(Disclaimer: This is not professional or legal advice. If it were, the article would be followed with an invoice. Do not expect to win any social media arguments by hyperlinking my articles. Chances are, we are both wrong).
Fun fact: I have worked security in a local high school for roughly a decade. It is challenging someways, but very rewarding. Part of my job entails anticipating the unknown and planning for the unseen. So you can imagine that we tend to admit the current COVID-19 pandemic has definitely created issues for us in every sector of society. I found myself reevaluating how we do EVERYTHING, including mundane things like security details for high school football. While digging for answers, I compiled my findings here. (NOTE: This is in no way, shape or form an official protocol set in place by my school district. Our actual plan will be very, very different)
Fall and winter high school sports are in the uncertain territory this year, thanks to the COVID‐19 pandemic. As of this writing, administrators are still digesting the numbers and listening to their respective public health experts on whether fall sports will move forward at all, much less whether such events will have spectators. Regardless of how those discussions unfold, school security staff must still plan to provide full, robust security at fall athletic events.
Planning is typically a collaborative effort. Early this year, the emergence of the novel coronavirus continues to change campus security agencies' playing field. Security is still strategizing for a range of possible outcomes and how best to deliver its services in each one.
School athletic event security success can often be tied to strategies associated with the following three major categories:
• Adequate staffing and supervision
• Advanced planning of security strategies
• Thoughtful emergency preparedness planning.
Everyone knows this year is unlike any we have ever experienced. Truthfully, no one understands just yet what this fall's events will look like. I can assume that both stadium attendance and tailgating will at least be reduced in size, but there are no firm answers at this point. Security teams must necessarily lean on health officials' expertise and advice when it comes to infectious disease issues. The ultimate mission of security and other first responders is to ensure everyone's safety, using the tools at their disposal. The COVID‐19 pandemic has broadened the definition of "safety" and forced public safety agencies and first responders to adapt quickly.
This is uncharted territory for everyone. We want the best information available so that we can make the appropriate planning decisions. Many proposals for fall athletics consist of keeping stadiums and arenas at half or quarter capacity. Some professional sports leagues have gone forward with no spectators whatsoever, which could be an option for high school athletics. But it would be an oversimplification to suggest that, for example, a half‐full stadium would require just half the investment of campus security resources.
While I feel that we will be able to reduce the size of our footprint somewhat if the crowds are smaller, our staffing numbers are not directly proportional to the crowd size. There are many responsibilities we have during an event, whether we have 100 or 1000 fans. Gates will still have to be staffed if fans are present. The home and visiting teams will have to be escorted in and out of the stadium. The stadium will still have to be secured in the days leading up to the game.
Even in a scenario where games are played with no fans, security staff has assignments related to teams, coaches, officials, and other venue‐specific duties. However, a no‐fan scenario would relieve the department of managing issues such as vehicle and pedestrian traffic or entry point security. For sports leagues that have returned to action, COVID‐19 screening has become a new and challenging protocol. There's a reasonable likelihood that the return of athletics will entail some level of screening and testing. With health screenings, we will support the health professionals responsible for conducting the actual screenings. Health screenings are outside our training scope, so that we would leave that up to the people better suited for such a task. But we would make sure that the screening area is safe and that the medical professionals could do their jobs safely and effectively.
Some law enforcement agencies have found themselves in a tricky position, balancing the traditional law enforcement role with new health‐related mandates and recommendations. Agencies balking at enforcing mask mandates is one example. In practice, we have found that educating people works without enforcement being necessary. Only informing a person of a requirement or particular guidance is usually enough to get them into compliance. Situations where an enforcement action must be taken, have been rare in our community.
Too often, schools' under-staff athletic events, especially in terms of police officers and security personnel staffing, to save limited funds out of the athletic department and school-based budgets. Increased emotions among spectator crowds, especially when there are intense rivalries between playing teams. Increased access to, and exposure of, the more extensive physical plant areas. These areas may include stadiums, 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 general nature of the event and the context in which it occurs.
Here is a sample plan from several high schools:
TEMPERATURE CHECKS- Temperatures will be taken at all gates, and no one with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above will be permitted to enter.
COVID-19 SCREENING- Questions will be posted at all entrances and no admittance will be granted if the answer is “YES” to any of the COVID-19 screening questions.
SOCIAL DISTANCING- Stadium seats have been marked to maintain social distancing. Up to five spectators who are members of the same household may sit together in a designated seating area. Between each family will be an area of six feet designated for no seating. Please follow the instructions at your stadium and, as per CDC guidelines, only sit next to your household members. Please follow social distancing guidelines upon arrival at the game and always stay at least six feet away from other fans throughout the game.
MASKS- All fans will be required to have a face covering when entering the stadium and always wear a cover inside the stadium.
TICKETS- No tickets will be sold at the gate. All tickets will be pre-sold at the participating schools or purchased online based on the available seats after the social distancing guidelines are in place. Parking is included in the cost of the ticket. Fans who do not have access will not be allowed in the game. Your school will have more details on how to purchase tickets.
CONCESSIONS- No concessions, other than bottled water, will be sold at any game. All concession stands will be closed, and no outside food or beverages will be allowed into the stadium.
LINES- Lines may not form at the entrance or restrooms. People must stand 6 feet apart when entering the facilities and continue to maintain social distancing.
These are only a sample of some general suggestions for consideration and discussion. Plans and strategies must be fashioned for each school and school district. No "one size fits all" plan 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.
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