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Current Responses: Strategies and Methods in Use

​When traveling, university or professional athletes will be “guests” at rest stops, places of lodging, the venue where they will practice or compete, the host locale’s restaurants and attractions, and even its nightlife. As guests, athletes often fall under the safety and security umbrella of the host or host organization. This umbrella may not include all of the security provisions needed and expected by traveling athletes, or the host’s safety and security umbrella may conflict with the athlete’s requirements. Traveling athletes or sports teams may need to supplement the host’s security provisions. In doing so, STTS practitioners need to be both diplomatic and demanding to ensure that the security standards of both the host and the traveling teams are met.

The literature contains a number of sports security practices that have proven successful for law enforcement, public safety, and private travel security professionals. Responses found in the literature are discussed in this section for consideration as strategies available to the STTS industry.

The Increasing Role of Hotel Security

Whenever possible, it is in the interest of sports teams to perform surveys of facilities and venues to be visited and to verify the service arrangements expected (“advances”). For lower-profile events, a team may perform surveys through an on-site representative who understands the team’s needs and can be trusted to perform advances in its stead. Alternatively, for significant or complex events, a team may be wise to dispatch its own security “agent” ahead of the team to perform advances in person.

Oftentimes, the arrangements made by third parties (such as travel agents, hosts, or hotel security), may suffice if the STTS practitioner can verify beforehand that the arrangements will provide the level of security desired (Plecas, Dow, Diplock, & Martin, 2010). As hotels host more sporting teams and vie for sports teams’ ongoing business, they also become sensitized to the teams’ particular needs both during the visit and for future visits. STTS practitioners will want to direct their business to hotels where trusted hotel security managers or other trained personnel can represent their interests.

One Point of Contact

Along with the increasing role of hotel security, another trend is also making the STTS practitioners’ job easier: the expanding professional role of hotel security managers from “simple agents providing guarding and loss prevention” to include a number of other security issues such as the management of health, safety, IT security, fire safety, and insurance matters (Gill, Moon, Seaman & Turbin, 2002; Hilliard & Baloglu, 2008). In the case of the larger chains or specialized hotels, STTS practitioners may now expect to deal with one person, or at least one department, to handle the range of security and safety needs at the team’s place of lodging. 

Along with the increasing role of hotel security, many hotels—especially the major ones—are also making efforts to attract the business of sports teams by determining beforehand the teams’ security requirements and advertising their security availability to the teams (Hilliard & Baloglu, 2015; Tse & Ho, 2006). This growing practice among hoteliers will make the STTS practitioner’s job easier as preparations for their team’s security and safety needs are made with fewer points-of-contact.

Team Separation From Guests

When we speak of hotel security we mean an athlete’s place of lodging while in transit or at a venue, be it an inn, hotel, motel, or private residence. In his major special events manual for law enforcement, Connors (2007, p. 24) emphasizes how critical it is to establish and cultivate relationships with hotel security because their staff can be a “force multiplier.” Hotel (or venue) security is where the STTS practitioner will go for access controls and credentialing—the function of identifying and vetting personnel who will be tasked with providing services or who will otherwise need access to the athletes and their entourage. The degree of access controls needed by the STTS contingent will depend on the size of the group, the threat level, and the group’s own resources.

Ingress and Egress

A good relationship with the hotel’s entire staff, and especially its security staff, can multiply the STTS’s own security capabilities tremendously. This good rapport can translate into housing in preferred areas of the hotel where public access is restricted and where egress may be clearer and shorter (DCMS 2008 p. 83).

When participating in special events, it is likely that the venue host (or law enforcement agency, if law enforcement is involved) will establish access controls and credentialing for the event. In this case, the STTS professional will be a user of the venue’s or law enforcement’s credentialing system and access rules. The STTS practitioner needs to coordinate with event managers early on to ensure that they can influence planning and procure adequate levels of security support.

Crime Avoidance Training

The issue of crime against tourists and sporting venues, discussed in the sociological analyses we reviewed (Biagi & Detotto, 2010; Chiang, 2000; Crotts, 1996; Horn, 2009, Tarlow 2014), affects traveling business people and athletes as well. Athletes are as liable as anyone else to fall victim to crimes of opportunity.

