As bleak and barbaric a night as it was in Paris on Friday the 13th, it could have been worse. Islamic terrorists struck in multiple locations in the City of Lights and succeeded in temporarily bringing one of the world’s finest cities to its knees. One of the locations targeted was an 80,000 seat sports stadium (Stade de France) that, at the time, had an international soccer match ongoing, with thousands of spectators, including French President François Hollande. Shortly after the match began, a terrorist wearing a vest filled with bolts and explosives was detected trying to gain entry by a security guard while being frisked. Police suspect the original plan was to detonate the pack inside the stadium, sending a panicked crowd stampeding into the streets where two more suicide bombers awaited to set off their devices. If ISIS had succeeded in penetrating Stade de France that night, not only would the death toll have been exponentially higher, they even would have had an opportunity to assassinate a major head of State.
If such a plot was hatched on U.S. soil, it is reasonable to ask how American stadiums would fair in similar circumstances. On the plus side, sports stadiums are no longer the soft targets that they were prior to 9/11. In the ensuing 14 years much has changed regarding stadium standard operating procedures, and the following security upgrades are generally now universal for all large stadiums:
CCTV — Prior to 9/11 stadium camera coverage was spotty. Now most stadiums have near total coverage of their property by cameras, and thanks to improvements in technology, the camera footage is sharper and has capabilities to zoom in on a particular subject or out several hundred feet. Today’s cameras are also designed to swivel, so they can cover different angles.
Metal detectors — Like the screening process that took place at Stade de France, robust screening is now the norm for most stadiums. In recent years both the National Football League and Major League Baseball have established a firm set of rules before entry. Today all fans and employees entering the stadium prior to a game have to go through a metal detector.
Cooperation — It is now common for stadiums, leagues, teams and government entities like Homeland Security, FBI, and local police to share information about threats, unusual behavior, and best practices. It is also widespread for stadiums to work with the authorities to stage emergency drills and train for how best to manage a catastrophic event.
Internal Improvements — Stadiums are also doing a better job checking vendor manifests to make sure deliveries are accounted for, as well as checking under delivery trucks with mirrors to make sure a bomb isn’t being smuggled in via the underneath carriage. Most, if not all, large American stadiums now have barriers surrounding their perimeter to reduce the possibility of a car bomb being rammed into their façades.
As great as those improvements are, stadiums are still grappling with a host of issues:
Drones — Drones are seemingly popping up everywhere and are becoming more advanced with each passing day. How long will it be before terrorists figure out a way to arm a drone with explosives, and what actions can stadiums take to prevent them from flying into open air stadiums?
Active Shooter — Metal detectors and check points saved additional carnage in Stade de France, but fans coming to a large sporting event still need to queue at some point and go through metal detectors. While standing in line outside the stadium, spectators are vulnerable to an attack by an active shooter as they await entry.
The Inside Job — If the terrorists find a way to get sympathizers and followers hired into a few key stadium positions, they could compromise some of the key security safeguards stadiums have in place.
But no matter how hard stadiums are working to protect themselves, it is understood that terrorists are also working day and night planning retribution for all who don’t enthusiastically support their dark beliefs. As more protections are put in place, the terrorists evolve and try a new angle. Just last night a soccer match in Germany had to be canceled. If the reports are correct, the terrorists were planning to use a van full of explosives dressed as an ambulance when the plot was fortunately foiled.
Protecting stadiums from terrorists is a lot like treating the symptom and not the disease. The disease, of course, is Islamic radical terrorism, and in the years since 9/11 it is clear that Western leaders still have not come up with an effective counter strategy. Until they do, the risk to the general public will remain.
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