Experts: Safety at events begins with organization

Security at sporting events has arguably never been tighter.

With Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia complete and the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing come and gone, sports teams and law enforcement organizations are as concerned about safety as much as any point since the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Orioles and Ravens each said they are in constant contact with law enforcement and government officials and take appropriate steps when any threat is detected.

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The Orioles have also dealt with a fair share of security issues in the past, especially when a sitting president has attended a game and/or thrown out the ceremonial first pitch. The team said it was ready to keep its fans safe beginning with Opening Day March 31 and throughout the season, which includes 81 home games overall.

“We work with Major League Baseball, the Maryland Stadium Authority and state and local authorities on a regular basis to make sure all fans have a safe and enjoyable time at Oriole Park,” said the Orioles in a recent statement.

“When higher-ranking dignitaries are in attendance, we cooperate with national law enforcement agencies as appropriate. As I'm sure you can understand, we do not feel it is appropriate to publicize the specific security measures we take at the facility.”

The new reality

The Ravens have altered their security plan multiple times in recent years in accordance to potential threats and world events. Most recently, the Ravens – in accordance with the NFL’s new policy – has limited the size of baggage that attendees can bring into the stadium to small clutch purses or clear plastic bags.

The policy change was announced last May following a unanimous recommendation from the NFL Committee on Stadium Security. Officials say the new policy will expedite the entry process and bolster safety.

Acceptable baggage includes clear plastic or vinyl totes, one-gallon clear freezer bags and small clutch purses about the size of a hand, the release states. An exception will be made for luggage that carries “medically necessary” items.

“We have communications and discussions that go on well in advance of an event, whether it is a game, a concert or some other event,” said Roy Sommerhof, the Ravens vice president of stadium operations. “I’ve been in this business 30 years, and everything changed after 9/11.

“We’re constantly being briefed on threats or issues happening overseas that could impact our events at the stadium.”

Sommerhof said the Ravens are constantly adjusting their procedures to ensure not only that fans remain safe, but that they have a positive stadium experience.

Balancing safety with fan experience can be a difficult task, but Sommerhof said he believes the Ravens have managed it well. This includes nearly doubling the points of entries for fans so that they are delayed as little as possible getting into the stadium with added security measure in place.

Ticket holders entering the stadium are currently subjected to pat-downs, bag checks and metal detectors under the Ravens' current safety procedures. Sommerhof said it takes fans an average of eight minutes to enter the stadium 30 minutes prior to kickoff and just four minutes 45 minutes prior to kickoff.

“We have plans in place and modify them as it becomes required,” he said.

Preparation is key

Baltimore Arena general manager Frank Remesch said the same is true at his venue.

He said there is a lot of coordination involved between stadium staff and local police and fire departments to deal with everything from security to traffic for the 10,000-seat venue.

Remesch added that the arena handles a wide variety of events that attract a broad audience, which means each event is handled differently.

“We obviously don’t have the same plan in effect for Disney on Ice, compared to a Kanye West concert or WWE event,” Remesch said. “We build on 50 years of experience hosting events to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.”

Remesch added that he is constantly talking with his counterparts at other arenas to investigate any incidents that may have occurred elsewhere, especially if that concert or event is coming into Baltimore.

In addition, Remesch said police have done drills in the arena to simulate potential problems and give suggestions on how the arena should adjust.

“Times are much different now than when the arena opened in 1962,” Remesch said. “We need to be on top of all the security trends and issues so that we are prepared for anything.”

This was definitely the case in 2001, when the Baltimore Arena was one of the sites used for the Maccabi Games, an annual youth sporting event – similar to the Olympics

– for the Jewish community. Remesch said security had never been tighter at the arena.

“This was just weeks after 9/11 and tensions were so tight,” Remesch said. “I had never seen so many security personnel at the arena. It was a prime example of how world affairs can impact local events.”

Former Secret Service agent and security expert Dan Bongino said communication and preparation are keys to ensure safety at highly-attended stadium and arena events.

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to prepare for these events,” said Bongino, a Republican running for Congress in Maryland’s Sixth District . “You really have to be ready for six main types of events: an assassination, medical, chemical/biological, IED or airborne attack like 9/11.

“It’s not easy to do, but if you have the personnel and coordination in place, you’ll be OK. The best way to stop an attack is to keep it from getting organized in the first place.”

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