The dual lens of intelligent surveillance solutions: How analytics can improve security and enhance operational efficiency

Thousands of people pour into stadiums each weekend to watch their favorite teams play and entertainers perform. The sheer number of people – often larger than some metropolises – put tremendous pressure on stadium personnel to keep attendees safe and ensure they have a fulfilling experience.

One way stadiums are handling these challenges is by using intelligent video solutions to bolster security and enhance operations. Intelligent video is any solution that automatically analyzes captured video and makes key decisions regarding footage. This reduces the amount of information being processed, which makes it more manageable and efficient for operators to evaluate. Furthermore, intelligent video can extract data and incorporate it into other applications, such as access control systems or retail management solutions, providing a wealth of information about venue customers. The end result is improved situational awareness, identification and operational insight.

Yet, despite the benefits of smart technology, some stadiums are still relying on outdated surveillance equipment and under developed security procedures. This puts venues at a scary disadvantage and risk, and it can negatively affect the total fan experience.

Stadium security improving but it still has a ways to go

A recent investigation by USA Today Sports found many stadium security guards have the necessary training to restrain unruly fans or check for banned paraphernalia, but they don’t always have the expert skills to thwart more deadly events, such as terrorist plots.

“Security in the United States is all about bells and whistles,” said Rafi Sela, a former official with the Israel Defense Forces, reported USA Today. “You see the guards standing at stadiums and bus stations. It’s not even considered deterrence anymore.”

As proof to Sela’s claim, we need only consider the recent security challenges U.S. Bank Stadium faced. The stadium dismissed its security contractor in September for a litany of reasons, reported MPR News. Some included:

  • Employing individuals with disqualifying criminal records
  • Failing to properly conduct background checks
  • Not appropriately responding to questions from security industry regulators
  • Failing to adhere to state training procedures

In 2011, Peter Keating, ESPN senior writer, published a lengthy column on the state of security at stadiums and discussed some of the major security challenges venues have to overcome.

Keating brought up a notable point that prestigious events, such as the Super Bowl and Olympics, are often considered “National Security Special Events” and therefore typically have much heavier and more sophisticated layers of security than events not considered as high-profile. The latter are typically “on their own” when trying to combat terror, Keating writes.

Unfortunately, the challenges I just mentioned have been issues for years. For example, a 2007 University of Southern Mississippi survey of 81 individuals responsible for event security revealed that 62 percent of respondents had little to no formal training, certification or education in security management. It also found that roughly 50 percent of gameday security came from inside athletic departments.

Despite this, stadium security spending has increased as terror threats rise and evolve.  This has happened as an increasing number of stadiums realize the need to upgrade their security solutions and enhance safety protocols – see again U.S. Bank Stadium – while still leaning on some traditional security practices, such as checkpoints. For example, people typically can’t enter events without navigating mazes of street barriers and check points, walking through medal detectors and even being patted down. These procedures are likely to always be a staple of stadium security.

Developing comprehensive security management plans and providing better in-house training to security personnel is a crucial part of keeping people safe. Along with these measures, more and more venues are upgrading existing analog solutions to intelligent surveillance technology to fill in security gaps and improve the total fan experience. Of course, this isn’t shocking considering 85 percent of security personnel, according to a different study from the University of Southern Mississippi, noted their most important security-management need was the ability to receive “timely vital security information” to detect, prevent and respond to situations.

Intelligent surveillance solutions, integrated with analytics software, help stadium security personnel improve situational awareness, identification and operational insight – three pillars we’ll dive deeper into – to keep stadium attendees safe and ensure fans have a great time at the event.

How smart stadiums increase security and improve fan experience

Smart stadiums aren’t the future; they’re the present. Walk into any state-of-the-art venue, and you’ll instantly be engulfed by an array of modern technological feats – sophisticated entertainment systems, augmented reality environments, interactive seats, powerful Wi-Fi, point-of-service, digital touch-screen kiosks and more, all present to get fans off their couches and into arena seating.

However, stadiums don’t just install these technologies on a whim. The crux of the matter is analytics and data that help stadium personnel decide what fans may enjoy the most.

Along with these smart technologies, many stadiums are turning to intelligent video solutions to monitor key indoor and outdoor areas for high volume traffic spots, to better recognize out-of-place objects and suspicious people and to analyze situations in real time to better detect potential threats. Coupled with more sophisticated security strategies, stadium personnel can easily alert those close to an incident so they can respond immediately.

With technology playing an increasingly important role in how people operate, intelligent surveillance solutions will continue to influence the overall atmosphere, environment and infrastructure of stadiums. These solutions provide venues with important benefits in regards to situational awareness, identification and operational insight. Let’s explore each in greater detail.

