On game days at Beaver Stadium, someone is always watching.
Among as many as 107,000 ticket holders and countless more tailgaters and bar-goers, the singular fan is nothing more than a dot to Penn State’s security personnel.
These police officers and staff members are outside the stadium and in the stands, on the field and on top of the press box, on foot and in helicopters.
They are trained to spot bad dots.
In fact, they were trained by one of the most innovative models the security field has to offer.
In 2010, the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), based at Southern Mississippi, asked Penn State to be one of nine initial schools to undergo a new security certification process called Sport Event Security Aware. SESA takes about a year to complete, and costs more than $19,000.
NCS4, which had been extended a grant by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to introduce its new model, would review Penn State for free.
Beaver Stadium is the fourth largest non-racing facility in the world. Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations Mark Bodenschatz accepted the offer.
One of SESA’s creators and the director of NCS4, Lou Marciani, said Penn State passed the “grueling” process with flying colors.
He now believes that Beaver Stadium is one of the safest sports stadiums in the world.
“When I say that, the competitive training and the staff, their continuous effort to improve their exercises… it’s a constant improvement cycle,” Marciani said. “Now Penn State has attained a high level of safety and security on a daily basis.”
First Step - Establishing the objective
In a post 9/11 world, SESA’s overarching goals are to “detect and prevent potential threats, delay attacks on assets, and to mitigate consequences of an incident,” according to its application.
The document also stresses continuous improvement in a cycle that requires recertification every four years.
Within the next three years, Marciani said he expects 20 percent of NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools to be certified by SESA. He considers Penn State to be one of the pioneers of his revolutionized stadium security model.
“We’re proud of [SESA] and we’re proud of Penn State,” Marciani said. “When you think about it, they took on a leadership role for the nation, not just for themselves, but by helping us as a university research team improve the process.”
Marciani said NCS4 started out by targeting Division I college football schools because of their large fanbase on game days. Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Mississippi, Jackson State, Alcorn, Mississippi Valley State and Delta State have also been certified through SESA by payment of NCS4’s grant.
LSU is the only school currently undergoing the certification process, but Marciani said three SEC schools have expressed interest in certifying. He said he expects the SEC and the Big Ten to be the first conferences to really dive into SESA.
Furthermore, Marciani said SESA has started to become part of the conversation for professional facilities. He said a few franchises have already approaced NCS4, but he declined to specifiy which ones.
Penn State will be well ahead of the game by the time Marciani projects SESA to be a common name in the stadium security business.
Second Step - Introducing the model
A facility the size of Beaver Stadium doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I think that size certainly has an impact when it comes to the attractiveness of [Beaver Stadium] as a target [for threats],” Bodenschatz said. “But I would say size really doesn’t matter when it comes to things you’re most concerned with, which are weather related items or even the standard run-of-the-mill fire or something under the stands.”
SESA trains officials at Beaver Stadium to respond to any measure of security breach, but the plan narrows in on how to deter, handle and mitigate the big threats.
Bodenschatz said Beaver Stadium’s security “basically got an award” after being certified through SESA, which is no short process. Penn State first had to take a pre-certification self-assessment called the Risk Self-Assessment Tool (RSAT). The results revealed where Penn State’s security plan stood in regards SESA’s goal.
Bodenschatz declined to release a copy of Penn State’s RSAT results to the Daily Collegian.
Penn State was then given 12 months to address the holes within its security plan and synchronize it with the recommendations of SESA. Once Penn State’s certification manager felt that the university had adhered to SESA’s guidelines, NCS4 sent out its own assessor to corroborate.
The assessor then filed a report to NCS4, which had to pass through the Compliance Review Panel and the Certification Commission for final approval.
Marciani said Penn State didn’t receive a single negative mark on any of its four evaluations.
Bodenschatz, who oversees Beaver Stadium security from Penn State Athletics’ end, said there are multiple administrative teams that constantly self-evaluate Beaver Stadium’s security measures.
The associate athletic director could not release any specific plans that were inspired by SESA, as that would be counterproductive, but he said Penn State is constantly evolving on the security front.
“I think we’re continuously making very strong improvements to our plan,” Bodenschatz said. “That’s really where we need to be. We want to be in a continuos improvement mode.”
Final Step - Adopting the plan
The police officers who patrol the top of the press box have binoculars and they have sniper rifles. They use one more than the other.
Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham supervises the field security efforts of Beaver Stadium as highlighted by SESA, notably the 50 Penn State police officers. On game days, reinforcements come in from State College, Ferguson, Patton, Bellefonte, Spring, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Commonwealth Campuses’ police.
The roof officers’ primary job is to observe the game day festivities from a high point of view, and radio down to ground personnel if they spot anything suspicious. They’ve never had to use their weapons.
Parham said most of the security force’s responsibility is to deter and stop minor incidents, such as public urination or public drunkenness. He added that many officers are also deployed to control the heavy traffic flow.
Occasionally, they have had to deal with more substantial threats.
Beaver Stadium prohibits fans from carrying bags into the stadium. Deferred ticket holders often leave their bags against a nearby tree or post instead of returning them to their car or home.
“We have concerns that there’s something in it that we don’t want to be in it,” Parham said. “We’ll have bomb dogs go over and sniff it and make sure it’s nothing of concern. It’s kind of like an airport. You hear the airport messages about not leaving your things unattended.”
Parham added that the Penn State police department investigates Beaver Stadium bomb threats very thoroughly, whether it’s on a game day or not. Several bomb threats were made against Beaver Stadium prior to the Nebraska game the week Joe Paterno was fired.
The police chief couldn’t put a finger on one major security breach during his career, but he distinctly remembered when Penn State fans rushed the field after beating Ohio State in 2005.
Parham said the railing literally couldn’t hold the excitement of that many fans, and it gave way after the victory. He said there were no major injuries, but one of his police officers was assaulted amid the chaos.
“Our field can’t hold 107,000,” Parham said. “There are concerns for our players, our coaches, the band members, the media. All the people who actually have access to the field, our concern is for their safety. I think for the most part, they just want to celebrate, but what they don’t understand is they’re causing a safety issue for people with access on the field.”
That was all before the institution of the SESA security method. In anticipation of some big wins over the past three seasons, police officers have lined the sidelines of Beaver Stadium dressed in riot gear toward the end of the game.
Perhaps one of the flaws that Penn State remedied for its exclusive certification.