Approaches Suggested by the Literature

​​​Crises at mega-events such as the Olympic Games and Super Bowls have been the catalyst to devising procedures and methods for STTS, the best of which may come to be adopted by law enforcement and the sports industry. Indeed, sports events and, by extension, STTS, experienced paradigm shifts with the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists and the September 11, 2001 ​attacks. Each new major incident has the potential of causing another paradigm shift. Modern-day terrorists have shown repeatedly their ability to move weapons, money, and militants across borders to commit mass mayhem against sports and travel targets, exemplified in 2015 by the downing of the Russian airliner over Egypt, the attacks against the Stade de France soccer match and other Paris spots, and the hotel siege in Mali.

In this section, we define the role of the STTS practitioner or manager and the scope of STTS, and we offer STTS procedures founded on the existing literature.

The STTS Practitioner’s Scope

A majority of the security and safety services used by an STTS group are normally provided by others, such as hoteliers and sports arena operators, for the benefit of sports teams, individual athletes, or spectators. The STTS organizer’s task is to understand and recognize good security, ensure that the needed services are available, and that they have been reserved for the traveling athletic group.

An STTS practitioner’s role is one element in a larger network. The scope is more than simply deciding whether or not to travel. The STTS practitioner also determines which preparations and capabilities others have or are providing in support. The STTS practitioner must also add what he or she considers to be crucial but missing elements for the athlete’s or team’s security.
The literature currently indicates that the STTS manager’s focus is on the lowest operational level and he or she is not normally expected to provide a full security operation. The STTS manager is expected to blend into, and make use of, the existing security framework of transportation, lodging, and sports venue providers, and to coordinate with local law enforcement, public safety, public health, and medical facilities for support as needed (as depicted in Figure 1). The STTS professional’s task, in most cases, is to procure services and ensure that these services are both delivered and of high quality.

The Sports Team Travel Security Cycle

Figure 2 depicts the cycle of STTS, from the creation and maintenance of STTS policies and training, to planning and execution, to the final phase of an STTS event: evaluations. The cycle is discussed in more detail below.  

Early Preparations: Policies and Procedures

Any program, including an STTS program, begins with a simple or extensive list of policies that set the rules and requirements.    Policies and procedures need to be thought out in advance. The larger an institution (e.g., an athletic club, a university sports department or a professional team), the more important it is to develop specific protocols, policies, and procedures. Consistently updated protocols reduce planning time and preparations for a new event and help avoid repeating past mistakes or committing new ones.

Risk-Based Planning

Intelligence. The gathering of protective intelligence should be started early in the planning cycle. The results of this reconnaissance form the basis for a risk assessment that considers both threats and vulnerabilities, which we discuss in the next section. Available intelligence may result in a quick “no-go” decision when the threat forecast clearly overshadows the benefits of the event. If intelligence produces a no-go decision, then the STTS practitioner need not spend any more time or energy on the trip’s preparations.

Private sports teams normally do not get access to the sensitive information held by higher levels of government, but open sources are available for the protective intelligence needed for an STTS event. STTS practitioners will probably find that the following examples of open sources serve their purpose:

  • Regional intelligence can be procured from the U.S. government and other countries in the form of travel advisories and warnings (e.g. the U.S. State Department’s Travel website).

  • Fact Book of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is openly available online to provide a good summary about any region or country being visited.

  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), an organ of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), exists to provide unclassified threat intelligence to traveling U.S. business persons, including U.S. sports groups and athletes traveling abroad (OSAC, 2007). OSAC has branches within the U.S. embassies in most countries. Likewise, the embassies of many other countries provide similar services to their nationals.

Figure 2: The Sports Team Travel Security Cycle

  • Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a relatively new organization patterned after OSAC to assist businesses with security matters within U.S. territories and states. Membership in the DSAC will help security practitioners in the United States stay informed about major threats to U.S. regions, venues and events.

  • Liaisons with local police departments in the venue being visited is important.  Oftentimes local police are the best source for threats within their jurisdictions and they typically can share more information than intelligence agencies.

  • Private intelligence publishers may also be a source for institutions with active travel programs and a reasonable budget. For a subscription fee, such services provide corporations and other entities with ongoing targeted assessments of criminality and terrorism in the specific locales in which they operate. They also maintain updated regional risk and threat assessments for most countries.

