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Stadium Safety & Security Tips: How to Protect Yourself and Others During the Big Game

Former NFL security specialist and current GDBA Protector, Michael Burk, offers some precautionary safety and security tips for anyone attending a packed football stadium this fall.

On Thanksgiving, three things comes to mind: Family, Food, and Football. While most of us will spend our long weekend watching college and pro football from the safety and comfort of our living rooms, many will pack themselves into a huddled mass within the loud concrete confines of stadiums across America.

Though many stadiums are arguably safer now due to technology and enhanced security measures, impassioned (and often inebriated) crowds — packed tight into a stadium’s 80,000 seats — can still lead to trouble. Consequently, it is important for fans to be active participants in their own safety.

Here are some ways to stay safe inside a packed stadium:

1. Prior to Kickoff: Advance Your Location

The day before the big game, take a couple minutes to study the Stadium online. Read about the stadium’s safety measures and general layout, including the exits and emergency services nearest to your seats. Additionally, many stadiums offer a phone app, which I recommend. (The app provides up-to-the-minute notifications regarding stadium safety, security, and weather.) Furthermore, to facilitate a faster emergency departure, I recommend purchasing seats closer to the aisle and your section’s exit.

On game day, I recommend arriving to the Stadium early and buying a program, which offers additional information about the stadium’s seating and services. Similar to an airport, where I like to get “eyes on” my departure gate before searching for bathrooms and coffee shops, I recommend getting “eyes on” your stadium seats before kickoff.

Once you’ve found your seats, I recommend taking a quick walk around your section of the stadium with your family and/or friends. Identify at least two evacuation routes, stadium rally points, and the closest emergency first aid station. Additionally, advise your friends and family that surveillance cameras do not exist in restrooms, where inebriated fans will often visit throughout the game. As a result, I recommend entering the bathroom in pairs and maintaining situational awareness throughout your time there.

2. During the Game: Detect PINS

Violence is not spontaneous or “out of the blue.” Instead, violence is preceded by behaviors that often illuminate an aggressor’s intentions. This Pathway to Violence begins with a perceived grievance, followed by motivations, planning, and ultimately, the act of violence itself.

Here is a hypothetical example based on my security experiences:

  1. Arriving to his stadium seat in Philadelphia, an Eagles fan spots another fan sitting near him in a Dallas Cowboys jersey. The Eagles fan perceives this as a personal insult to himself and his tribe of Philly fanatics. He now has his Grievance.
  2. Acting on the perceived grievance, he believes the crowd will support his rant against the Cowboys fan, giving him status with his tribe. He now has his Motivation.
  3. The Eagles fan drinks another beer and his inhibitions continue to fall. Eventually, he thinks, “I’ll call him a name to impress my friends. If he reciprocates, and I don’t get in the last word to save face among my tribe, I’ll throw my drink at him. If things continue to escalate, I’ll kick his ass.” He now has a Plan.
  4. As he begins to stare down the opposing fan and garner support from nearby fans, the Eagles fan is well on his Pathway to Violence.

The hard look or verbal attack from the Eagles fan are examples of what Gavin de Becker calls “Pre-Incident Indicators” (or PINS). PINS “are those detectable factors that occur before the outcome being predicted,” de Becker writes in The Gift of Fear.

Think about every fight you have ever seen. Certain aggressive behaviors precede violence. The Eagles fan’s hard stare and verbal insults towards the Cowboys fan are indeed PINS; he’s alerting the Cowboys fan of his intentions.

When attending a packed football game (or any sporting event), I recommend maintaining a comfortable awareness of your immediate surroundings during downtimes (e.g. timeouts or between plays) on the field. Doing so will enhance your intuition – i.e. your ability to notice PINs early-on and before violence strikes.

If you notice someone on their Pathway to Violence, text stadium security immediately. At Gillette Stadium in New England, for example, fans can text the word CONDUCT, notifying the stadium’s Security Command Center in real time. Also, be sure to give them your seat number, so they can immediately focus their cameras on your location. By identifying a fan (or fans) demonstrating “unruly or disruptive behavior” (i.e. PINS) early-on, stadium security and law enforcement will have more time to respond before someone gets hurt.

3. After the Game: Watch your Step

When the clock runs out and it’s time to leave, 3‑plus hours of eating and drinking are evident everywhere you step. Consequently, a slip and fall due to mustard-slick steps or exit ramps coated with spilled beer are obvious safety hazards. If you’re attending a game in colder regions, snow, slush, and ice are additional hazards to navigate and look out for. As a result, I recommend wearing appropriate clothing and footwear to mitigate these hazards and make it to your parked car safely and without incident.

I also recommend never wearing the opposing team’s jersey!

Michael Burk is a protector within the Special Field Services branch at Gavin de Becker & Associates, where he provides close protection for at-risk public figures throughout the world. Before joining our firm, Michael provided physical security for a NFL football team and played key roles on a corporate emergency response team. Michael also served in the United States Army as an Airborne Ranger, deploying numerous times to Afghanistan.

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