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Game Day Guardians

September 18, 2013
 | 
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

GAME DAY GUARDIANS

tremendous teamwork from campus, local, state and federal authorities
help to protect Kyle Field and The 12th Man

by Samantha Renteria
12th Man Productions

With the “game of the year” held this past Saturday in College Station between Texas A&M and Alabama, all eyes were on Aggieland and Kyle Field. A crowd of nearly 88,000 was inside the stadium, and officials estimated at least another 40,000 on the campus-- enjoying tailgates, hanging out in the MSC, and exploring around and about Texas A&M and the city of College Station.

The physical strain on the city brings excitement but it also requires great insight into every potential danger or concern that could affect any particular guest.

Accommodating around 90,000 guests is no easy feat--especially when, come a game day Saturday, they are confined to the relatively small area of Kyle Field and its immediate vicinity.

Preparations for the A&M/Alabama game—and every game—begin months in advance when a team of agencies and departments from within A&M and from around the city, county, and state sit down to create operational policies and emergency response plans. Those range from inclement weather policies, to emergency response plans, heat management plans, visiting team’s guides, and even procedures for dealing with potential acts of terrorism or violence.

"We all come together for major events, including football games, and we work very well together. That is not how it works in most areas of the country."

- Scott Hines, Brazos County Sheriff's Office

With this many guests coming to campus each football game day, emergency procedures and protocols have been established to respond to nearly every incident.

These policies are put into action and executed under the leadership of the University Police Department in conjunction with Associate Athletic Director and game manager Mike Caruso. Caruso heads up Kyle Field’s gameday operations, which includes a command center--a central communication point for all agencies working the event.

Cameras monitor both campus and Kyle Field, while computers track weather patterns. Representatives from every department are present in the command center so that, if a situation should occur, FBI, Bryan/College Station police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, medical EMTs, the local fire departments, and more can easily communicate with their teams and collaborate with their neighbors to address the issue.

The overwhelmingly majority of guests have a good experience and when leaving the event think, “Oh that was nice. That was fun. I’m glad everything went well.” And then they return home. But from the perspective of those overseeing the safety of Kyle Field, there is a lot of planning and a lot of teamwork that goes into it.

With governors and former presidents frequently present to watch the Aggies play on Kyle Field, extra surveillance is used to provide information and updates on any activity that could warrant extra attention. Surveillance is centered in the command center, where law enforcement and security can view campus-wide and Kyle Field-specific cameras to ensure the safety of all guests.

Lt. John Fisher of the Special Operations Division at the Texas A&M University Police helps to lead this surveillance. Making sure prohibited items don’t come into the stadium (i.e. weapons, alcohol, etc) is a major component of guest safety. But weather is also a huge concern.

“In our first game against Rice, we were concerned about the excessive heat and all the issues that come with that,” Fisher said. “Our weather concerns for the last game, Sam Houston State, began with us being concerned about excessive heat but that changed rapidly to concerns with lightning and whether we would need to evacuate the stadium.”

Other game day concerns also include dealing with intoxicated fans, fighting, and assisting patrons through the bad behavior of others, including vulgar language. Command uses the strong communication network between agencies to communicate with law enforcement and personnel inside the stadium to address these issues.

If there is anything bad that might happen inside of the game day experience of any nature, then law enforcement takes over. Police helps to run the event and if, in turn, something does occur, they receive support from the entire event management team.

“We, the event staff, support them,” Caruso said. “It’s a mutual aid arrangement.”

But as we know, crowds always change. You can never predict what is to happen from week to week.

“Our responsibility as event managers is to make sure that we don’t stay complacent, that we always stay on our toes,” Caruso said.

And he is right. The Boston Marathon bombing is a perfect example.

Everyone says that “nothing like that could happen in here because it never has in the past”. Well, that’s not true, because it had never happened at the Boston Marathon before, and that resulted in great harm and loss of life.

So game management staff trains and practices what-if scenarios. They practice crowd evacuation management and protocols. The command group and anyone who would be called upon in “what-if” situations participate in practice and protocol training.

Scott Hines, Patrol Lieutenant with the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office, has been working with the Texas A&M Police Department and assisting with the security of Kyle Field on game day since 2007. Just like Caruso and Fisher, Hines recognizes that Aggieland is a special place.

Game day security includes College Station Police Department, Bryan Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas A&M University Police Department, Texas A&M safety and security, and the College Station Fire Department—and these groups share a very unique relationship.

“We all come together for major events, including football games, and we work very well together,” Hines said. “That is not how it works in most areas of the country. All of the law enforcement agencies have a representative in the command center at football games.  We all sit side by side and find solutions to game day problems together.  We know that a home football game is too large for any one local agency to handle so we have to work together to achieve a safe event.”

Texas A&M is fortunate because all the people involved with the game day experience understand the importance of law enforcement and security in establishing a safe environment and ultimately work together to produce a fun and safe event.

 “I think I am very fortunate here at Texas A&M because of the amount of cooperation and collaboration that we have,” Caruso said. “I teach workshops for Homeland Security and for TEEX (Texas Engineering Extension Service) for sport event risk management both here locally and around the country, and when I go around to other large universities and start to talk about this teamwork they need…a lot of them don’t have that level of coordination and cooperation.”

So enjoy your game days, all 90,000 of you, and rest assured that those in Kyle Field Command are keeping you safe with plans in place to address any issue that could arise.




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