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Southern Miss at forefront on college sports security training

The events of September 11, 2001, drove home some tragic lessons. Terrorists look for large gatherings of people to attack. And law enforcement personnel and other officials need a clear cut plan to deal with moving people out of affected areas so as to facilitate proper and speedy response.

A stadium full of college football fans or an arena jammed with college basketball enthusiasts is a perfect venue for such attacks. To that end, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has received funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to train key personnel responsible for security management of intercollegiate athletic events across the U.S. The training will be provided through USM’s Center for Spectator Sports Security Management (CSSM), an interdisciplinary center affiliated with the university’s School of Human Performance and Recreation.

Cheering safely

The federal funding, awarded in October, was provided through Homeland Security’s Competitive Training Grant Program, which supports training programs that focus on high priority national homeland security needs. The total amount of the grant was nearly $3.5 million.

USM’s CSSM will use the funding to educate and train an estimated 5,370 officials at 1,055 institutions by conducting 95 regional workshops. CSSM will design, develop and deliver a national risk management training certification. Targeted personnel will include athletic administrators, campus police, emergency medical officials, fire departments, hazardous materials experts and local emergency management directors.

Certification will include a pre-training online package, onsite training, an athletic conference workshop and take-home transition package.

The program is currently in full swing at USM. Earlier this month, the CSSM announced it would soon offer universities a $1-million computer simulation training tool that, according to the university, offers a closer experience to real-life emergency stadium evacuation scenarios over current tools.

CSSM director Dr. Lou Marciani says, “Up to now, those training have had to do physical tabletop exercises. But now with the new software training package, universities will be able to practice the ‘What if?’ scenarios in a simulated model, making it even more realistic than ever.”

Managed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the simulation software is designed to increase sports security awareness, improve sports security policies and procedures and enhance emergency response with evacuation, recovery operations, natural disasters and crowd management.

“We will tailor the 3-D models and the software according to their stadium and crowd characteristics of their university or college,” says Dr. Adel Ali, director of the USM School of Computing, which developed the simulation software.

Each stadium model includes crowd dynamics with thousands of individuals with a wide spectrum of characteristics and profiles. Ali adds that officials who train with the center would learn to use the advanced features of the systems in order to create their own particular training scenarios.

Marciani says the tool would continue to evolve and update as sports security situations arise.

Certifications have already been earned in Mississippi. Officials with USM, Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) and The University of Mississippi have completed their pilot project training. The three institutions will receive the Sports Event Security Aware Seal of Approval (SESA).

“I am very proud of the fact that our Mississippi institutions will be rewarded for their effort in sport security management by being the first in the nation to achieve the certification,” Marciani says.

Tommy Verdell Jr., director of facilities management at MVSU, says, “Training and certification assures fans of the competence and accountability of our security.

CSSM officials, in partnership with the National Association of Directors of Collegiate Athletics, will soon schedule the regional conference workshops. These events will allow participants to form security management teams that will eventually train with the CSSM and be audited for SESA certification.

Center of focus

The CSSM was established in 2005 to specifically focus on research, education and outreach efforts in sports event security. It addresses a myriad of issues constituting potential and actual threats to the ongoing security and safety of sporting events and venues are addressed including terrorist activities and attacks, weapons of mass destruction, explosions, crowd control, societal and fan violence and natural disasters.

Services available include: external vulnerability assessments of sports event venues; event day audits; training modules for checker, ticket takers, ushers and vendors; threat/risk assessments; teamwork training for incident command control; virtual stadium/arena system for training event staff; and, facilitation of tabletop or functional emergency response drills.

Marciani oversees all of these efforts and activities. In June 2004, he was named director of the School of Human Performance and Recreation at USM, where Marciani served as associate athletics director of recreational sports from 1974-1984 and as associate athletics director for external affairs from 1989-1991.

Marciani has served as assistant dean of academic affairs and continuing education for the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala. His experience includes serving the U.S. Olympic Committee as executive director of USA Rollers Sports and executive director of the Amateur Athletic union. Marciani has also served in intercollegiate athletics administration at Salisbury University, East Stroudsburg University, Western Kentucky University and Drexel University. In addition, he has been an instructor, associate professor and a member of the graduate faculty at several institutions.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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