Mar 31 2023

ISC West 23: Secrets of Event Security

Staffing challenges and melding smart technology with good processes top event security professionals’ list of priorities.

For many years on fall Sundays, Jim Mercurio was perhaps the most important lawman in town.

The “town” was Levi’s Stadium, home to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, and Mercurio, as executive vice president and general manager of the stadium, was responsible for all game-day operations, including security.

“Levi’s Stadium has 70,000 seats, so it’s kind of like a midsized town within a city,” said Mercurio, who left the 49ers earlier this month. He was speaking at speaking at ISC West, the leading comprehensive and converged security trade event in the U.S., which continues through March 31 in Las Vegas.

Managing event security is a unique task, even within the physical security profession. Some events are held regularly in fixed locations, like football games or arena concerts. Still others, such as festivals or marathons, are held at irregular times and at unconventional locations.

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Keeping all those people safe and happy for the few hours they’re onsite requires a complex mix of staff, volunteers and lightly trained game-day workers, technology and clear processes. In the post-pandemic era, Mercurio says, recruiting reliable workers has been the most challenging part.

“Trying to figure out how get people back to work, and in some cases using technology to replace people who don’t come back to work, has really been top of mind for me,” he said.

“If you can remove friction between the three things that make for a successful event, which always starts with people, but if you can effectively merge those people with good processes and the right technology, then you’re cooking.”

Mercurio was joined by Joe Monroe, chief of the University of Kentucky Police Department, and John Bertsch, executive director of global safety and security for the IRONMAN Group, which runs marathons, triathlons and other endurance-sport events around the world.

Technology Complements Event Security Professionals

Technology is playing a growing role at Levi’s stadium in ensuring a safe game-day experience for fans, Mercurio said. Walk-through metal detectors are getting more effective, requiring fewer fans to be manually wanded upon entry, for example. The quality of surveillance cameras is also increasing, as is barrier technology that generates an alert whenever someone enters a restricted area.

“You’ll never be able to replace, nor should you want to replace, all the human capital,” he said. “But if you can marry your people with smart technologies, you’ll create a good experience for your customers.”

While Levi’s Stadium becomes a small city on game day, the University Kentucky, with its nearly 33,000 students, is a small city itself, complete with a major hospital and about 6,000 residents who live in on-campus housing. On football Saturdays, though, the university becomes Kentucky’s third-largest city, according to Monroe.

“We’re balancing our normal operations, which include a residence hall and a hospital with a trauma center, which is only about 1,000 feet from the stadium, with game-day operations,” Monroe said. “So, it’s about how to balance normal operations with special event operations. How do the two integrate? We have almost 9,000 access control points on campus and well over 4,000 cameras, which give us good situational awareness. It’s really important to think about, as you’re using the technology, to identify what it is you really need to get that balance.”

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How Physical Security Teams Thwart Insider Threats

Because of the large number of employees and volunteers who work big events, security leaders must be constantly vigilant about the insider threat: the potential for someone to infiltrate the staff with the intent of doing harm.

It was a lesson Bertsch was reminded of in 2018 during an event the IRONMAN Group organized in Chattanooga, Tenn., when a sharp-eyed member of local law enforcement spotted a man staffing a security post whom the officer recognized as someone who was on a terrorist watch list.

“We ended up spinning up our incident action plans to ask how this happened,” Bertsch recalled. “He just walked up to one of our volunteer tables and said, ‘I’d like to help.’” He was handed a security shirt and shown to a post. “We were really, really lucky.”

No one was harmed, and the individual was removed. But the incident forced the organization to rethink its process for vetting volunteers. Today, volunteers sign up online in advance. “We were able to put an API in place to automatically perform a background screen,” Bertsch said. “It’s not a background check, it’s a background screen, but it allows us to preemptively put up a barrier.”

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event, and follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine and the official conference Twitter feed, @ISCEvents.

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