United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano stressed the importance of “shared responsibility” during her address at the inaugural National Sports Safety and Security Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.
Napolitano spoke to a packed audience of more than 325 security professionals on the opening day of the three-day (Aug. 2-4) conference hosted by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at The University of Southern Mississippi.
“All of us recognize the long-standing risks that face sports teams and fans in our country. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be having a conference like this,” said Napolitano. “But we can’t do the job of protecting our stadiums and by ourselves. That’s why we need the citizenry of our country to join us in a new campaign called ‘see something; say something.’
“We’re encouraging citizens everywhere that if you see something out of the ordinary, then say something to law enforcement or stadium attendants. This kind of force multiplier allows a simple mechanism far beyond what law enforcement can normally provide.”
Framed by the theme, “Balancing the Fan Experience with Security & Safety,” the conference features security experts and vendors from every corner of the United States. Several representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security are also attending.
Tuesday’s agenda calls for a special address by Dr. Keith Still, a professor at Bucks New University Centre for Crowd Management and Security Studies in Buckinghamshire, England. Still is a nationally renowned security consultant and speaker who has lent his expertise to the Sydney, Beijing and upcoming London Olympics.
Panel discussions involving representatives from NCAA Division I institutions and officials from several professional sports organizations will also be part of the conference’s second-day format.
Southern Miss President Martha Saunders opened the conference by noting that NCS4 had emerged as a national resource. “Southern Miss has taken a lead role in forming a national consortium to address what sports safety and security should be in the future.”
“Through your efforts we can enhance the capability to detect threats to our safety and security,” said Saunders. “If we’re ever deprived of our ability to gather and cheer our sports teams, it would destroy a way of life that is uniquely human and as old as civilization itself.”
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell closed out the opening day’s schedule by recognizing the important task of protecting fans that often goes unnoticed.
“You guys assembled here at the ones working behind the scenes who seldom get the credit you deserve,” he said. “This conference offers an opportunity to learn from one another and share best practices and solutions to improve upon what we are charged to do.”
Goodell acknowledged that packed sports stadiums, which feature up to 70,000 fans at NFL games and more than 100,000 at college football games and NASCAR events, represent prime targets for terrorists.
“Terrorism is a real risk and I have always assumed that we’re a target,” said Goodell. “We have to remain vigilant and our efforts must be geared toward an aggressive position to keep attacks from happening at our sporting events. Because if it happens in another stadium, then it will affect us all. We have to make sure that our fans come to games, feel comfortable about being there and know that they will be safe.”
The conference concludes Wednesday with more panel discussions and a closing address by retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, who coordinated the Hurricane Katrina recovery operation.