A university athletic director planning for a clash between Division I football rivals. An assistant principal/head basketball coach/security director getting ready for Friday night at a small rural high school. A team of city public safety officials preparing for the once-a-year descent of world-class marathon runners. A professional venue manager, anticipating the return of the city’s hockey team from a long road trip. They all have one thing in common: they want events to go off smoothly – and safely.
And for help, they can all turn to the Best Practices Guides offered free of charge by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4).
The NCS4, located at The University of Southern Mississippi, is a national research center for the study and practice of spectator sports safety and security. Established in 2006, NCS4 offers various resources and trainings, including four best practices guides available for download at https://www.ncs4.com/knowledgeportal/best-practices:
The series launched in 2013 with the intercollegiate guide, and NCS4 branched out into other areas in subsequent years. Annual summits in each subject area – involving 120 school administrators, athletic directors, teachers, SROs, campus security professionals and other stakeholders – inform annual updates of each volume. Participants meet in small groups and hear presenters and the resulting discussions, combined with literature reviews, lead to updated materials. The guides outline key issues and implementation strategies in nine topical areas:
“Whatever issue you’re experiencing – say you’re having a problem directing the flow of vehicle traffic from the parking lot – you could go to the guide, find the traffic management section and identify what best practices provide guidance that can help you. The guidebook is easily navigable; you don’t have to start at the beginning and read front to back,” says Elizabeth Voorhees, NCS4 director of Certifications and Compliance. And for schools that aren’t sure where they want to start, she suggests getting a group of stakeholders together to review and evaluate issues confronted in the past, talk about what worked and what didn’t work, and then use the guide to find recommended applicable best practices to enhance safety and security at future events.
“We have a lot of people who use the best practices guide in their end-of-year planning,” Voorhees says. “The guidebooks are not prescriptive. Rather, each provides guidance on effective safety and security measures and suggests different, scalable ways of applying them to your event, venue, or school. Schools and event venues vary in size and geographic region, and their needs vary as well, but some strategies are easily transferable or amended to meet specific needs.”
Institutions of higher education and secondary schools differ in their needs as well, which is why NCS4 offers separate guides for those two audiences. Voorhees says that practices at the intercollegiate level tend to be more systematic and formalized, particularly for schools that play Division I football. At the high school level, although some schools can call on their local law enforcement departments for assistance, teachers and administrators often play key roles in keeping events safe.
“There’s a different mindset that needs to develop. School staff and administrators are not simply chaperoning, they are also promoting safety awareness to students, parents, and fans. High schools do not always have the resources and revenue available at the intercollegiate level, but current events have pushed a new awareness of safety needs into the interscholastic arena,” Voorhees says, noting that downloads and requests for other assistance tend to increase in the aftermath of significant incidents.
At both levels, schools share the need to take a holistic approach to planning that involves administrators, teachers, athletic directors and coaches, fire and rescue, and law enforcement, and the country as a whole has a need for standard practices in venue and event protection.
“There are some issues that all events have to deal with, such as student/fan behavior, although they are often handled differently. At the interscholastic level, teachers and administrators know the students and sometimes a good relationship with the student body can work to their advantage. However, they also have certain rules and regulations to follow because they are dealing with juveniles. On the other hand, college campuses have to deal with other issues such as alcohol use,” Voorhees says. “In high school, if you eject a student, you need to make sure they are released to a parent or an adult guardian. At the college level, you need to ensure the individual is released to a responsible and sober person to mitigate the possibility of subsequent incidents. At both levels, schools usually enforce a student or fan code of conduct that holds spectators accountable for their behavior.”
In the 2018 summits and the subsequent revisions to the guide, NCS4 plans to take a hard look at several topics that impact both institutions of higher learning and secondary schools, including cybersecurity and the use of drones, she says: “And in response to several recent incidents, we will also be focusing on perimeter protection and traffic. We need to look outward in addition to protecting the venues themselves. This is all part of our trying to do our best to help people prepare for adversarial threats, because unfortunately, it is no longer a matter of if something will happen, but when.
For more information about the National Center for Spectator Sports Security and Safety, visit https://www.ncs4.com/home.