As our company is squarely in the business of entry control, it was with a bit of pain that I heard about the challenges people had getting into the Indy 500 last weekend. In addition to being sent back to their cars with banned items, some said they waited 2 hours or more in line to get through the security checks of bags and coolers. Increased security is regularly traded for convenience or privacy….in this case convenience. But does it have to be like it was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2013? No. However, because of the Boston Marathon bombing, things will be different at large sporting events. We can use what we’ve learned since 9/11, best practices, and the latest technologies to make large event access smooth and secure. (Photo by: bnpositive)
Part of the problem is the sheer size of the Indy 500 – it draws about 250,000, making it one of the three largest sporting events in the country. That’s a lot of people to enter the gates in the 6+ hours between 5:30am and the race start. But this year was uniquely bad. The proximity to the Boston Marathon allowed only a short time for adjustments to security measures and these changes contributed heavily to the problems. The Kentucky Derby, no small event at 150,000 people, had even fewer weeks to adjust but didn’t have the entry issues Indy 500 experienced. Part of the difference here is the Indy 500 allowed coolers which created big bottlenecks. Still, the race has allowed coolers in the past and organizers knew they were going to again. Why could they not staff or plan appropriately? The other access control mistake the track workers made was when the start time drew near, they relaxed security measures to allow the hordes of people to enter quickly. Inconsistent security is poor security. The feared bomber could easily be among the last to enter.
Well, the Indy 500 folks have a year to figure it out now. I’m sure security consultants will be brought in. I read that graduate students at a local university are working on it. NCS4 will likely collaborate on resolving the issues. There are certainly many security measures beyond the entrance gates that may have worked just fine last Sunday. It’s when people are greatly inconvenienced that security comes into question, and the huge wait times created ill will and bad press. (We’re sensitive to this, so with our Fastlane optical turnstiles, we minimize the inconvenience for office building workers by allowing the fastest entry in the industry.)
Just as Sandy Hook spurred schools around the country to address security weaknesses and upgrade security measures, so will the Tsarnaev brothers forever change the game at major sporting events. We could blame them, but the reality is our age of innocence is over. If it was not these two in April 2013, it would have been someone else at a big sporting event in the near future. There is the chance that sporting events may draw fewer fans as a result – it’s said that some Indy 500 fans stayed at home when hearing about the lines. Or maybe added security will put further upward pressure on ticket prices, which prices some fans out. I suspect that with a good “product” and a healthy economy, big events will still be able to fill the seats.
Perhaps sporting venues borrow a page from the airport playbook and create a listing of pre-authorized people to accelerate flows. Identifying yourself as attending an event may initially seem a privacy invasion, but how many of us “check-in” when we’re at places or tweet and post live from the event. It’s not really a secret where we are. And with Google Chrome asking us to sign into our browser, where we go online is something many of us share without hesitation too. As the years progress, anonymity will be harder to maintain. Having names on the tickets might seem too much to manage, but we’re transitioning to digital tickets which will make it easier. Maybe new age technology is part of the solution: the World Cup in Brazil next year is deploying robots to augment security and drones are well on their way to civilian usage.
Certainly the early years after 9/11 were the painful, learning years in implementing better air travel security. We will get there with sporting events too. Just as traveling to vacation destinations is fun worth the hassle, seeing a major live sporting event is an enjoyable treat worth a bit more work too.