Sunday, July 18, 2010

Teamwork Against Terror

A pre-publication draft of an article I wrote for the October 2003 edition of Stadium Visions, the Official Magazine of the Stadium Managers Association...back when Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was just called "the metrodome."

Image from Wikimedia Commons

An attack on a crowded sports stadium by transnational terrorists was once the stuff of fiction. The nail-biting conclusion of John Frankenheimer’s 1977 film “Black Sunday” was thought-provoking entertainment, but not a daily concern for most stadium operators. Al Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001, and the anonymous anthrax attacks that followed, changed all that and threatened to make terrorism a real life consideration for every sports fan.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, located in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosts the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, University of Minnesota Gophers football and a wide variety of others sports and activities. Owned and operated by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC), the combined attendance at Metrodome events since 1982 exceeds 55 million people, making it the most versatile and heavily used stadium in the nation. Unlike many stadiums, the Metrodome is used nearly every day of the week, hosting more than 300 event days per year. Like other stadiums across America, the Metrodome was designed with quick and convenient public access in mind. It is surrounded on all sides by heavily used city streets, two passing literally within feet of the stadium itself. Security had never been a tremendous problem in the land of “Minnesota Nice.” What could be done to protect the Metrodome and its users from deliberate attack without alienating the public? “The natural reaction of the public was to hunker down,” reports Bill Lester, Executive Director of the Commission. “We were concerned that they continue attending the terrific events that take place in our stadium.”

During the autumn of 2001, the NFL, MLB, and the NCAA responded to public concerns and recommended enhanced stadium security across the country. Many of the suggestions were of the common sense variety and had long been in place at the Metrodome. The Commission had maintained a 24-hour security presence long before the terror attacks, but additional patrols were added to round out the schedule. Perimeter doors were routinely locked and secured unless in use, and employees were given additional security reminders. The Metrodome’s Emergency Medical Plan has long been an example of excellence. With protocols approved by its Medical Director at the Hennepin County Medical Center, volunteers who in daily life are EMTs, paramedics, and nurses staff the First Aid Team. “Security for patrons and employees was always the highest priority,” according to Bill Lester. “We had two objectives; to implement systems and procedures that protected these two groups, and convey confidence in both employees and patrons that there was a security plan in place for their protection.”

Responsible for the security of their events and the safety of their patrons, major tenants at the Metrodome have always provided their own security. For package inspections, ticket taking, and ushering, the Twins, Vikings, and Gophers use contractors and other personnel. As well, uniformed off-duty law enforcement officers supplement contract security, inner perimeters are established hours before the first pitch or kick off, ushers inspect the stands and public areas prior to gates opening, and all staff members are briefed before each game. The art of running a successful event was second nature to the major tenants. What more could be done?

Some of the precautions recommended by league security were new to most public facilities across the U.S., not just the Metrodome. Responding effectively would call for a team response. The Commission hired SecuriCo, Inc. an independent security consulting firm, and began working closely with President – Jim Andrews, Director – Dave Estensen, and Senior Consultant – Michael Brady. Vikings Director of Team Operations, Breck Spinner, leveraged his close working relationship with Dag Sohlberg, the local NFL security representative and retired FBI agent. Matt Hoy, Vice President of Operations for the Twins, and Scott Ellison, Assistant Athletics Director at the University of Minnesota, pooled their resources together. Calls were made. Emails and faxes were exchanged. Meetings were held. A plan came together.

“Unfortunately, times have changed and even an event like a football game is not exempt from these new changes in our lifestyle,” says Breck Spinner. “We have always taken security seriously; however 9/11 heightened everyone’s awareness and forced us to raise security to a much higher level.”

The Metrodome and its tenants had security cameras throughout the interior and exterior of the facility. Recommended camera upgrades included adding digital video recorders, merging existing and proposed pan tilt zoom (PTZ) cameras in the facility so that any user can call up any camera, adding more PTZ cameras, and installing a controller and monitor in the backup command post.

For extra security, the MSFC routinely issued photo ID cards to all employees, and a new photo ID system would save time and labor cost. As well, visitors and contractors had long been required to sign in and out because the records could be reviewed later if needed. The MSFC is evaluating a system that creates a self-expiring visitor pass and an auditable log at the same time.