Human beings are still the biggest problem in security lapses but—when they are properly and continuously trained—they are also the solution. The literature agrees with this premise. For instance, hoteliers have been using counter-victim training programs to reduce the impact of crime in their venues (Chiang 2000). Traveling athletes and sports teams should receive similar training to avoid becoming victims of thieves, street criminals, stalkers, or terrorists.

Training also helps mitigate violence against athletes, particularly female athletes, from spectators, other athletes, and their own coaches (Kavanagh, 2014). This training is directed at both potential victims and perpetrators, in the case of team members and coaches. One institution, the Australian Football League (AFL), provides all of its athletes training in crime avoidance and sexual harassment. Another example, a U.S. program known as Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), prepares high school, collegiate and professional athletes for confrontations with aggressors through training that includes realistic role plays of sexual assaults, harassment and other forms of abuse of women (Palmer, 2011, pp. 18-20). Other types of training that could benefit athletes would be basic first aid and the prevention of Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT).

Ultimately the standardized or specialized training that should be considered for individuals or groups of athletes will be unique to the institution’s objectives, risk tolerance, and budget. However, a full list of practical and training topics for sports travel should be available for sports managers to choose from.

Depending on a team’s resources, some, if not all, training may be provided by its own security personnel if STTS talent exists in-house. In other cases, a better solution may be to outsource training to specialized STTS consultants.

Coordination Between Public and Private Sectors

Many special events occur on private property, with the leadership for the events shared among a mix of law enforcement, public safety, and private owners. Such situations only make coordination all the more important. Fussey (2013) and Connors (2007) both point out that private security should be a part of the command and control structure and that law enforcement has tended toward using private sector volunteers to help them carry out their responsibilities. Thus, for complex events, STTS practitioners oftentimes can assist law enforcement by embedding an STTS member into the command and control structure of the lead agency. The benefits of such volunteerism are increased communication, intelligence that would otherwise not be shared, and contacts for additional public (and host) resources when warranted.

There are many reasons why law enforcement may want to embed STTS professionals into its command structure. Whether law enforcement wishes or is willing to embed an STTS member into its command and control group will depend upon numerous factors. Among these factors are: the availability of security resources; the level of competence exhibited by the STTS member; factors of trust; and the perceived overall benefit to participants, the venue, and the spectators.  The embedded representative need not be an STTS manager; depending on the circumstances, a personable and well-trained communicator may be able to liaise between the sports team and law enforcement. The STTS liaison may remain posted in the command center or he or she may visit the center on a scheduled basis for updates.

Establishing Policies and Planning Early

In 2011, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) emphasized the importance of an early start in special events planning. Law enforcement executives from all walks and levels of government conferred at the conference with the hope of taking away lessons learned from myriad disasters and crises other departments had faced. The forum even included a former police chief turned National Football League (NFL) sports security executive. 

Those attending discussed national level crises beyond what an STTS professional would most likely face. Forum participants emphasized that the time to produce policies and procedures to deal with crises and emergencies, and train to fulfill them, is before planning begins for an event; they added that planning itself needs to start as early as possible. They noted that one of the main approaches that had resulted in STTS successes was an early start in emergency planning.

Strategic Use of Logistics

In a discussion of common themes that run through the disasters and crises that they have faced, the PERF executives noted that logistics has been a critical weak point. One solution is to have logistical supplies strategically dispersed and warehoused in different areas of their jurisdictions to cope with emergencies. When disaster strikes or a crisis blocks an egress route, security officers or other personnel dealing with the crisis may not have access to communications, medical supplies, gear, or whatever else may be needed unless they had the foresight to procure easy access to additional personnel, equipment and communications. As part of its preparations, the STTS group should also be sure to establish rapport with local individuals who may serve as a needed personnel reserves (PERF, 2011 p. 6).

Logistics discussions also cover some technical aspects of security operations—namely, the fact that a great deal of what once was expensive or hard-to-obtain technology is now easily obtainable and much cheaper. For example, it is not difficult to obtain and install CCTVs to monitor restricted space. This technology is no longer beyond the reach of most security organizations and surveillance cameras are now affordable, small, light, and portable, and can be useful additions to an STTS practitioners’ tool kit (PERF, 2011 p. 39; DCMS, 2008 pp. 16.18).

