Safety and Security for Sporting Events

Date: Mar-08-2022

Author: Kim Brown

Planning and implementing security for large-scale sporting events takes time and several resources. This is largely because of the high stakes involved. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has identified sports arenas and stadiums as high risk as there is a greater potential that terrorist attacks could be carried out in these venues. Therefore, when preparing security for a sporting event, organizers and security providers need to take an “all-hazards approach.” An all-hazards approach is an integrated approach to emergency preparedness planning that focuses on the capacities and capabilities that are critical to preparedness for a full spectrum of emergencies or disasters.

Essentially, a big sporting event in the security world falls under the category of a special event. Sports games bring together thousands of people for several hours. And it’s not just the athletes and fans that need to be protected. There are media professionals, food and beverage staff, and often, teams of temporary security guards, all concentrated in one location.  

Another important point to consider is that special events can impact the community hosting the game. There’s significantly more foot and car traffic before, during, and after the game.

Stadium managers must take all of this into account to ensure that everyone has fun, and remains safe.

Assembling a security team

Planning and managing a special event is very unique since it requires you to collect a temporary workforce that comes together. This workforce may come together for a handful of events each year. Most of the individuals involved in the planning and managing of events won’t know each other. Despite the unfamiliarity, they need to be able to work together and collaborate for the safety and security of the people.

It is critical for the temporary workforce to function as a team in both the planning and managing of the sporting event. Similarly, it is also important for the team to respond decisively and instantly to any incidents that may happen in a flash. Planning and communication are both critical when it comes to sports events. Team leads must be easy for other staff members to identify, and these leads should have a quick and reliable way (phone, secure messaging network, walkie-talkie) to contact others if they need help or need to share new information.


Threats and hazards

In order to determine threats and vulnerabilities, sports arenas must undergo risk assessment. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a ten-step risk assessment methodology criterion:

  1. Clearly identify the infrastructure sector being assessed
  2. Specify the type of security discipline addressed, e.g. physical, information, operations
  3. Collect specific data pertaining to each asset
  4. Identify critical/key assets to be protected
  5. Determine the mission impact of the loss or damage of that asset
  6. Conduct a threat analysis and perform assessment for specific assets
  7. Perform a vulnerability analysis and assessment of specific threats
  8. Conduct analytical risk assessment and determine priorities for each asset
  9. Be relatively low cost to train and conduct
  10. Make specific, concrete recommendations concerning countermeasures

This assessment is general, and should be adapted to meet the needs of a specific organization. More advanced risk assessment models exist as well to address specific items or situations.

Threats and hazards for sports events will usually fall under three categories. The first is natural hazards, the second is human-related incidents, and the third is technological disruptions.

Many people have experienced natural hazards in the past and they usually occur due to unpredictable and extreme weather. Things like thunderstorms and lightning may be categorized as natural hazards.

Human-made hazards can be caused on purpose or it can also be an unintentional error. For example, fans might get into an altercation, or maybe they spilled their drink on the steps.

When defining technological errors, incidents that result in the failure of a surveillance camera or POS system would fall under this category. 

Whether it’s a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or fight between fans, sports venue managers must pursue an effective risk management approach to protect the property and the people in and around the stadium.


All-hazard’s approach

The key to an all-hazards approach is to assess the community’s specific vulnerabilities. Every venue is built differently, which means each area will have strengths and weaknesses that others don’t. For example, if the stadium is in a dense urban area, then chances are higher that there will be fans who were drinking at a nearby restaurant beforehand. Gates could open later to discourage excessive drinking. Or perhaps the teams playing each other are known rivals and opposing fans are more likely to brawl. More security may be needed for that day.

It’s even important to evaluate crime in the area surrounding the facility. Monitor activities around the facility, and record any suspicious or unusual activities. Cameras will be very important when it comes to venue security. Though surveillance cameras cannot stop a crime from occurring, they can give authorities enough information to catch a perpetrator after a crime has been committed. Cameras are quite sophisticated today and can see in low light, recognize facial features with greater accuracy, and even detect temperatures.  

When thinking about evacuation, how will fans be directed? Will signs be enough for fans who are visually impaired? These are the types of things an all-hazard’s security strategy takes into consideration. Taking the all-hazards approach allows management to sort resources in a way that addresses the community.


Implementing protective measures

Some protective measures are designed to be implemented on a permanent basis to serve as routine protection for a facility. This could include restrictions on types of bags fans can bring into the venue, or the way staff check in and out when their shift starts and ends. Having security patrol specific areas or checkpoints before and after the game is another example. 

Other protective measures are implemented or increased only during times of heightened alert. In order to know when to implement certain measures, the correct combination of resources, including people, technology, and materials must all be available and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Facility owners need to coordinate and cooperate with local law enforcement, emergency responders, and government agencies with regard to what measures to implement, how widespread they should be, and how long they should last in order to maximize security without wasting resources.

Other proactive measures include:

  • Secure and protect all HVAC, mechanical, electrical panels, gas, and fuel systems, and beverage dispensing rooms with locks
  • Create a program that will require employees to check their own work areas for anything that seems out of place. This type of check is known as a “white level search”
  • Inspect and test all safety and security systems prior to the event and at least once a month during the season
  • Ensure that reliable communications with backup systems are available and functional
  • Hold regular meetings and include the sports league, team management, facility owners/operators, and public safety agencies before an event to review special needs, protective measures, and/or roles and responsibilities
  • Consider having at least one employee obtain a federal security clearance


Sports events are meant to be fun, memorable activities. But a lot goes into hosting large-scale matches. There are thousands of people to think about, and several different issues that could arise within a short time. Having a reliable plan and educated staff could potentially save multiple lives.