Keeping students, alumni, and all the other spectators safe at big sporting events on campus can seem like a daunting task. But in the years since 9/11, best practices have emerged that will help you keep campus venues safe.

According to Daniel R. Pascale, senior director of security and emergency management services at Margolis Healy, the best overarching strategy for approaching this challenge is:

  1. Conduct a risk assessment.
  2. Make a plan.
  3. Train the plan.
  4. Implement the plan.

For your plan to work well, you need to be collaborative and inclusive, Pascale added.

To conduct your risk assessment, involve officials from across your institution as well as local, state and other governmental officials, Pascale said. Your team should include local police, fire and emergency medical services. It should also include everyone on campus who has a role in sporting events, including staff from athletics, facilities, equipment and IT.

Once you have assessed the risks, start to develop your emergency action plan by deciding who will be in control and what the leadership style will be for game day.

Your plan should include details for both pregame and for game day, Pascale said. The pregame plan might include sweeps of the facility with bomb-sniffing dogs and a system for how and when to inspect vendors.

It should also define the buffer zone around your stadium. That includes determining the acceptable distance for parking. Homeland Security officials can help you make that decision and will walk through your venue with you, Pascale said. In fact, if your institution is in certain states, you have probably had a visit that Homeland Security initiated, he added.

At some institutions, the buffer zone is a challenge. For example, at one institution Pascale has worked with, the back end of the stadium is only 40 feet from a roadway. The town has to close the road on game days, so stadium security impacts the whole town.

You also need to think through a series of questions for managing game day, Pascale said. They include:

  • What traffic control points will be in place around the stadium?
  • When will you close down the stadium before the game and begin controlling access?
  • How do you control access into the stadium?
  • Who will work the stadium gates? Institutions differ on who works at the gates. It could be students, athletic staff, security personnel or police officers, Pascale said.
  • What types of items will be prohibited from the stadium? It’s a good idea to ban bulky coolers and backpacks, Pascale said. And it’s also a good idea to ban outside food and beverages. You don’t know what could be in liquid containers, and they provide a way for chemicals to enter the stadium, he said.
  • How will you communicate, both internally and with partners, on game day? For example, do you have interoperability on radio with your local police?
  • What policies will you have in place regarding tailgating? How far from the stadium must tailgaters be, and what activities will your institution allow?

As part of your plan, Pascale recommended the following best practices:

  • Conduct bag and container checks as spectators enter the stadium. Have staff ask spectators to open their bags so that they can be examined for prohibited items.
  • Pat-downs of suspicious individuals can be effective. And some institutions use handheld or stationary detectors. Anyone who uses the detectors must be trained, Pascale said.
  • Do not allow re-entry to the stadium. “If you leave, you’re out for the day,” Pascale recommended.
  • Stop spectators with items they cannot bring in outside the gate and tell them to take the item back to their car or forfeit it.
  • Advertise the rules about what can be brought into the stadium. Good choices for doing that are through signage, on tickets, in letters that go to season ticket holders, and on your website.
  • Encourage situational awareness. You want spectators to think in terms of “See something, say something,” Pascale said. Options for reporting suspicious individuals or activities could include calling, telling an officer or texting. “No call is a bad call,” Pascale said. It’s always better to investigate than not to, he added.

For more information and ideas, consult the Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Best Practices Guide. The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security brought together experts at the National Intercollegiate Athletics Safety and Security Summit in 2015 to define best practices. The resulting guide provides hundreds of proposed best practices, with information about what issues the best practices address and how to implement them.

Find the guide at