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INSIGHTS

Large-scale sports events are back. What about security?

Large-scale sports events are back. What about security?
As large clouds flock to events like FIFA Worldcup, stadium security requires special attention.
As large-scale sporting events return, stadiums are back in focus. In fact, the two-year break seems to have made sports fans more desperate than ever to be part of the action. This is evident at the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where almost 3 million tickets have been sold. On November 27 alone, a record 88,000 people turned up to watch Argentina play against Mexico. Similarly, the Women’s Euro 2022 brought a record-breaking crowd of 87,192 spectators to Wembley stadium, where the maximum capacity is 90,000.
 
All this poses several challenges to stadium security providers. Although regulations have largely subsided, it’s critical to remember that the expectations of sporting fans have changed. As a result, the health, safety, and comfort of sports audiences are even more of a priority for organizers.
 
Of course, modern physical security technology remains the most critical tool. Network surveillance cameras provide a comprehensive view of the different environments within the premises, including the car parks, stands, hospitality, and hygiene areas. Touchless, cashless operations in and around stadiums, as well as technology solutions for managing the movement of large crowds and support teams on the ground are also important.

New technologies and uses emerging

While the use of network cameras and frictionless access control goes a long way in setting the stage for robust security management, certain new use cases are emerging now. Mark McCormack, Senior National Sales Manager at Axis Communications, pointed out that some ‘new’ technology that is being implemented makes use of devices in fans’ pockets. Smartphones can be used to not only display tickets but support in organizing entry times into stadiums.
 
“Rather than having to deal with the chaos of a traditional stampede as stadium gates first open, a smartphone app can be used to alert fans of when their specific gates are open or even manage the timing of entry to certain blocks of seats in the stadium,” McCormack said.
“In relation to queue management, analytics can address bottlenecks at the entrances in real-time and automatically notify staff when they need to move fans to a less congested gate. This helps prevent the harmful incidents that can occur in overcrowded spaces.”

Major threats stadiums face now

Although the return of fans to stadiums has largely been positive, anti-social and criminal or malicious behavior are still factors that need to be prevented and managed. This is especially true when emotions are heightened. Technology can support security personnel by detecting incidents before they escalate and allowing them to implement plans to limit the impact on surrounding crowds.

“The layout of the stadium can pose a challenge when organizing crowds, leaving fans frustrated and disappointed due to long waiting times,” McCormack said. “If peak times for movement – such as during breaks and at the end of games – aren’t carefully managed and instructions properly communicated, this could incite other incidents which negatively impact the overall experience.”

Lastly, the increased connectivity and technology solutions used to improve operations within stadiums come with cybersecurity threats. Stadiums hold and process valuable data which could be attractive to malicious actors, meaning that both physical and digital security must be prioritized.

Challenges to overcome for stadium security

The main security challenge within the stadium environment is maintaining good visibility. The layout, crowds, and low lighting can hide nefarious or dangerous activity, making it difficult to detect and intercept. Security teams need to understand where blind spots occur naturally and implement technology that aids detection and can initially deter activity.

“For example, if an intruder enters a restricted area, cameras equipped with analytics and connected to audio solutions can be used to detect the person and play a live or pre-recorded message,” McCormack pointed out. “At the same time, alerts can be sent to security teams allowing them to attend to the scene.”

In a similar scenario, security can also be alerted when a party grows larger than desired or exhibits any anti-social behavior likely to represent a safety risk. Staff would have the option of physically intervening or broadcasting a warning to fans before events get out of hand. Automatic audio messages can be used to deter disruptive behaviors.

In the event of an incident, the presence of an integrated network surveillance solution also provides easy access to accurate and detailed visual evidence for investigations.

How has system integration for stadiums changed?

As technology has become more advanced and accessible, new use cases that benefit the stadium environment have come to the forefront. Connected solutions have been implemented to support security teams by being the “eyes and ears” on the ground.

“Stadiums tend to have different types of environments within the same premises, which means that a variety of devices are needed to provide effective security,” McCormack said. “For example, thermal imaging can be used to better detect intruders in facilities with low light, such as storage areas.”

Increasingly, devices that have been developed based on open standards have been implemented, as these enable better integration within the system. Typically, more devices are added to the solution to improve the functionality of the system and address or enhance new use cases.

Best practices for stadium security

There are several things that stadium owners can do to ensure their security solutions perform well and help meet business objectives. It’s critical to start with a full assessment of the safety and security needs of the stadium and its surrounding environment – including car parks and loading areas. Armed with this information, security personnel can intelligently implement technology to better support processes and ensure customer enjoyment.

“It’s worth bearing in mind that one type of solution or device can be used for several purposes,” said McCormack. “For example, audio solutions can be used to energize the crowds, communicate safety messages or deter intruders. Multipurpose cameras equipped with queue management software can be used to both provide situational awareness and alert organizers to increase staffing levels at peak times. This cross-functional approach will also have a positive effect on ROI.”

Camera analytics aren’t just useful in the moment but can reveal critical insights to inform changes to stadium layouts or improve crowd control. By observing how fans use and move around the stadiums naturally, organizers can better plan staffing levels, improve the flow of foot traffic and ease congestion.

McCormack added that in addition to security and safety, large-scale venues must be aware of their energy consumption and sustainable practices. High-quality security and safety cannot be achieved at the expense of the environment, and choosing efficient technology that operates without unnecessary energy expenditure – such as additional lighting – can be beneficial.

Stadium security requires more attention 

As stadiums begin to fill up again, protecting people and assets at such large sites warrants more attention than ever before. Although concerns about COVID-19 have eased, experts have warned of large sporting events triggering disease outbreaks in the future.
 
Effective security measures using the most modern solutions and following the best practices are essential. As people’s priorities change and new threats emerge, security service providers have to adapt, ensuring peace of mind to both organizers, players, and fans. 
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