National Effort to Protect Sports Stadium Fans Led by CCICADA

Earthquakes, Lightning Strikes and Terrorist Attacks Are Security Threats

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An NFL fan cheers at a packed game. (Photo credit: Ken Fager, Creative Commons)

Before 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, there was the terrorist bomb attack at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

On July 27 of that year, hundreds of white-hot nails burst from a home-made bomb into a milling crowd at Olympic Park, killing two and injuring 111. The bomb was hidden in an unattended green knapsack placed on the ground by a North Carolina man, Eric R. Rudolf, who is serving a life sentence for his act.

This and later terrorist acts exposed the extreme vulnerability of the American public at large-capacity venues. Today, CCICADA, a leading homeland security research group, is pursuing an initiative to make one such type of venue—the nation’s large sports and entertainment stadiums—safe from both manmade and natural threats.

CCICADA Director Fred Roberts manages this project from his office at the Piscataway campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey. Roberts is a professor in the Rutgers Math Department, so it should come as no surprise that stadium security is viewed as a giant math problem.

Fred and his team specialize in taking huge quantities of raw data, and then—with the help of fast computers and complex math equations—turning that data into useful information.

“The recent Boston Marathon bombings have underscored the urgent need to find better ways to protect the millions of fans who visit stadiums and other sports venues to watch their favorite sports teams,” says Roberts, noting that terrorists are not CCICADA’s only concern. When it comes to stadium security, a bigger culprit is Mother Nature.

In a review of 11 large-venue incidents between 1979 and 2010, DHS found that only one was caused by a terrorist (at Olympic Park in Atlanta). The other ten were caused by an earthquake, lightning storms, fires, and also by panicky crowds.

CCICADA is working on many stadium-security fronts. Two of these are: what goes into stadiums and what comes out. This translates into: 1) efficient and effective inspection of patrons, vendors, media, and delivery people as they enter stadiums and arenas; and 2) creation of evacuation plans to safely evacuate crowds or shelter them in place in the event of an incident.

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CCICADA is working on two major stadium-security fronts: efficient and effective inspection of fans entering stadiums and their safe evacuation during an emergency. (Photo credit: Phil Roeder, Creative Commons)

The task is enormous. Every year, hundreds of millions of Americans flock to more than 20,000 stadiums and arenas not only to see sporting events, but also to enjoy rock concerts, monster-truck mashes and other events. CCICADA started with professional sports stadiums.

“We are currently working with every major professional sports venue, as well as NCAA basketball and football and minor league baseball to protect their stadiums from man-made and natural disasters,” Roberts says.

Homeland Security chose CCICADA to work on the stadium-security project for its vast expertise in data analysis, but also in recognition of its work with Regal Decision Systems on evacuation planning tools.

To date, these tools have been applied to five NFL stadiums: MetLife (Jets and Giants), M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens), FedEx Field (Washington Redskins), Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, and Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia Eagles).

CCICADA’s work on inspection of patrons and others entering stadiums led to the development of an inspection tool that has proven very useful to stadium security officials. This tool determines how many inspection lanes to open, how many inspection tools (such as walkthrough metal detectors) to buy, and how many inspectors to hire.

CCICADA’s extensive experience in the stadium security arena has been gained through close collaborations with partner stadiums in the NFL, NBA, and major league baseball. CCICADA has also had regular interactions with NASCAR, USTA, MLS, and NHL venues and sports-league security experts.

In its role as a sports-venue subject matter expert, CCICADA has also supported security services at the 2014 USA Special Olympics in New Jersey, and has provided advice to NCAA arenas and leagues.

An important part of CCICADA’s current work is facilitating federal SAFETY Act certification for those who install or operate designated counter-terrorism technologies. SAFETY Act certification provides for liability coverage.

Originally intended to cover devices such as cameras and sensors, the SAFETY Act has in recent years been extended to much broader applications, such as the counter-terrorism plans developed for and adopted by sports stadiums and other large gathering places.

To date, three sports venues have achieved either SAFETY Act designation or certification: Yankee Stadium, Citi Field (home of the NY Mets), and MetLife Stadium (home of the NFL Giants and Jets). The DHS Office of SAFETY Act Implementation (OSAI) tasked CCICADA to develop a Best Practices Resource Guide that would guide the office in evaluating stadium applications for designation and guide stadium owners and managers in developing such applications.

The Best Practices Resource Guide, published on the OSAI website after lengthy internal review, is broad in scope, says Roberts. It covers everything from patron inspection, employee access credentialing and employee training to stadium cyber security, food safety, and communication protocols between management and patrons.

Roberts says OSAI officials told the CCICADA research team that the Guide has been very well received by the stadium industry and is contributing to “making the stadium patrons safer and more secure.”

CCICADA, a consortium of 17 university and business partners, uses big-data analysis and mathematical modeling to help resolve homeland security threats. It is a University Center of Excellence within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


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