National School Safety and Security Services encourages schools to create, maintain, and update school athletic event security and emergency preparedness guidelines.
A significant number of violent incidents at school athletic events around the nation. These incidents include shootings, assaults, riots/fighting, stabbings, and even murder. A review of incidents, along with communications from school and safety officials nationwide, suggests that increased attention is needed to school athletic event security.
Violence upticks at high school football games (and some other sports, with basketball next in line after football) are not new. Click the link to read Dr. Ken Trump’s article on school athletic event security entitled, “A Game Plan for Safety” written for the American School Board Journal’s February 2007 issue. The issues and best practices discussed in this article are still relevant today.
The success of school athletic event security can often be tied to strategies associated with the following three major categories:
1. Adequate staffing and supervision;
2. Advance planning of security strategies; and
3. Thoughtful emergency preparedness planning.
School Athletic Event Safety Risks
Many school athletic events pose relatively low safety risks. Many middle school games, as well as certain high school games, attract smaller crowds of spectators, involve less emotional rivalries, and overall do not present major security concerns.
School athletic events such as high school football and basketball games, however, can draw large crowds, be highly competitive, and require significant attention to security issues. Reasons for such games presenting more serious security concerns can include:
- Large crowds of spectators, potentially by the thousands, depending upon the nature and type of event. Spectators at high school basketball and football games, for example, may include students from both participating schools, students from other schools, former students, parents, community members, etc.
- Crowd psychology tells us that some individuals who may otherwise not act aggressively in “normal,” one-on-one environments may act out aggressively in a crowd. This is often attributed to the real and perceived anonymity provided by a large crowd, as well as the crowd emotions created within the large gathering.
- Lower levels of adult supervision, visibility, and mobility. Too often schools under-staff athletic events, especially in terms of police officers and security personnel staffing, in order to save limited funds out of athletic department and/or school-based budgets.
- Increased emotions among spectator crowds, especially when there are intense rivalries between playing teams.
- Increased access to, and exposure of, the larger physical plant areas. These areas may include stadiums, athletic fields, parking lots, school gyms, locker rooms, and potentially the entire school itself if exit doors are not secured and inside gates are not used to section off and seal down unused areas of the building.
- Higher risk for drug and alcohol consumption before, during, and after games by spectators.
- Higher risk for gang member presence and potential activity in those school communities experiencing gang activity.
In short, some school athletic events, such as widely attended high school football and basketball games, can be considered “higher risk” from a security perspective just because of the overall nature of the event and the context in which it occurs.
School Athletic Event Security Strategies
Advanced planning for security strategies for athletic events is very important. It is important to remember that “advanced” planning means more than saying on Thursday that, “We need to get a couple of cops to work tomorrow night at the game.”
Some security strategies will require funding. Hiring off-duty police officers, paying overtime to school security personnel, funding stipends for additional school staff, installing surveillance cameras, and other measures simply come with a cost attached.
But there are also many operational strategies, policies, procedures, communications, and planning techniques that require more time than money. In today’s busy schools, getting people to “find the time” for security planning is often more difficult than “finding the money.”
Some practical strategies schools can employ to reduce security risks, especially at larger events, may include:
- First and foremost, provide adequate adult supervision and staffing. Factors to consider in determining what is “adequate” may include the anticipated size of the crowd, the size of the facilities and grounds (including parking lots) used for the event, past history of incidents at similar events, “intelligence” information received about current conflicts at the school and in the community that could spill-over into the event, and other related considerations.
- Events with larger crowds should employ sworn law enforcement officers. School districts with their own school police and/or school resource officers (SROs) should give priority to using these officers at school athletic events since these officers typically know the youth who may be attending the event. If additional officers are needed, consider first using gang unit officers, juvenile detectives, and community policing officers who may know the youth and their families. The same concept applies with hiring in-house school security personnel, assigning school administrators, and using school staff members since they also know the students. These individuals typically know those students and non-students who have past behavioral problems in schools and at school-sponsored events.School officials should also employ adequate levels of teaching staff and other support staff. Parent volunteers may also help augment regular staff.
- Deploy police, security personnel, and school staff in a manner which provides adequate coverage to the facilities being used for the event. This includes at ticket gates, perimeter entrance/exit points, parking lots, common areas (restrooms, concession stands, etc.), on the playing grounds/inner field perimeter, in the stands, and at other key locations. Have police in uniform and security staff in clearly identifiable clothing. The use of plainclothes, undercover police officers may be necessary in certain large-crowd events and/or situations where problems are anticipated.
