10 years after 9-11, stadiums still a target
DENVER (AP) – Like so many sports fans, Dan and Kitty Ellison have noticed the changes, however slight.
Where they used to simply hand the usher their ticket and head straight into Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies game, they now make a brief stop in a bag-check lane, where a security guard takes a look through their belongings to make sure they’re not carrying anything on the long list of prohibited items.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Kitty Ellison said, “but it doesn’t take much longer.”
It has been nearly 10 years since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 changed the way we go to the ballpark.
Just as a trip to the airport has changed – remember the quaint notion of meeting your loved one at the gate? – there are some things that no one takes for granted anymore at the 70,000-seat stadiums and 20,000-capacity arenas that still are widely regarded as prime targets for terrorist attacks.
The list of items fans can’t bring in has increased while the size of bags allowed to carry in the approved stuff has shrunk. Waits outside the stadium have grown longer and security measures have increased in ways both visible (more police, security guards) and nearly invisible (closed-circuit cameras, facial-recognition devices).
Through all these changes, a couple of key questions have lingered:
– Is it worth giving up some convenience and freedom of movement in exchange for more security?
– And, do these measures really make us more secure?
“In stadiums, just like in the airport, it’s this whole idea of ‘security theater’ as opposed to doing things that really make us safe,” said Derek Catsam, an associate professor at University of Texas of the Permian Basin, who has studied the safety issue in stadiums.
“For instance, there’s no legitimate justification for not letting people bring bottles of water into the stadium on a 95-degree day in Austin, Texas. But overall, I think we’re safer because we’re more vigilant. And I think that sometimes happens independently of the policies in place at each particular stadium.”
Catsam also points out that the types of security measures most fans see at the game are designed more to fend off small violent acts – a person with a gun or knife, for instance – than some type of large-scale attack, “which is the kind of thing that is a tiny, tiny, tiny slice of our history.”
But in the direct aftermath of 9-11, it was that kind of attack that Americans feared most, and protecting two of America’s most venerable venues – Yankee Stadium and the Superdome in New Orleans – were the most pressing, and daunting, tasks at hand.
Yankee Stadium hosted Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series and security was at an all-time high. A few months later, downtown New Orleans took on the look of an armed encampment, with tanks and soldiers in camouflage roaming the streets, trying to ensure safety at the Super Bowl – America’s biggest sporting event.
Even with a no-fly zone in effect over the dome, it was nerve-racking being inside that stadium. The game went off without a hitch, though. A month later, the most heavily fortified Olympics in history took place in Salt Lake City, where Olympic officials spent $310 million on security.
That created a template that has been followed ever since, and the world’s biggest sporting event has been secure, even if it has come at the cost of hours of waiting, hundreds of security checkpoints, thousands of metal detectors and billions of dollars.
“We have to see to it that that continues,” IOC member Gerhard Heiberg said. “Hopefully we will manage to keep an eye on it and that we will not have any Munich 1972 or 9-11 again.”
But Heiberg, who was president of the organizing committee for the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games, conceded that just as the days of bringing a huge backpack full of clothes, umbrellas and food into the stadium are all but gone, so is the free-flowing atmosphere of the well-regarded Olympics that he ran.
In Europe and other places overseas, the post-9-11 effect wasn’t as big, mainly because enhanced security was already a thing of the present by 2001, in large part due to a rise in hooliganism at soccer games.
For instance, in responding to soccer violence, the British government adopted legislation that created uniform security measures for every soccer club playing in the country’s top four divisions.
The U.S. government hasn’t moved anywhere near that, though the individual leagues have provided their stadiums and teams lists of best practices to follow. Hundreds of colleges and universities, meanwhile, receive training from the National Center for Spectator Sports, Safety and Security (NCS4), which was founded in 2006 to help fill a void in training and emergency planning that became apparent after the 9-11 attacks.
“These days, I think we see more people focusing in on their plans – their game day operation plan, their emergency-response plan, their evacuation plan,” said Stacey Hall, associate director at NCS4. “In the past, we found a lot of people who said they had all that stuff in their head, or in a manual gathering dust on the shelves. They hadn’t kept up with it on an annual basis.”
It took a crisis to get them to pull the manuals off the shelves. Catsam imagines it would take something else drastic before we see the next ramp-up of security in stadiums.
“Because of 9-11, we’ve become significantly more vigilant,” Catsam said. “But there were no substantial attacks in stadiums prior to that and there haven’t been any since and you can’t really prove the causality or correlation of any of it.
“But you do know that if they had come up with some of these security policies in the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001, Americans almost certainly would’ve been outraged by it,” he said.
Instead, only a handful of invasion of privacy lawsuits were filed by disgruntled fans in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Most sports-loving Americans have accepted – even welcomed – the security-for-easy access trade, even if the extra police presence said something implicitly unnerving about the world we live in.
“They’ve done a good job of integrating it into every day,” New Yorker Phil Curcio said at a Yankees game earlier this month. “Or, you’re just so used to seeing it, you don’t notice it.”