14 Jun 2018

Examining security measures at major sporting events

The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off today with the opening match between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Russia selected 11 host cities to be the venues for the matches of the 2018 World Cup, and they are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, and Samara. Security will be a big talking point across the competition, which takes place between June 14 and July 15 at 12 stadiums located in the 11 mentioned above cities across Russia. Two of the stadiums are in the Russian capital.

So, how does a host city or country maximize safety and security at a major international sports tournament?

The safety success at recent sports meetings can be no excuse for complacency. Like other current hosts, the Russian government introduced extra security measures by presidential decree last May. They aimed to control movement in and around the venues, and they were successfully trialed at last year's Confederations Cup. The security measures include a long list of restrictions: on the sale of weapons and dangerous chemicals, as well as on selling and drinking alcohol.

Past blueprints

For a two-month period, all demonstrations and public events in World Cup cities that are not football-related must be authorized not only by the local authorities and police as usual – but also by the Russian secret service, the FSB. In host cities, there will be increased checks at train stations, airports and in the metro.

Security consultants, installers, and manufacturers must work with police and arena managers to create strategies that will continue to protect fans, competitors, and staff. A 'spectacular' at a sports event is among the most feared (and expected) threats among the security community.

South Wales Police conducted an exercise in June 2016 that could assist Russian authorities. Aware that Cardiff had an outstanding network of IP cameras both at the Principality Stadium and the city railway station, police used facial recognition on soccer fans during the Champions League Final. Camera feeds were of a resolution that more than met the needs of facial recognition to compare facial close-ups with a database of 500,000 custody images assembled from police forces across Europe.

It was not a condition of entry to the stadium for a spectator to present his/her face to the camera but there was dedicated video surveillance at turnstiles. In addition to the 71,000 spectators, a further 100,000 people visited Cardiff on the day. The operation was directed at known or suspected criminals including terrorists as it was at possible hooliganism.

Access control

Developments in RFID have seen the introduction of single-use RFID wristbands at sports venues. These have significant benefits in that they make ticket forgery near impossible. Should imitation ever occur and two spectators with the same seat allocation arrive at the ground, the duplication will create an alert. This eliminates the scenario of violence ensuing when fans arrive at seats for which they have paid a premium price to find that they are already occupied. RFID ticketing also minimizes wait-times while queuing at turnstiles. Talk to any stadium security officer, and they will tell you that this type of delay is the most dangerous flashpoint regarding spectator behavior and the most likely factor to precipitate crushing incidents.

RFID of this kind also tells stadium managers if there has been an expectedly high influx of spectators into a part of the ground during a short time interval and whether stewards should be redeployed. RFID can be hierarchical and distinguish between staff, spectators, dignitaries, officials and even competitors. Over 100,000 RFID wristbands were used during the Ryder Cup in 2014 at Gleneagles, Scotland. It is likely that golf organizers will use the technology again, with the Ryder Cup being the one other preeminent sports event scheduled for 2018. An additional benefit of using RFID wristbands as tickets is that if a child is separated from their parents, they need only report to a steward or police officer and it is a simple matter to take them to their assigned seat.

Multi-faceted video analytics

Improvements in people-counting algorithms mean that police and officials can now monitor crowd movement at the approach to stadiums and on concourses with precision. The technology was initially hampered by an inability to count people if they were bunched together or holding hands but accuracy now approaches 99 percent. If people-counting suggests that reasonable queue time (even with advances such as RFID) is approaching a dangerous level, it is possible for stadium supervisors to corral spectators at an early stage causing minimal inconvenience and stress.

In the event of large-scale ticket fraud and no safeguards through RFID, people-counting will generate an alarm as soon as occupancy levels are a cause for concern. This technique can be used both on a whole venue and in specific seating areas. It is also useful at city railway stations on match days to warn the stadium that a sudden influx of spectators is likely. People-counting can be used during an emergency evacuation to give officials an overview of egress and updates on problem areas. 

Premium video management systems (VMS)

A premium VMS using open architecture is vital in the command center of a massive stadium. For the duration of an international game or essential league fixture, a stadium control room should be regarded as a mission-critical environment. Security staff will receive numerous alerts before and during the game with the alarms ranging from minor disturbances to false positives. It should be remembered that for every incidence of video surveillance making the control room aware of antisocial behavior there will be at least one useful or beneficial scenario. A common occurrence is a conscientious camera operator spotting a spectator experiencing medical difficulties and dispatching a steward with first aid training. Best-of-breed VMS allows police and stadium managers to exploit advances in camera technology. Speed PTZ dome cameras now offer exceptional zoom levels (both optical and digital) that enable operators to hurry from overviews to specific areas and activity of interest.

Megapixel technology is enabling security managers to cover larger areas with fewer cameras which has obvious financial benefits but also simplifies the logistics of VMS and speeds up site familiarization for new operators. Sports stadiums are early adopters of technology, and it is likely that any significant leisure venue will now be using IP cameras throughout. This makes it possible to export footage promptly to third parties not just for identifying problems but so that other stadiums during a multi-venue tournament can absorb positives from what has gone well.