Very often, intelligence is available for the asking from national and local authorities, especially when such authorities are involved in the sporting event. Alternatively, a workable intelligence report can be produced from existing open sources.

Risk assessments. For our purposes, these are tools used to evaluate the threats and vulnerabilities to an STTS athlete or group posed by an individual, gangs, protestors, vandals, terrorists, fire, natural disasters, or safety lapses. These risks would be juxtaposed with the characteristics of the physical structures and the security practices that protect the STTS event. An evaluation may be either qualitative—a narrative that simply reviews the known and potential threats in light of known vulnerabilities—or it can use a quantitative formula to measure the relative gravity of a threat versus the protections against it. 

A risk assessment is not meant to determine whether or not to hold an event but to determine what level of security is appropriate. If the level of security required to mitigate a serious threat is prohibitive in cost or unavailable, then cancellation may be in order.

Different organizations employ various methodologies for risk assessments. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) and the DSS each use different sets of risk factors and each have developed quantitative formulas that reflect their specific missions. One universal formula is the DHS's (DHS, 2011) R=TVC, where "R" is risk, "T" is threat, "V" is vulnerability, and "C" is consequence.

For STTS events, this formula can be simplified to R=TV. When monetary consequences need to be considered, STTS practitioners can calculate the costs of certain decisions, such as the cancellation of a scheduled event, by employing a simpler tool, a cost-benefit analysis (CBA), instead of using the DHS's more complex formula.

To determine vulnerabilities for athletes or sporting events, we may use the following document from the United Kingdom's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS, 2008). It lists factors for a major special event that seem to be potentially relevant for an athletic risk assessment:

  • Service personnel screening/vetting,
  • Barriers and access controls,
  • Ingress and egress to lodging and venues,
  • Emergency plans and equipment for fire and other hazards,
  • Medical response and facilities availability, and
  • Status of media relations

We would also add the following to the DCMS list of risks:

  • Natural disaster preparedness appropriate for the destination,
  • Health hazards or pandemics known to the region, and
  • Exposure en route between locations (lodging to sports arena, etc.)

Measuring risk is not totally objective; much of the measurement's accuracy depends on judgments, such as assigned weights and vulnerability levels, made by those who set STTS organizational policies.

Table 1 provides a sample list of threats, with assigned weights, that could be of concern to an STTS event, followed by our definitions of vulnerability levels:

​Threat ​Weight x ​Vulnerability = ​STTS Score ​Comments/Observations
​Vandals active in hotel/venue​1​Can deface STTS image/property
​Thieves active in hotel/venue​1​Can result in loss of property
​Seemingly benign stalker​1​Unstable fan of of STTS member
​Threatening stalker​2​Directed agains STTS member
​Passive protestors​2​Can affect the STTS event
​Street crimes of opportunity​2​Can victimize STTS members
​Disruptive protestors​3​Can affect the STTS event
​Natural disaster​3​Emergency
​Known health hazard​3​Can affect health, performance
​Fire safety status in venue​4​Potentially unsafe structure
​Violence-prone protestors​4​Can turn agains STTS group
​Violent group/gang threats​5​Expressed desire to harm STTS
​Terrorism threat to area​5​STTS as target of opportunity

Vulnerability Levels:

  1. : All physical characteristics of structure and security procedures are adequate for the threat

  2. : A part of the structure/venue/route has a minor but mostly mitigated weakness

  3. : A signigicant structural or procedural weakness is not mitigated adequtely

  4. : A significant structural or procedural weakness is not mitigated at all

  5. : The structure/venue/route is not secure and cannot be mitigated agains the known threat

Table 1: Examples of STTS Threats with Assigned Weights on an Interval Scale of 1-5

Take the following hypothetical scenario to illustrate Table 1's use: In planning a new STTS event, the STTS practitioner receives intelligence through liaison that the hotel site is likely to be the focus of protestors known to be violence prone. The police advise that they will not interfere with the planned demonstration unless the protestors break the law first. The practitioner fears that waiting until the protestors turn into a destructive mob may be too late, so he or she determines the risk level and mitigation necessary as follows:

The practitioner surveys the hotel and finds that the public can enter freely and that there is a stairway from the lobby that leads to the team's suites in a separate wing of the hotel; however, there are no physical barriers to the hallway to impede an uninvited intruder, let alone a mob. The STTS practitioner decides that the usual complement of one unarmed floor guard for credentialing/screening will not pose a barrier to an aggressive individual or a mob.

