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Protecting facilities and event spaces

This is an excerpt from Security and Risk Assessment for Facility and Event Managers With HKPropel Access by Stacey Hall,James A. McGee & Walter E. Cooper.

The Threat Environment

The tragic events on 9/11 caused a sweeping change in thinking about protecting facilities and spaces where large numbers of people congregate, and the park and recreation industry was no exception. Before 9/11, security for recreation managers was focused on the well-being of patrons, staff, and facilities. It meant preventing small-scale personal and property crime and vandalism (Martin, 2002). Post–9/11, recreational facilities must be safeguarded as a whole, which means preparing for large-scale attacks that require extensive emergency response planning and training. Parks or recreational facilities that are highly symbolic of American life (i.e., national monuments) could be terrorist targets. These facilities and spaces can be considered soft targets given their accessibility to the general public with limited security screening. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. National Park Service briefly shut down all national monuments, fearing that they could be potential targets (Martin, 2002). Besides terrorism, management should prepare and plan for a wide range of threats, including the following.

  • Active shooter
  • Assault
  • Insider threat
  • Cyberattack
  • Severe weather
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Arson
  • Hazardous spills
  • Accidents
  • Public health crisis

In a study of the security of public recreation centers (n = 116), over two-thirds of respondents reported that facility security had become more of a concern (Steinbach, 2015). The increased concern is primarily because of events that had taken place at their own facility, although some attributed their heightened concern to incidents occurring elsewhere in the United States. The most common security incidents that respondents faced include theft, unauthorized access, patron-on-patron violence, natural disaster, abduction, active shooter, and bomb threats. In regards to firearms, 33 percent of respondents say laws in their area permit individuals to carry guns into their facility or outdoor events; however, 84 percent believe that permit-carrying patrons should not be allowed to bring guns to their facilities or events. According to Steinbach (2015), 92 percent of survey respondents spend 10 percent or less of their operational budget on security, and nearly 30 percent have not invested in a security technology upgrade within the past 10 years.

Even though the prospect of encountering an active shooter situation ranked low in Steinbach’s study (2015), previous incidents reinforce the need to reduce the risk of this foreseeable threat. For example, in the city of Philadelphia in 2007, there were several shooting incidents at public recreation centers, with one resulting in an 18-month-old being critically wounded by an errant bullet. In 2015, video surveillance captured the shooting of a 23-year-old at a recreation center. The same week, a 42-year-old was executed outside a recreation center with approximately 100 children and their parents inside (Brown, 2008; Steinbach, 2015). Furthermore, in 2019, the Philadelphia Department of Health reported a total of 1,469 shooting victims within one block of a public space, and 47 percent were injured or killed within one city block of schools, recreation centers, or parks (Philadelphia Department of Health, 2020). There have also been recorded active shooter incidents at public recreation centers in North Carolina, New York, California, Virginia, and Nevada. Unfortunately, the frequency of active shooter incidents in the United States has increased over the past several years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a total of 333 incidents with over 2,800 casualties between 2000 and 2019. The majority of incidents occurred at businesses open to pedestrian traffic (29 percent), followed by open spaces (15 percent) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2021). An additional 29 active shooter incidents occurred in open spaces between 2020 and 2021, including incidents at public parks and campgrounds (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2022).

Parks and recreation spaces can be taken over by undesirable activity, becoming sites for drug dealing and delinquent behavior and living spaces for the homeless. Although location and demographics can play a role in crime, undesirable incidents can happen in any public facility or space in any neighborhood (Tal, 2021). Larceny, vandalism, assault, murder, and missing persons are possible issues that park services and recreation departments must contend with. The National Park Service has an Investigative Services Branch that deals with crime, including violence, property crimes, fraud, embezzlement, resource violations, and drug cultivation (National Park Service Investigative Services, 2022). Local parks and recreation facilities primarily rely on security staff and local law enforcement.

Cybersecurity is an emerging issue across all industries. City and county organizations must understand that the cyberthreat is increasing. According to Meister (2020), ransomware attacks are a growing threat to local municipal governments. More than 174 municipalities suffered attacks in 2019, up more than 60 percent over 2018. The amount of ransom demanded is increasing, and more people are paying it (Vigliarolo, 2020). Park services and recreation departments hosting customer data are at risk of such attacks and should boost their cyber defense mechanisms and adequately train staff on cyber awareness and handling sensitive personal information.

Examples of incidents at parks and recreational facilities include the following.

  • In 2021, two people were wounded when a 22-year-old male fired shots in Lock 4 Park in Gallatin, Tennessee.
  • In 2021, one person was killed and four wounded in a shooting incident at Cleveland Park in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
  • In 2020, one person was killed when shots were fired into a large crowd in Jefferson Square Park in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • In 2020, a shooting incident occurred in the Tin Cup Campground within the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Challis, Idaho. No casualties were reported.
  • In 2020, an individual fired shots into a group of people gathered in West Garfield Park in Chicago. Four people were wounded.
  • Acts of vandalism occurred at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in March 2022.
  • Arson and theft of government property were recorded at the Round Spring Visitor Contact Station at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in December 2021.
  • Shots were fired during a Little League baseball game in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in 2021.
  • In 2021, a 16-year-old boy was attacked on the basketball court at a recreation center in Atlanta. The assault was recorded and went viral.
  • In November 2020, two men were shot on their way to use the handball courts at the Linda Vista Recreation Center in San Diego.
  • Severe weather resulted in the evacuation of thousands of concertgoers at the Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2012 and 2015.
  • A personal trainer was charged with identity theft in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The information stolen was shared with a potential terrorist to create a fake identity.
More Excerpts From Security and Risk Assessment for Facility and Event Managers With HKPropel Access