Situational awareness

Managing and preventing violent actions starts by recognizing and understanding environments and installing the correct security solutions for those settings. Here are a few examples of intelligent technologies, which allow stadium personnel to increase their situational awareness:

Trip-wire application: A trip-wire application can detect moving objects when they cross a user-defined virtual line. Once this happens, the solution alerts security personnel.

Outside the venue, network cameras mounted on roofs can provide sweeping views of parking lots, gate entrances, streets and buildings that could act as vantage points for criminals.

License plate recognition: Capable of running on a simple appliance/device microcomputer, license plate recognition can identify authorized vehicles and alert personnel when an unauthorized one enters restricted areas.

Audio analytics: Identifying distinct, threatening sounds – such as gunshots or explosives – during loud concerts can be difficult. Audio analytics embedded in surveillance cameras continuously analyzes sounds for certain characteristics and identifies distortions in otherwise consistent sound patterns. This can help personnel not only detect potential threats but possibly predict a crime before it happens. (Yes, I’m talking about real life Minority Report.) After all, 90 percent of aggressive incidents are preceded by anger, according to the American Psychological Association.

Audio analytics works by identifying how people say something (not by what they’re saying). For example, if people are shouting, surveillance solutions equipped with analytics will take into consideration their pitch, decibel level and the speed of the conversation. Nearby cameras will pick up the audio, and turn and focus on that particular area.

Thermal imagery: In areas with large crowds at night, such as concourses, field seats or entrances, thermal imaging can identify people who have fallen and are in danger of being trampled. Thermals can also be equipped with analytics, such as AXIS Cross Line Detection, to keep command centers more aware of critical entry points in low-traffic areas such as loading docks, executive suite entrances or parking lots reserved for high-profile celebrities, executives or sports players.

Thermal solutions typically offer more accurate analytics than conventional cameras because the former are less sensitive to extreme changes in lighting. And analytics allow for the simple, efficient, quick exchange of accurate information between law enforcement officers, first responders and other stadium personnel.

Improving identification

Intelligent solutions can identify people entering stadiums or walking around retail stores. This can provide an extra layer of security or help managers better understand their customers for improved target marketing.

Identification for security: VIP and executive suites, press boxes, boardrooms and most other backstage off limits to the general public. To protect these locations, many stadiums use access control solutions coupled with facial recognition technology to identify visitors and figure out whether they’re using the right badge to enter. Once verified, personnel can open doors regardless of their location using a video management system, IP phone or mobile application.

These network door stations are considered “many-to-one” solutions where perimeters contain multiple network cameras and door stations but only a few points of operation. This allows security details to better control large perimeters without exhausting their resources.

Facial recognition is also playing a key role in identifying people on “watch” or “black” lists so personnel can keep them out of stadiums. For example, if a suspicious individual tries to walk through an entrance gate, facial recognition can immediately identify them in real time based on previously uploaded photographs in a database and alert security personnel.

Identification for customer service: Many high-profile people enter stadiums under tight deadlines for specific reasons. Facial recognition can identify these people as they enter a building, giving staff more time to prepare for their arrival.

These solutions can also be used to retrieve valuable information about stadium customers, such as their spending habits and preferences, or analyze demographics and behaviors so managers can provide better customer service and market their products appropriately.

There are, of course, some challenges with facial recognition. There’s a need to create pitch points and station network cameras directly in front of a person’s face. This obviously works fine in somewhat stationary settings, such as in front of medal detectors. However, it becomes a bit more challenging if people are making facial gestures, moving a lot, looking away from the camera or wearing attire that covers their face.

Still, many of the above challenges can be met by stationing cameras firmly, correctly and in the proper location, usually about 160-165 cm above the ground and ensuring there’s a large depth of field.

Improving operations

Intelligent surveillance solutions provide stadiums with a distinct advantage over those still relying on outdated systems when it comes to enhancing operations.

With analytics, operations managers can closely evaluate everything from workplace safety and employee workflow to dangerous situations, such as weather conditions and emergency evacuation planning.

For example, monitoring workplaces, such as loading docks or warehouses, can help managers better evaluate the flow of goods in shipping and receiving, determine the quantity of products being dropped off and protect against theft and destruction.

In the event a claim is made against a company for damaged goods that just arrived at a loading dock, stadium personnel can examine footage and quickly verify whether the claim is genuine or the products were damaged prior to arrival. In the past, searching for specific pieces of footage was time consuming, but with today’s intelligent solutions, which can include motion detection, operators can monitor situations in real time and quickly locate what they’re looking for.