Assessments of Threats and Vulnerabilities

Connors (2007) also provides the best overview of the U.S. Government’s special events planning and management system in place. This system considers many factors, mostly of concern to national critical infrastructure, to evaluate the threats and vulnerabilities of major special events it will be asked to protect. The complexity of the formulas created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (CRS, 2008) are inappropriate to sports travel assessments, but a simplified version would be useful to an STTS manager.
Once a methodology for using the formula is created, the STTS practitioner may find objective assessments to be a rational way to approach an otherwise difficult to assess intangible problem: the questions of whether or not to travel, and how much security should be applied.

Communications

As noted above, some local police departments are beginning to look for ways to include other, smaller law enforcement agencies and even private security in a limited way in the lead agency’s communications center (Connors, 2007, p. 28). But doing so makes the maintenance of radio discipline a problem that these agencies must overcome, especially during a crisis. A solution is to issue radios on a different frequency to external agencies and private security elements. In the case of private security, only one radio is issued to each private concern’s supervisor. Another approach has been to issue listen-only radios to private security. This development may be a huge assistance to an STTS group, permitting it to stay in direct contact with law enforcement for quick support and timely intelligence.

Another potentially more viable form of communication for STTS managers is the use of social media (PERF, 2011, p. 37). Social media communication is available to STTS professionals at any moment and is not dependent on others. Services such as Twitter or Facebook are being used to broadcast updates to designated group members, such as an STTS entourage and can be composed and sent quickly.

The Importance of Good Media Relations

Organizations that have gone through crises know how integral media relations and an ongoing informational campaign can be throughout an event (Connors, 2007 p. xiv; Hall, Byon & Baker (2013). It is better to control the media by establishing rapport during the planning phase and cooperating with information during “good times” than to have the media produce a message without the STTS manager’s input when a crisis breaks (Island, 2016).

Medical Issues for Sports Travelers

There is a great deal of literature dealing with the topic of travel medicine. As noted previously, we found publications that directly address the medical and health needs of traveling athletes, alone or in teams (Heggie, 2009). One article in particular provides a thorough discussion about health concerns and provides checklists for athletes prior to and during travel (Kary & Lavalee, 2007).
Some people assume that athletes are in better shape than the population as a whole. However, athletes are not only vulnerable to certain health problems, but heavy travel schedules may also make athletes more vulnerable than individuals who do not travel. Following are examples of medical conditions faced by traveling athletes:

Eating disorders. Apart from the expected physical ailments, travel can also result in poor sleeping and eating habits.

Weather and atmospheric conditions. Climatic changes impact all travelers, athletes included. Weather difficulties can be a challenge when the athlete is in his or her own environment; but they become even more problematic when the athlete is not accustomed to the climatic conditions of the host area. Environmental changes such as altitude, humidity, change of food, time zones (and jet lag) can impact negatively on the athlete’s performance and health.

Pollution. Air pollution is hard on the lungs and especially hard on athletes who must exert a great deal of physical energy. What is physically challenging for people exercising in their own locale may become dangerous for visitors who must demonstrate a great deal of physical stress in a locale to which their bodies are not accustomed.

Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT). This condition is a potential health risk to traveling athletes. It should be noted that some 85% of air travel thrombosis victims are athletic, usually endurance athletes, and the great majority of DVT sufferers are younger than 60 years of age. The reason why so many victims of DVT are athletes has to do with several issues:

  1. Often athletes must take long flights;

  2. Many athletes are large;

  3. Airlines continue to reduce both the size of seats and the space between rows; and,

  4. Athletes often travel as a team in coach-class on commercial flights where space is limited and the opportunity to stretch one’s legs is minimal.

Body clocks and jet lag. East-west travel oftentimes requires that athletes cross one or more time zones at a rate faster than the body can adjust. In the case of north-south travel, there is less time zone crossing but an increased potential for climate changes. Competitive athletes suffer even more stress when traveling than do those in the general public. For example, Schwellnus, et al. (2012) noted that athletes who cross five time zones to compete run a much higher risk of getting sick than when they play on their home turf. 

Jet lag is not only hard on the body but also impacts an athlete’s ability to make rapid decisions and to perform. Jet lag also produces a “visiting team's disadvantage.”

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