Paris attacks highlight the crucial role of event security
Friday, November 20, 2015
With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we were reminded that disaster reaches beyond crime scenes and into daily lives. That touches home whether people are attending conferences at large gathering sites or fans heading to the arena or stadium for a game.
The changes to security after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., were so dramatic that it's difficult to remember, now decades later, what ordinary circumstances such as attending concerts, conventions or sporting events were like before then. Government buildings not that long ago were accessible without passing through metal detectors, something that is unthinkable today.
One area that illustrates the difference is airport departure terminals. Airports took on massive reconstruction after 9/11 to establish those mazes of screenings that frustrate travelers but provide an unprecedented level of protection to the industry that transports Americans around the globe — including to those concerts, conventions and sporting events.
The Paris bombings further distanced us from that lack of awareness. Once again, the sporting world was drawn into the dark world of terrorism, and once again it responded demonstratively.
As 80,000 fans — including French President Francois Hollande — inside Paris' Stade de France took in a soccer match between the host country and Germany on Nov. 13, a suicide bomber was trying to enter the stadium. He was turned away by security when a guard discovered the bomber's explosives vest during a pre-entry check. As the terrorist backed away from the stadium, he detonated the vest, which officials believe was intended to cause a stampede if detonated inside the crowded building.
The cover of Sports Illustrated on Sept. 24, 2001 — just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. (Image: Sports Illustrated)
In the wake of that, a soccer match between Germany and Holland scheduled to be played four days later at the 45,000-seat HDI Arena in Hanover, Germany, was canceled when authorities determined that explosives were targeted for the stadium.
Caution around sporting events — particularly soccer — is not a new phenomenon in Europe and other locations outside the United States, but it's still disconcerting. And caution must be at the top of the list as France prepares to play host to the European Championships next summer. In this day and age, that goes without saying.
Paris serves as a reminder in that regard to organizers around the world, as the fatal bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013 did. Security officials long ago figured out that large crowds of distracted Americans provide ample targets for those with nefarious means. Long lines outside stadium entries, searches of pockets and purses, metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs have become as much a part of sports in the United States as hot dog vendors and massive video boards.
The 9/11 attacks laid the groundwork for that change, as Sports Illustrated predicted weeks after that tragedy.
That has given rise to devices such as the Qylatron Entry Experience Solution, an innovative scanner that can process up to 600 fans in an hour at San Francisco's Levi Stadium. The NFL, which stood in the center of the sports-security spotlight after the 9/11 attacks and postponed its slate of games that week, reacted to the Paris bombings by planning to increase security at its games this week, issuing a statement to assure its fans of the league's diligence.
Airports and stadiums are not the only locations where security has increased. More venues ranging from subways to movie theaters work with the Department of Homeland Security to establish procedures to keep people safe.
A tragedy involving thousands can happen in the blink of an eye, but tremendous steps are taken at venues every day to make sure that doesn't happen.
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