Rutgers Researchers Making Sure It’s Safe to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’

CCICADA Group Studies Use of Randomization to Enhance Security Protocols at Sports Stadiums and Arenas

Chicago Cubs fans celebrate their team’s win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Photo Credit: Max Goldberg, Flickr, Creative Commons.

A uniquely American invention, baseball is an enduring symbol of what we hold to be good and true about our nation and its people. It affords us comfort, like grandmother’s well-worn blanket, in which we can wrap ourselves in times of war, conflict and national distress. Just ask a Chicago Cubs fan how it felt to win the 2016 World Series.

But outside forces threaten our romance with this beloved American pastime and other major sporting events as well. Sports stadiums and other large entertainment venues are prime terrorist targets, as the November 2015 attack on the Stade de France in Paris demonstrated.

Should terrorists succeed in exploding even one well-placed bomb at a fan-filled baseball stadium, it could cripple this gloried pastime and shatter our collective sense of national security.

To counter this threat, a team of Rutgers University researchers over the past six years has developed software tools and “best practices” manuals to shore up security at sports stadiums, arenas, entertainment centers and other large venues. This work is widely used by venues for all major sports leagues.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently provided additional funding to the Rutgers-based research consortium known as CCICADA so it can continue its work.

Crowd Management and Credentialing

Watch video about CCICADA’s applied crowd-management research.

CCICADA has already made much progress in applying its research to a problem that lies at the heart of the stadium security challenge: crowd management. Just how does one move massive crowds safely and efficiently in and out of enormous stadiums and arenas?

The challenge is primarily twofold: 1) How to inspect fans quickly and effectively as they enter large venues, and 2) How to evacuate these venues quickly and safely in the event of a real terrorist attack or other emergency.

However, crowd management is only one part of the puzzle. CCICADA has applied its research to many other areas of stadium security.

For example, to counter insider threats, such as employees sympathetic to terrorists, CCICADA researchers have developed advanced tools to check the credentials and backgrounds of employees, vendors, media, and others.

Under the new DHS award, CCICADA is continuing its research into crowd management, credentialing and other aspects of stadium security. The primary focus of this research will be:

  • Exploring the economic costs and benefits of venue security procedures: How will venue owners and their patrons benefit, both financially and in terms of safety, if they adopt stronger security measures? What will be the economic impact if the cost is too high?
  • Developing randomization designs: Venue operators already use a variety of tools to inspect patrons, including pat-downs, wanding, bag inspections and, increasingly, the use of walk-through metal detectors. Another tool, called “randomization,” strengthens security by making it harder to predict who will be targeted for heightened security inspection. Randomization can also be applied to protect against insider threats by changing the location of cameras, conducting random pre-game safety “sweeps,” and choosing some employees for repeat background checks.
  • Identifying best practices in randomization: Research the simplest ways to implement randomization that will avoid time delays, patron annoyance, and the buildup of long lines vulnerable to attack—and that will assure patrons they are not being unfairly targeted for extra inspection.

“This is a natural extension of the many years of work we have put into understanding the techniques and dynamics of numerous aspects of security at sports stadiums, arenas and other entertainment venues,” explained CCICADA Director Fred Roberts. “We are refining our security and crowd-management programs in this phase of research.”

Anti-Terrorism Guide

Fans enjoy a night game at the Cleveland Indians Progressive Field.

CCICADA’s has also published a Best Practices inAnti-Terrorism Guide used by stadiums seeking federal SAFETY Act certification to obtain terrorism-related liability coverage. The research center has also developed software that gives large-venue operators the ability to predict and optimize ways to inspect crowds entering stadiums under different sets of assumptions.

CCICADA’s work has been carried out in laboratory settings as well as out in the field. Its researchers have collected large amounts of data about actual security procedures at baseball, football and soccer stadiums, and in hockey and basketball arenas. They have collected field data in collaboration with the MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, US Open Tennis and other professional and college sports groups. They are currently working with the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan to optimize crowd movements during the terminal’s planned reconstruction.

The tools of the researchers’ trade include data collection and analysis, advanced mathematics, algorithm design, and computer modeling.

Cleveland Indians

Like baseball teams, the CCICADA research center has its cadre of loyal fans.

One fan is Jim Folk, Vice President of Ballpark Operations with the Cleveland Indians, the 2016 American League champions who hosted the 2016 World Series with the Chicago Cubs. Before the world championship series was held, CCICADA had observed security procedures at the Indians’ Progressive Field stadium and worked with them to develop a customized crowd-simulation software tool.

Folk was pleased to learn that CCICADA will receive additional funding to continue its research: “This is terrific news, and shows the impact that your important work has done in helping to define safety & security at large venues and (stadiums). I am glad that the Cleveland Indians and I have been able to participate in your efforts,” Folks said in an email to CCICADA, adding, “We remain ready, available, and excited to begin working with you on this next phase.”

Collaborators in the new phase of the Center’s research will include, among others, the Cleveland Indians; the New York Mets; Pocono Raceway; Rutgers University; Prudential Center; MetLife Stadium; the New York Yankees; the Staples Center in Los Angeles; the Colosseum in Oakland; the Detroit Tigers (baseball), Detroit Pistons (basketball), and Detroit Red Wings (hockey).

Another CCICADA fan is Richard Fenton. He’s vice president of Corporate Security and Safety with Ilitch Holdings Inc., owner of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and Tigers. “It’s been our great pleasure (to work with you), and our collaboration with CCICADA has contributed a number of design elements for the new arena that are truly ‘first of a kind’ for an NHL Arena,” Fenton recently told CCICADA.

Story of America

As documentarian Ken Burns and others have observed, the story of baseball is the story of America.

Writes Burns: “The story of baseball is the story of race in America, of immigration and assimilation; of the struggle between labor and management; of popular culture and advertising; of myth and the nature of heroes, villains, and buffoons; of the role of women and class and wealth in our society. The game is a repository of age-old American verities.”

Watch Abbot and Costello perform “Who’s on First” in this YouTube video.

Baseball is, for example, the story of Jackie Robinson, the Negro League ball player who—after joining the all-white Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947—silently battled a torrent of racism, bigotry, taunts and threats with his remarkable talent to win the inaugural Rookie of the Year award.

Robinson’s “incomparable athleticism (was) matched by his courage, his dignity, and most of all his unbending passion to make our nation live up to its founding ideals,” writes Burns, who produced the film Baseball.

Baseball also expresses a unique brand of American humor that is insightful, witty, and hilarious. Who hasn’t heard Abbot and Costello’s rapid-fire “Who’s on First?” or the quips of Yogi Berra, who reminded us: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

To which one might add, in the interest of protecting baseball for posterity: “It’s not secure until it’s secure.”

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