Scanning the Crowd

Super Bowl 2012 saw 
heightened security as the estimated 70,000 fans filtered into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. U.S military, local police, and a cadre of federal agencies put officers on the ground watching for threats. They were electronically aided in their search by x-ray machines, surveillance cameras, video command centers, air quality monitors, and five remote-controlled bomb-handling robots. While for you the worst thing that may have happened was running out of crab dip at your viewing party (unless, of course, you’re a Patriots fan), planners know that crowds are rich targets to thieves and terrorists and use technology to thwart them.

What about the rich targets at your school?

While schools rarely, if ever, stage Super Bowl-sized events, they still host large public gatherings such as football games, concerts, and graduations. Sometimes the event is small but the stakes are high, like inviting a controversial speaker onto campus. Yet electronic threat detection is still quite rare at colleges.
“Event security is a growing market,” reports Jim Viscardi, vice president of global sales, Smiths Detection. “But colleges are behind other venues when it comes to electronic security for big gatherings.”

Alison Kiss, executive director, Security on Campus, Inc., agrees. “There is a new provision in the Clery Act that schools have to have a plan in place and test it yearly,” she says, “But there is nothing about having metal detectors or the like on campus.”

Cost is probably the number one barrier to electronic security at events. “Handheld metal detectors can be as inexpensive as $200 per unit,” reports Steve Moore, marketing communications manager, Garrett Metal Detectors. “But they require someone to operate the device, and can cause a bottleneck at the door. Large metal detectors can run up to $5,000 a unit and still need people to operate [them].”

“Most of a college’s security budget today goes to response people: local police, fire, and HAZMAT officers in case of an event,” says Viscardi. Electronic device budgets today are reserved for notification systems that warn in the case of an active shooter or similar immediate threat. But that focus could shift quickly.

All three agree that all it would take is one tragic event at a large venue to bring interest to the forefront. If and when the conversation ever comes to electronic surveillance, all recommend a layered approach. “There is no silver bullet to security,” explains Viscardi. “But there are a variety of devices that can be used for a comprehensive solution.”

Options to Consider
Viscardi suggests starting in the parking lot with a product like a small, lightweight, handheld device that can detect trace amounts of explosives, chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, or narcotics. If a school suspects radioactive material would be a threat, a handheld radioisotope identifier can measure the radiation dose and the type of the radioisotope, and can also determine the direction where the radiation comes. “Once you screen for explosives in the parking lot you don’t have to screen again, so it eliminates bottlenecks,” says Viscardi. Viscardi also stress that along with people, goods need to be screened as well. “Products like T-shirts and concessions come into the building on large pallets, and they need to be checked out,” he says.

Once past the parking lot, standard metal detectors can screen for weapons. “They are great deterrents,” says Moore. Walk-through devices should be set to an appropriate level. “A prison environment might not want to let any metal in, but that wouldn’t be right for a college arena. That said, metal detectors can be very sensitive. They can identify the type of metal and exactly where on the body it is found. “If something is found, then a handheld device could be used” to provide a secondary screening, says Moore.

Moore emphasizes that staffing the metal detector and checkpoint adds more cost. “You might have one person directing traffic, one more searching bags, a third to tell the person to walk through the detector, and a fourth to operate a handheld device,” he says. “A small operation can have one person doing all the jobs, but for a large event you need a team.”

Not all threats come in a metal package, however. To detect airborne particles, products called automated fixed-site chemical warfare agent (CWA) and toxic industrial chemicals (TIC) threat air-monitoring and detection system units can come into play. After sending out an alarm and identifying the threat, these devices can control the air-handling system to contain the substance. “We also have a system that works well in outdoor venues,” Viscardi adds.

Viscardi likens these different devices to “charms on a bracelet. It’s all part of the security package that should include cameras and, ideally, a central command post,” he says. Ideally, that command post will feature a computer-based networking solution that links all of the “charms” and allows experts to view what is going on in real time and go back to archived files.

Match Security Measures 
to the Perceived Threat

The whiz-bang aspect of all of this technology is impressive — and expensive. But is it necessary? “Anything that prevents crime has our support,” says Kiss. But she acknowledges that economic times remain tough, and when running a security department you should look for the best bang for your buck. “Blue light phones were an expensive priority a while back,” she says of the safety phones installed on campus grounds, “but now they are obsolete. Physical devices like metal detectors are another useful layer, but could provide a school with a false sense of security. Schools still need education programs and notification systems and officers on the ground.”

But as time goes on, these devices will become, “smaller, lighter, faster, and less expensive,” insists Viscardi. “Event security as a whole is a growing market, but I don’t know if it will ever really reach colleges, unless there is an event. Security is an investment that must match the perceived threat.” 

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