By NASH NUNNERY
The epicenter for spectator sports security isn’t located in a mega-metropolis such as New York, Chicago, London or Barcelona.
Actually, the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) is housed on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The Center is the nation’s first academic center dedicated to spectator sports safety and security research, professional development, training and outreach.
From the infamous “Munich Massacre” that stained the 1972 Summer Olympics to the recent terrorist attack in Paris, safety for spectators and participants remains at the forefront of those charged with protecting highly susceptible venues. The perception of the unthinkable happening at stadiums, arenas and outdoor events across the nation has never been greater.
There are never guarantees with safety. But NCS4 is attempting to set a standard for the sports security industry by certifying universities and individuals through a comprehensive review called Sport Event Security Aware certification.
NCS4 director Lou Marciani says security training of sports management personnel is vital.
“As we go down the road and have more of these tragedies, it’s critical that everyone involved with a stadium or event venue get up to speed,” he said. “After 9/11, the nation got serious about sports security. At NCS4, we’re committed to best practices, from the professional leagues to scholastic sports.”
Founded in 2006, NCS4 has flourished via a series of grants from the Office of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Education. The Center has focused on universities mainly because after 9/11, Homeland Security prioritized college sports events as ‘soft’ targets compared to the pro ranks. In NCS4’s early stages, Marciani was shocked at what he found in his own backyard.
“We identified lots of vulnerabilities in our own stadium (M.M. Roberts) here on campus,” he said. “That initial research became invaluable.”
According to Marciani, the Center has trained over 4,000 universities and first responders. Most recently, it created a process that awards certification for a four-year period based on a review of 175 standards.
“Those that we have trained include incident command teams, fire, law enforcement, and medical management,” he said. “We train predominantly at the intercollegiate level, but we also work with professional leagues and high schools.”
In addition to Southern Miss, state universities that have earned certification include Ole Miss, Mississippi State University, Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State.
On the high school level, NCS4 works closed with the Mississippi High School Activities Association to train school districts on after-school events such as football and basketball games. Currently, there are 32 Mississippi public school districts that have completed the spectator sports and security course.
Whether it’s 65,000-seat Vaught-Hemingway Stadium or DSU’s 8,000-seat Delta Field, the challenge of spectator safety remains the same.
“There’s no difference in a large SEC stadium or one at Division II – when you look at ‘hardening’ a venue, there are still certain standards to be met,” said Marciani. “You must do a risk assessment, develop a comprehensive plan, train the staff and exercise policies.”
NCS4 offers the SESA designation to all professional, collegiate and amateur organizations that own or operate sports venues. Earlier this year, the Joe Louis Arena, home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, became the first professional sports facility in the country to attain the designation, which will carry over to the team’s new home, Little Ceasars Arena.
“It’s a rigorous process and reflects the collaborative commitment among their security staff and local, state and federal agencies, to meet the highest of standards,” Marciani said.
In 2015, NCS4 partnered with the Southern Miss College of Business to offer the nation’s first Master of Business Administration with an emphasis on Sports Security Management.
“If you think about it, this is still a young profession,” said Marciani. “We’re still going through the benchmarks for a level of accountability. We’re not quite there yet.”
Jim Mercurio, vice president, stadium operations/general manager for the San Francisco 49ers, commends NCS4 officials for taking a lead role in safety and security at spectator events.
“NCS4 is out front in establishing best practices for professional leagues and colleges, and we fully support their efforts,” said Mercurio. “Communication and collaboration are essential as we continue to look for ways to improve safety and security at our venues.”