In this example, we see a quick calculation of one threat, an intelligence report that "violence prone protestors are anticipated" at the STTS group's venue. In this case, the STTS practitioner determines that there is no deterring police presence at the hotel perimeter or lobby and that, if given the opportunity, a mob could proceed up a stairway to the team's floor and force its way past one unarmed guard.

In assessing the DCMS "barriers and access controls" factor , the STTS practitioner would use Table 1 to assign a vulnerability level of 4 (or even 5) to the "violence prone protestors" threat. That vulnerability value (4) is multiplied by the threat's weight (4), which produces an STTS score of 16;  that score is assigned a "High" DHS risk level in Table 2 (see below), calling for extraordinary security measures.


Risk Levels​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​Concurrent STTS Responses
​Action Steps ​STTS
Matched STTS


​5​Cancel​Secured​"Lock down" patrol perimeters restricting access​21-25​Cancel participation in event or, if under way, "lock down" in secure areas
​High​4​Maximum​Govt. Control​National law officials/security agencies screen public and take control​16-20​High threat to the general public, including athletes - extra physical security for STTS members; consider cancellation
​Elevated ​3​ElevatedRestrictive​​May involve regional or local law officials with "pat down" measures​11-15​Suspected gen. threat to STTS - screening; restric STTS contingent to guarded spaces
​Guarded ​2​Moderate​Protective​Limited access to venue with screening​6-10​Known stalker threat(s) - add screening
​precatuions implemented
​Low​1​Minimum​Routine​No primary factors of concern exist outside normal routine measures​1-5​No STTS threats; standard measures

Table 2: DHS Special Events Risk Levels and Suggested Concurrent STTS Responses

From Planning and Managing Security for Major Special Events: Guidelines for Law Enforcement, p. 17, by E. Connors, 2007, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Adapted from an open source publication.

Each location, lodging, practice arena, competitive arena, eatery, place of rest and recreation, as well as the travel segments between them, should be submitted to a similar risk assessment. All of the scores for different risks could then be averaged for a mean risk posture, or the STTS practitioner can decide to assign the risk posture of the highest-weight risk assessment of any location or segment and apply that to the entire STTS event since the measures protecting against the worst threat should protect against lesser threats as well.​

Business continuity and crisis management. Successful threat mitigation comes from careful planning followed by faithful execution. The goal of business continuity and crisis management is to avoid potentially dangerous situations and, when that fails, to manage the incident to a successful recovery. Even if the challenges put before the STTS practitioner are not on the threats list, it is likely that one or more of the contingencies in the plan can be quickly adapted to handle unforeseen problems.

The likelihood of a successful sports event typically relates to the amount and thoroughness of the planning and, in the event of an emergency or crisis, to the training, experience, and resources available to the crisis managers. How much to plan for depends on such factors as the mode of transportation, the services provided at the venues visited, the places of lodging, and the issues that surround the individual athletes or sports team.

Ideally, the crisis management actions to be taken while in travel status should be an extension of a broader business continuity plan for the team, whether they are on their home turf or traveling. Island (2016) provides methods and tools needed by a sports team or athletic department to establish an effective business continuity program to deal with crises ranging from potential damage to the team's reputation to criminal attacks and natural disasters.


To use a popular refrain: In war it is the months of planning and training (99% sweat) that prepares the soldier for a few moments of terror (1% action). The same holds true for STTS.

This is also the case for competitive sports. Most athletes train and "play" long hours in preparation for a brief competitive performance. If they really excel, they may participate in major leagues or major events like the Olympics. For such major special events they will be enveloped in a security blanket provided by government authorities or by a highly organized and complex private sports venue, as illustrated in Figure 1 (STTS Group Embedded into a Major Special Event).

Most of the time, however, athletes are alone, in small groups, or with a small entourage of athletes and their support personnel.  Figure 3 (STTS Group in Normal Mode of Operation) represents the operating model in the great majority of the time in which the athletic group depends on contacts and liaisons with government security and safety services, and relies on hoteliers, transportation companies, private venues, private residences, and others, for services.

Post Operative Evaluation

By its very nature, evaluations will vary from event to event. It suffices to say that evaluations may result in policy changes, new policies, and new planning tools that evolve with experience and changing times.

Next: Measuring Effectiveness