECKY GILLETTE
HATTIESBURG — More than 67 million people in the U.S. attend intercollegiate football games in the U.S. That not only has a huge economic impact on the communities where these events occur, but it also can make such gatherings a target for terrorists.
“Nowadays, if you look at the world, special events whether sporting events or some other large events, have become targets for domestic or international terrorists,” said University of Kentucky’s Chief of Police Joe Monroe.
Monroe is from one of about 60 colleges throughout the country who are expected to be attending the National Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Summit Jan. 24-26 at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg. This is the fourth annual summit sponsored by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) www.Ncs4.com based at USM.
“What the summit does is give the sports team the opportunity to network with other intercollege safety and security professionals to share information and develop best practices,” Monroe said. “Security at these large events is kind of like a chess game. We develop best practices and implement them, and terrorists develop other measures to circumvent that process. Then we have to go back and refine best practices to meet those challenges. The summit gives us an opportunity to help people across the country to craft best practices for the future.”
Monroe said it is important to remember that these special events not only generate revenue for the college or university, but also the community. Negative things that can reduce attendance can have a ripple effect in communities that are usually counting on large revenues from these special sporting events.
“There can be a negative impact from a security procedure,” Monroe said. “You need to have a delicate balance between fan experience and security.”
Emerging threats are everywhere, said Louisiana State University Police Chief Lawrence Rabalais.
“You must be prepared for anything,” Rabalais said. “We have to get safety right. It’s our responsibility to be progressive and continuously improve. Networking is a critical component of success so that we are able to establish and continue relationships with progressive law enforcement partners and event management staff. Having these relationships is critical when you are trying to mitigate planning considerations and work through new trends.”
Rabalais said the summit is important for sharing “time on target” with tangible results and having knowledge-based discussions about trends and challenges with those experiencing the same level of responsibility and challenges.
“This summit provides a focused environment to improve our planning and preparation,” Rabalais said.
Dr. Lou Marciani, director of NCS4, said the summit serves as the only annual combined meeting for personnel responsible for safety and security management at collegiate sports events at NCAA Division I, II and III institutions, as well as athletic conferences and college football bowls.
“The main issue is college campuses overall are somewhat vulnerable and top it off with intercollegiate events that can put 75,000 to 80,000 people on a campus and it changes the complexity of the environment in a hurry,” Marciani said. “If Ole Miss is playing Mississippi State, we want to make sure that stadium is secure and that we are using best practices to implement good training and technology to provide a safe environment.”
About 125 participants are expected for the security summit that will be looking at issues such as crowd management, emergency action planning, threat risk, staff development, and technology.
Marciani said enhancing best practices reduces risk, which makes it more likely to have a safe event. He agrees that is important not just to protect people, but also the local economy.
“It would be very detrimental if something were to happen of any safety and security nature at a major collegiate event,” he said.
One issue that will be getting attention is the issue of drones and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They will be also reviewing lessons learned from recent terrorist attack in Nice and Paris, France, and in Berlin, Germany.
“Over the past year, as things change, we have to change,” Marciani said. “That is why we meet annually. Threats change, technology improves, resources change and people need to be trained better. So it requires an annual review of the thought leaders in the U.S. The 125 people attending are leaders in the intercollegiate industry who will spend two and a half days at the university to make input into the country’s best practices. We are coming together to identify and evaluate issues and share potential solutions. It is a very interactive environment. After the event, we will synthesize that information, and prepare a new edition of best practices.”
Marciani said the summit will for the first time this year consider the nation’s food defense. The FBI will be present to discuss threats regarding protection of food served at these large events.
The range of discussion will also include natural issues such as severe weather.
For more information visit www.ncs4.com/intercollegiate.