John Skinner, director of Security, Major League Baseball, updates attendees on new security procedures at ballparks. 

REPORTING FROM FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — As members of the Stadium Managers Association convened here for the 42nd annual seminar, Feb. 7-11, much of the issues discussed during the “Concerns and State of the Business” panel revolved around safety and security. With the Paris and San Bernardino attacks still front of mind, Jeffery Miller, senior vice president and chief security officer, National Football League, and John Skinner, director of Security, Major League Baseball, both recapped attendees on new and enhanced protocols and best practices during NFL and MLB games at their stadiums.

“We watch the 6:00 news every day and it’s like withdraws from our emotional bank,” said Skinner. “Some of the solace is like what Jeff just did with the Super Bowl where we all got together and had a good time. That in itself is putting points into your emotional bank. You all are putting coins in peoples' emotional banks. You’re creating memories, and we want to make sure those memories are safe and secure.”

For Skinner, the real work began before the Paris attacks when the Boston bombing occurred in 2013. After that attack, the commissioner came to Skinner and asked him if they were prepared to defend against a terrorist attack at their ballparks.

“I had to be very candid with the him, we weren’t,” said Skinner. “Did we have some security provisions in place? Absolutely. But did we have what we should have? Absolutely not. That moment was the cause of us moving forward and creating something called the Best Stadium Operating Practices Document.”

Those best practices were expanded on after Paris, which Skinner is thankful occurred after the World Series. For the 2016 season, all MLB ballparks will employ walk-through metal detectors, with stricter bag searches and reentry policies.

NFL Protocol 

Fresh off the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Miller was pleased with the level of security they were able to maintain over a large footprint and four-mile perimeter that went through a theme park and over water. At the stadium, they employed some new technologies and procedures that came into play shortly after the Paris attacks.

“The day after the attacks, I issued what was an unprecedented memo directing all of our stadiums to remain on a heightened level of security and enhance specific NFL best practices for security,” said Miller.

All NFL stadiums now employ a secondary perimeter with the purpose of turning away anyone with a prohibited item, like a large bag, before they get to the entrance screenings. At the Super Bowl, every person had to have a ticket to even get near the event, and all prohibited bags had to be checked and left outside the perimeter.

“We believe that the key to preventing the suicide bombing attack in the stadium environment like we saw in Paris is to utilize our secondary perimeter appropriately and also to utilize canine resources,” said Miller.

The heightened security memorandum issued after the Paris attacks recommended increasing the number of explosive detecting canines at the stadium, which led to identifying a gap in their ability to prevent suicide bombers from entering.

“Most canine teams are trained to screen static objects such as vehicles and unattended bags or the stadium itself,” said Miller. “What we wanted to do is come up with a way to be more dynamic in our search parameters, because of what we saw in Paris. We believe the solution is an area search or another term is vapor wake detection canines. We used both effectively this week at Super Bowl.”

Vapor wake detection was developed at Auburn University and trains dogs to be able to detect explosive residue in a human’s thermal heat plume, allowing for the detection of explosives on a moving target, such as a vest on a suicide bomber. They will be employing vapor wake detection canine teams outside stadiums at every NFL game in 2016.

Also at the Super Bowl, Miler said they employed a complete counter UAS solution that gave them the ability to detect and mitigate drone activity during the game. The system had no adverse impact on the existing Wifi and RF networks at the stadium and provided them with a video map of all detected drones and even GoPro cameras at the game using the chip inside each drone.

In 2015, the number of drone incidences at NFL stadiums jumped to 22, 12 of which were on game days.

“It’s not just a question of a drone falling out of the sky and hitting or killing somebody,” said Miller. “Now we’re talking about a potential drone that can carry a much greater payload capacity and could be a threat to us.”

Managing Crisis

After learning what stadiums and leagues are doing to prevent crisis, Rich Powers, senior vice president of Risk Services, American Specialty Insurance and Risk Services, brought it home with a presentation on how to manage crisis when it occurs, because it will occur.

“An organization’s character can be revealed by how they respond or react to a crisis,” said Powers. “You don’t want to look for a crisis by any means, but it can be a chance for an organization to shine.”

He said many times people get caught up in “magical thinking,” believing nothing will ever happen to them, that they’ve been there and done that.

An organization’s resilience is shown through their ability to plan for crisis and handle the situation before the first responders arrive. The ability to work with outside agencies and then to resume business operations once the crisis is over are also important factors.

“It’s not going to be the same after a crisis,” said Powers. “There’s going to be a new normal. Are we going to be able to get back to doing what we do best?”

The goal is to get back to a balance and equilibrium after a crisis happens through risk management on the front end, crisis management in the middle and continuity management at the back end.

Powers suggested there are many lessons to be learned from organizations that have experienced crisis before us and suggested these six lessons especially:

1. Assessment first, planning later.
2. The plan must be practiced.
3. Strong leadership is key.
4. Speed matters. When in doubt, respond.
5. Communication is paramount.
6. Know how to respond to the media.

“If you build it they will come, but if they don’t feel safe they will leave,” reminded Skinner.

Interviewed for this story: Rich Powers, (260) 755-7251; Jeffery Miller, (407) 936-0867; John Skinner, (866) 800-1275