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How Stadiums Sport Security

WHEN FANS fill a sports stadium, they aren’t thinking about where the nearest exit is or what major threats are facing the venue at that moment. But these venues do have many security threats—everything from terrorism risks to evacuation challenges.

The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (or NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has a new initiative aimed at helping sports stadiums assess what security technology and practices may give them the most bang for the buck. The project involves establishing a security lab to test out various security solutions and technologies.

NCS4 has set up a physical lab at USM that will serve as a command post, and some assessments will be conducted there. But evaluation will also come from field tests of equipment and procedures. Jerry Surak, chief scientist at Science Applications International Corporation, which is consulting on the lab, says the group is currently completing its report on the lab’s “pilot” assessment of high-definition video surveillance, which involved a look at how two major camera companies performed in various scenarios at a November college football game.

Bill Squires, an NCS4 advisory board member who is the immediate past president of the Stadium Managers Association (SMA), says that having NCS4 vet equipment may help stadiums cut through the noise and assess whether a product performs as claimed.

NCS4 began as the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management in 2006 through a grant from the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The lab evaluations will be a two-tiered process. In the first tier, NCS4 researchers and others will conduct an industry trade study on the technology or the procedure, says Surak. This will include input from the NCS4 advisory board members to help pinpoint what qualities are most important to professionals.

After the study, the researchers will drill down to essential requirements for the technology or protocols to be benchmarked against. Researchers will also interview stadium managers and arena operators to find out their operational needs. Surak says the program was influenced by the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVER program for emergency response equipment evaluation.

The second tier involves the actual field tests and assessments of the tools. Surak adds that the lab will not be comparing technologies with each other, but rather it will be assessing whether they fulfill the claims their manufacturers make. In addition to assessing capability, the lab will also rate usability, maintainability, and deployability, as well as affordability compared with the industry baselines, which will be the only comparison area. All of the categories will be assigned a point value and the final report will allow users to apply their own point values to each category to further personalize it to their priorities.

After the evaluations, the results will be written up into reports that Surak says will be available to NCS4 members and will also be provided to DHS. Vendors will have a period of time when they can dispute any findings before the final report is released. The actual evaluations of the process or technology will be conducted by a team of subject-matter experts, such as engineers and end users, who are not part of the lab or NCS4 but who have been invited to conduct the evaluations.

The pilot test was a smaller version of what the full evaluations will be. It did not involve an industry review but rather was a field evaluation of high-definition cameras from two volunteering vendors, Pixel Velocity and Avigilon.

Surak says that due to the costs of acquiring equipment, for now the lab depends on vendor participation, though “we’re trying to be vendor agnostic here,” says Surak. As mentioned, subject-matter experts conduct the assessments, rather than NCS4 directly. Surak adds, “We believe that most vendors will see value from two perspectives…. They get feedback from an important community of interest that will help them guide their product roadmaps in the end, and they’ll get firsthand exposure to the professional operators that provide them immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t.”

There are also threshold requirements for evaluation. For example, in the pilot, the equipment had to already be installed in stadiums.

Some of the other things NCS4 would like to evaluate, according to Surak, are devices that are scanning for contraband at entry points, technology that supports evacuation and crowd management, and radiation detection devices. The priority right now is on deterrence, detection, and prevention.

The final report for the pilot evaluation is expected early this year, and NCS4 Director Louis Marciani says that although the lab is not officially up and running yet, he expects it to have completed some official vetting by the end of this year. Marciani says that NCS4 is in the process of seeking government funding.