Intelligent surveillance solutions can also be programmed to analyze what’s known as “dwell time” – the amount of time a person lingers by a display – and alert employees when a customer loiters too long. From there, personnel can make a judgement call about whether he or she is waiting for a friend or looking for an opportunity to shoplift.

Retail stores, many of which have locations inside or near stadiums, use intelligent video solutions not only to deter and capture shoplifters but to analyze store traffic and customer interactions, and figure out new ways based on this data to market their products and services.

For example, AXIS People Counter provides information that allows stores to optimize floorplans and product placement. In turn, this can improve the customer’s experience. When installed on network cameras, people counting software allows retailers to count the number of instore visitors in real time and, when integrated with a point-of-sale system, collect valuable data about conversion rates. On the other hand, AXIS Demographic Identifier helps retailers determine the gender of their customers and their approximate age range by analyzing their faces.

People counting and demographic analytic technology can improve targeted advertising on digital displays; retailers can automatically change messaging in real time to better suit customers looking at the screen. Furthermore, these intelligent video solutions allow stores to analyze the success of campaigns so management can better tailor the instore experience to specific segments.

Security camera watching customer.
People counting software can help stores track the number of people in store.

Perimeter protection in focus

Perimeters are continuing to grow in size beyond areas immediately surrounding stadiums. This is occurring for many reasons, such as the use of vehicles or high-rise buildings to attack crowds. And this new reality is challenging law enforcement to protect people within a venue’s immediate vicinity as well as those who are traveling to events from blocks or even miles away.

For example, NBC New York reported that immediately following the bombing in Manchester, England, additional heavy-weapons NYPD teams patrolled Penn Station, Times Square, Yankee Stadium, mass transit systems, tunnels and bridges – all areas that can be considered part of a perimeter.

To protect large perimeters, stadium security and public safety work together to monitor everything from public transportation, such as trains, subways, taxis and ride sharing vehicles, to people lingering outside of stadium entrances or at nearby shops. In terms of public transportation, security personnel must also ensure attendees who used trains or subways to travel to the stadium also arrive safely back at the same stations after the event.

Protecting perimeters also now includes monitoring everything from a high-rise buildings overlooking ballparks to parked and moving vehicles at various distances from stadiums.

Some stadiums, such as Wrigley Field, Camden Yards and Fenway Park, are near buildings that overlook them. This creates additional security challenges because venues must create policies and procedures that specifically address nearby buildings. Do they run a scan of surrounding buildings before games? Do they instruct personnel to specifically use binoculars to observe buildings during an event? Or do they instead install intelligent video solutions to do the same job? More often than not, installing and pointing 20 megapixel cameras at buildings is a more practical solution.

As it relates to vehicle attacks, after the terrorist attack in Nice in July 2016, CBS News reported the New York Police Department reached out to truck rental companies to try to better understand who might commit a terrorist attack using a vehicle.

“I think authorities have been expecting this,” said CBS News senior national security analyst Fran Townsend, according to CBS News. “After the Nice attack on the promenade, New York Police Department authorities went out to 148 truck rental locations that they kept in touch with, talked to, trying to identify these types of individuals that might do a terror attack. But we don’t know where he got this truck from.”

Many stadiums also restrict ride-sharing companies and taxis from dropping people off in front of stadiums, and other non-authorized vehicles from getting too close. Instead, stadiums require vehicles to drop people off at designated spots. Authorized vehicles, such as buses, typically drop off players, celebrities and executives, and children on field trips at specific loading zones or entrances under the watchful eyes of network security cameras and security personnel. These cameras can, for example, help command centers ensure children don’t stray from their group and get lost.

Properly protecting perimeters means developing a comprehensive, holistic strategy that takes into consideration different types of threats and people, objects, structures and nearby resources that could be used, and perimeter sizes, to name a few. For attendees, this could (and likely) means seeing and interacting with more security personnel and ever-increasing stricter protocols. This will, of course, change the fan experience but hopefully the better.

Where do intelligent surveillance solutions go from here?

The future of smarter sports venues lies with implementation and the usage of analytics to both keep facilities secure and enhance overall operations. Simple security cameras, which don’t have the capabilities to adequately provide sufficient information about ever-changing environments (such as lighting during a concert or crowd counting) are quickly – if they already aren’t – becoming obsolete. Today events are all about the total fan experience and that involves implementing and integrating a myriad of different surveillance solutions and processes into venues.

By relying on IP network technology and analytics, personnel can ensure they’re not only meeting fan expectations from an operational standpoint but keeping them safe in the process.