Stacey Hall returned to the organization she helped start up just in time to find that COVID-19 had rewritten the rules.
Hall was associate director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, known in the industry as NCS4, when it was created at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2006. She remained in the position until 2013, when she moved on to other positions at the university. She returned to the center as director in April 2020 after the retirement of the center’s founder, Lou Marciani.
The organization’s three pillars are training and education, research, and outreach, but the arrival of the pandemic shifted the ground beneath those pillars in more ways that one. Sports and entertainment were forced to add COVID-19 safety and sanitization procedures to their repertoire, and NCS4’s highest-profile avenue for creating discussions and raising spectator safety issues, an annual conference attracting sports security experts from around the world, would need to be tailored to fit a virtual world, along with its other learning opportunities.
So where to start?
After an initial review, “my first step was to restructure staff and organizational resources to align with our mission’s three key pillars,” Hall said. She established a director of training and exercise, director of research and director of operations. “We meet weekly, and our entire staff meets biweekly to share project updates, discuss ways to improve current programs, and explore new ideas for helping our members and advancing the sports safety and security industry,” she said.
Hall worked on adding partners similar to its relationships with such organizations as the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Interpol to offer additional training options. NCS4 is also recruiting research associates to secure external funding and independent study projects.
Another of 2020’s big stories required the attention of Hall and the center’s staff. “Social injustice and civil unrest have impacted the sports industry and subsequently the safety and security of athletes, fans and local communities,” she said. “As a resource center, we included content in our conference and forum programming to educate, increase awareness, and share strategies to prevent escalations that may cause harm.”
To share expertise with the industry, the center undertook several initiatives. Among them:
• Converted three in-person DHS/FEMA training courses to a live virtual format. A total of 18 virtual three-day deliveries since August have trained about 360 people, Hall said.
• Established a free online education and technology webinar series that drew about 3,000 participants, she said.
• Completed its first collaborative training partnership contract, with crowd science expert Keith Still. Crowd management e-learning options were scheduled to become available in March.
• Developed a COVID-19 Considerations guide that has been downloaded more the 1,000 times.
The annual conference successfully moved online in October, where it attracted more than 400 attendees, and remains available on the NCS4 website.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” said Hall, “and I hope we are close to normal operating procedures by the end of 2021.” That would include both for sports and entertainment events and the organization that works to keep all of them safe: NCS4’s annual conference is scheduled for Nov. 9-10 in Phoenix, live and in person.
— Rob Knapp