- Train police, security personnel, and staff on techniques for monitoring crowds (and not the athletic event on the field), verbal de-escalation skills, procedures for handling fights and riots, handling emergency medical situations, evacuation procedures, tasks related to specific operations (ticket-taking procedures, concession stand operations, etc.), and emergency guidelines.
- Equip all staff with two-way radios. Issue school cell phones to select staff assigned to the event.
- Create policies related to admission, limitations of items that can be carried in (purses, book bags, backpacks, etc.), right to search spectators at admission point (metal detector scans, bag searches, etc.), no passes out and back in once admitted, spectator conduct, and other security protocols. Post rules outside and inside of admission gates, and elsewhere in the facility. Enforce the rules in a firm, fair, and consistent manner.
- Establish procedures for advance ticket sales and on-site ticket sales. Have staff ticket-selling and ticket-taking procedures with adequate police, security, and ticket-taking staff at admission gates. Stop ticket sales after a designated time, such as at by the beginning of the third quarter. Have police and/or security staff escorts of ticket-takers and money from the admissions areas to a designated location for counting money and preparing it for bank deposits, which should occur with police escorts the same evening.
- Maintain separate locker rooms for home and visitor teams. Have team buses pick-up and drop-off at opposite sides of the playing facility to avoid interaction before and after the game.
- Separate spectator seating into clearly designated areas, i.e., home team in bleachers on one side and visiting team on other side. If at all possible, have separate concession stands operating in each of these areas.
- Administrators and safety officials from the schools playing a given event should communicate with each other well in advance of the event to discuss procedures, safety concerns, security practices, emergency guidelines, investigation into rumors and any recent incidents which could result in conflicts, and associated logistics.
- Secure perimeter doors of schools and gate off sections of the building not used for the actual athletic event in a manner which is in accordance with fire safety regulations.
- Create a detailed plan for parking procedures, traffic flow, parking lot staffing during entire game, and related issues. Consider not allowing any cars into the parking lots after a designated time, such as after the beginning of the third quarter of the game. Advise students in advance to coordinate pick-ups by parents outside of the parking lots on the perimeter of the grounds
- Conduct advance assessments of physical security needs and strategies. Consider use of surveillance cameras in admission areas, game field areas, common areas (concession stands, walkways and areas around restrooms, etc.) parking lots, and other areas as appropriate. Evaluate lighting in stadiums, athletic facilities, parking lots, and perimeter around the school and event grounds.
- Consider having dedicated staff for videotaping the game and, if necessary, areas of spectator misconduct that may occur.
- Establish code of sportsmanlike conduct and educate players, coaches, cheerleaders, the band, students, parents, and others on the code in advance of the game.
- Have P.A. announcers make announcements at the beginning of the game and at other times, as necessary, regarding sportsmanlike conduct behavioral expectations. Train P.A. announcers on overall guidelines for communicating with the crowd during the event, under emergency situations, etc.
- Have clear procedures, roles, and responsibilities for clearing and locking down facilities upon completion of the game.
School Athletic Event Emergency Preparedness
Thoughtful emergency preparedness planning is important since incidents could occur, even with the best of prior advance security planning.
- Establish written emergency guidelines. Test and exercise the written guidelines to make sure they would work in an emergency. Train all staff involved in supervising events on the guidelines.
- Administrators and safety personnel from both schools involved in the event should coordinate information in advance and review security procedures and written emergency guidelines.
- School administrators and safety personnel should coordinate with emergency medical personnel in advance of the event. In the case of many larger games, a number of schools will have an ambulance on stand-by on-site before, during, and after the game. School administrators and safety officials should also notify their appropriate law enforcement district station and/or area commanders in advance of major games and/or high-risk events so on-duty safety personnel will be aware of the event even if off-duty police are being hired to work the game.
- Evacuation plans should be clear and announcements regarding emergency evacuation expectations should be made to the spectators at the start of events.
- Staff assignments with roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency should be clearly delineated.
- Create emergency communications procedures and protocols to be engaged in the event of an emergency incident at the event. Communications plans should include communicating with media, parents, school staff, students, etc.
- Have plans for managing the “post-crisis” aftermath in the hours and days following an incident at an event.
These are only a sample of some general suggestions for consideration and discussion. Plans and strategies must be tailored for each school and school district. There is no “cookie cutter” plan that will fit all schools.
But adequate staffing and supervision, advance security planning, and thoughtful emergency guidelines can help keep school athletic events safe, secure, and well managed.
Questions or additional suggestions may be directed to Ken Trump.