Next, restricting unwanted vehicular access called for rapid deployment of barriers. Ubiquitous “Jersey Walls” were used to protect curbside gates at the Metrodome. The pedestrian mall was also cordoned with the now familiar gray concrete slabs. Standoff protection was enhanced when the City of Minneapolis agreed to close streets using heavy trucks as barriers during selected events. While the Metrodome has no patron parking structures on the property it does have one large grade level parking lot. The NFL recommended that large vehicles that needed to park within the safety standoff distance be inspected. A team of retired and off duty bomb squad officers was established to screen inbound buses for explosives.

The Vikings reinforced the Command Post staff during their events. In addition to Vikings management, Commission representatives, and dispatchers for the contract security staff, “we have established a list of qualified law enforcement personnel who participate in our command post every game including representatives from the Minneapolis Fire Department, Minneapolis Police Department, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI,” says Breck Spinner. Other teams use similar processes.

Tenants worked with Metrodome management to update notification lists and written procedures for reporting and investigating threats. It is possible that hazards requiring evacuation of the facility would make it impossible to remain in the primary command post. There is a back up command post within the facility and the CP can be moved to an exterior building if necessary.

Air quality is a big issue for the Dome because its Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric roof is suspended by air pressure provided by a complex system of powerful air handlers. While the air handlers are routinely inspected and secured under lock and key, special seals were selected for use on crucial access points to better document access to these sensitive systems. The MSFC has always had the ability to evaluate critical air quality measurements, but biological or chemical threats such as anthrax or Sarin present a far more complex challenge. Liaison with the Minneapolis Fire Department established that they had the ability to test for a wide variety of hazardous gases, including many chemical and biological agents, so it was determined that it would be most effective to make certain that a senior member of the MFD is present in the Command Post during events to facilitate rapid response to such concerns. MFD also enjoys around the clock access to the services of the 55th Civil Support Team of the Minnesota National Guard, which has advanced nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons detection and characterization capability. At the suggestion of Dag Sohlberg, NFL Security Representative, the MFD invited the 55th to attend a Vikings game in the fall of 2002 to conduct baseline sampling at the Metrodome to make a future emergency response more effective.

The work took time. Early ad hoc efforts in 2001 gave way to freshly documented approaches in 2002. As 2002 became 2003, the wealth of personal experience, past practices, and new procedures were organized by SecuriCo into a new Security Policy, a Security & Emergency Procedures Manual, revisions to the long-standing Emergency Evacuation Plan, and a new Emergency Response Guide. “There was a tremendous body of knowledge possessed by all the players” says Jim Andrews, “Our job was to pull it all together, update it where needed, and present it in a concise manner.”

The Emergency Response Plan was developed with the active participation of the Commission, the Minnesota Twins, the Vikings, University of Minnesota Gophers, other users, representatives from Securitas – the contract security firm used by the Commission and several of the tenants, City of Minneapolis Police and Fire, Hennepin County Medical Center, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI. The goal was to create an emergency response process that established who would do what in a crisis, from the decision makers to the ticket holders. Detailed response procedures for likely – as well as some hopefully unlikely – emergencies were prepared. “Developing a unified front on how the tenants managed events in the building went well,” according to Scott Ellison, Assistant Athletics Director at the University of Minnesota. “Since then we all have varied some, but essentially we have remained consistent from event to event.”

Security is a process; there will always be fine-tuning to be done. As the Metrodome entered its 21st season the MSFC hired Dan Twaddle, a retired police captain, as its security manager. He enjoys the new challenge, “Everyone’s goal is to provide a safe environment for all who work and visit at the Metrodome. When everyone has the same objective it makes it easier for all to identify what steps need to take place to achieve it.”

And for the future? The Commission recommends that large tenants create a Command Post for every large event. A public agency liaison worksheet has been suggested. Additional training for bag checkers is being considered, as is a new minimum standard of training for vehicle inspectors. Twaddle is working on testing a variety of new vehicular barriers so that the Jersey Walls may be retired, and he is planning for the future, “I look forward to the time when we can test all that has been done, and what is going to be done in the near future, in a mock exercise.”

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, its tenants – the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, University of Minnesota Gophers and all the others – the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County have long provided a safe and enjoyable experience for its public.

By the diligent application of teamwork, effort, and skill it intends to continue to do so. Bill Lester is pleased, “I believe we have gained the trust of consumers. They have a confidence that even though there may be minor inconveniences, they are entering a safe environment.”

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