Rising To The Top: Which Security Tech To Use?

Courtesy Stratoscope

NO NEED TO DIVEST: Next-generation security screening tools like the Evolv Express bring artificial intelligence to bear.

There’s been a rush of products and services aimed at addressing venue security, health and safety in the age of COVID-19. The devices present challenges for venue managers that must separate the wheat of effective technology from the chaff of snake oil solutions that are untested and unlikely to perform as advertised, say experts in the field.

“It’s one thing to have a technology founder or developer come and tell you, ‘I’ve got this great technology. We think it’s going to work well for this industry.’ It’s another thing to have a third party really put it through its paces in an operational sense and ensure that we understand how to apply that technology to this industry,” said security consultant Dan Donovan, founder and managing partner of Stratoscope.

“Go see the product in action, talk to other venues that have purchased and installed the equipment you’re interested in. They will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Larry Perkins, president and CEO of Perkins Crowd Management Group and assistant general manager at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Perkins said it’s also wise to approach new technology pitches with specific questions geared toward individual facilities. “You might have additional protocols that will be implemented at your venue that are not a part of the system in use at theirs,” he said.

“Understand the licensing process. For example, you just don’t plug in an X-ray machine and start operating. No. State and local environmental radiation agencies require licensing, operating certifications and inspections and if you move the X-ray to another venue, it has to be approved. Do you have the space to fit an X-ray machine? Is it heated and waterproof? Understand all aspects before leaping in.”

Damon Zumwalt, president and CEO of Contemporary Services Corp., says vetting new technology is crucial and requires patience “to study, compare products and get advice from real experts, and also recommendations from those that have experience with the products or companies involved with them.” “It’s often the habit to relegate purchasing to a department which doesn’t have operational experience and solely relies on a paper proposal without fact checking,” he said. “This is a dangerous proposition. The implementation of staffing and safety measures are just too important not to have greater consideration.”

Contactless screening solutions, notably the Evolv Express units from Evolv Technology that were used at the College Football Playoff at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, are gaining a foothold at venues where friction- free guest experiences that boost safety and security are the order of the day, says Donovan. The walk-through metal detector has greater throughput and is paired with artificial intelligence software to hone the device’s accuracy, reducing false-positives to less than a third of traditional magnetometers.

Stratoscope has a deal with Evolv to lease the contactless systems to arenas and stadiums.

“We’ve got to maintain our security posture and still be able to get guests in in a touchless, frictionless process and that’s where some new technologies have come to light that are really assisting a number of venues,” Donovan said. “Evolv has come out with a metal detection device where the guests are not having to empty their pockets. We’re only going to see more products like that come to the marketplace.”

Another technology gaining traction is the Clear ticketing solution that uses biometrics such as fingerprint and retinal scans to identify and admit venue guests. Clear recently raised $100 million in a funding round that included 32 Equity, the investment arm of the NFL.

“If you can integrate an Evolv unit with the Clear platform, there’s no need to touch anyone,” said Akmal Ali, founder and CEO of Aluma, a Washington, D.C.-based risk management and security advisory firm that specializes in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Safety Act program.

The International Association of Venue Managers, through its Academy for Venue Safety and Security, informs attendees about properly vetted technology that works in facilities.

“What you’re basically doing is adding layers to reduce levels of severity and of the risk,” said Mark Herrera, IAVM’s Director of Education and Life Safety. “If technology is a part of it that’s a win.” Drones are other high-tech tools used to secure sports and entertainment venues, especially on the perimeters. Stratoscope works with a company called Unified Command that deploys tethered drones, among other technologies, to add a layer of security at events.

One company, D-Fend Solutions, based in Israel with a U.S. unit in Washington, D.C., has been in business since 2017. It touts its cyber radio frequency system technology to identify if an aircraft is friend or foe, and can take control of the drone and safely land it.

Zumwalt says drones can be used to boost security efforts. “There are drones that cost $200 and drones that cost $20 million that can be used in a variety of ways,” he said. “There is presently an effort to load a drone with a highly accurate nuclear detection and analysis system to detect clandestine materials and explosives from a large standoff distance which could enhance the safety of the perimeter of venues and parking lots,” he said. “Drone science is ever-evolving, and parallel to that is the science for drone detection for preventative safety measures.”

Radio communications are another key aspect of venue security and Motorola Solutions has rolled out a smart radio called the Mototrbo Ion. It’s kind of a walkie-talkie on steroids, combining the assets of a smartphone, including wireless accessibility, with a push-to-talk two-way radio. The company completed an 18-month development at the end of 2020 and is touting the Ion as a valuable tool for use in venues, a segment in which Motorola Solutions already has a presence, according to company engineer Carlos Camps.
The technology remains in test mode with a theme park as a beta site. Stadiums are a key market, Camps said.

Another firm offering a security solution that’s already in use at Yankee Stadium, the Javits Center and the Time Warner Center in New York is Building Intelligence, which secures loading docks and other back-of-house areas.

Jeffrey Friedman, CEO,  Building Intelligence

Jeffrey Friedman, CEO, Building Intelligence

Launched after 9/11, the company offers software that allows facilities to verify the identities and track the comings and goings of everyone accessing loading docks, lobbies and other spaces in public assembly venues. It can be particularly useful on large campuses and mixed-use settings like the Time Warner Center, said Jeffrey Friedman, the company’s founder and CEO. The system is Safety Act approved and can be integrated with existing infrastructure, Friedman said.

“It’s a simple idea,” he said. “For events, there is ticketing to prevent unauthorized access. This is sort of like doing ticketing but it’s more of a vendor management program.”

The cost for venues runs from $1,200 a month to 10 times that rate for more complex facilities. The return on investment comes with decreased legal liability and insurance costs and efficient movement of vendors and data tied to the time they spend on site. If there’s an incident with damage or product loss, there’s a digital record of who’s responsible for the mishap, Friedman said.

Armored Things, a crowd intelligence software company that counts the Los Angeles Football Club as a client, shows venue operators where people are gathering and how they are moving through a venue, which has taken on added importance in light of the pandemic. The company uses data from existing infrastructure, including surveillance cameras and Wi-Fi, and feeds it to a command center, where it is processed using artificial intelligence. The result is a mapped visualization that can be fed to mobile devices, allowing operations personnel to make adjustments related to crowd density, use of space, concessions sales, sanitation and security.

Is there a danger in over-reliance on technology as opposed to counting on people and observational skills and judgement?  “The answer is yes,” Zumwalt says. “In the venue world, we need to take advantage of whatever technology makes our environment more efficient and safe, but there is synergy between technology advances and the efforts of human staffing in application of our procedures.”

Zumwalt says training of security personnel hasn’t necessarily kept pace with advances in technology. “It’s been recognized for 50 years that the private security industry has been woefully undereducated and unprepared to ensure quality work,” he said. “Therefore, the education and training of the personnel is also critical so that their judgement can be of value, and as important as technology.”

Donovan says that effective technology that allows a venue or to reduce or redeploy staff, especially part-timers engaged in something like guest screening, offers an opportunity for return on investment without sacrificing safety.

“Would I rather have proven technology in place that I can reduce the reliance on parttime staff? Absolutely, but I still have to have boots on the ground from a supervisor and management perspective to ensure that the process is working, that it’s being followed and we’re compliant with the best practices,” he said. “I would rather have 10 well-paid, highly experienced people managing technology that is adding value than having 50 low-paid, low-retention people as my first point of contact with my guests.”