Safeguarding Your Athletic Fields
Tips on keeping your field of dreams from becoming a liability nightmare
- By Bruce Canal
- February 01, 2020
When I was a kid I would often head to the
schoolyard after class for a pickup game of
baseball or soccer. Even as an adult, I have gone
jogging on my local high school track after
work. While having easy access to these open
fields was great for me, I wonder if those schools gave much thought
to the liability of me being on their property.
Now that my job involves safety and security issues for K-12 and
higher education institutions, it is something I caution school administrators
about a lot. Protecting school property is not just about
safety and security.
It is also about liability and risk management. While virtually all
schools channel resources into protecting everyone in the building
during school hours, it is also important that they protect their athletic
fields after the bell has rung.
According to the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and
Security (NCS4), a leading research and education organization
focused on threats and safety issues related to sports venues, “This
forgotten period [when interscholastic athletics and after-school
activities occur] remains a weak link in the safety and security planning
of our nation’s schools with little, and in some cases, no understanding
of the potential threats.”
To address this shortcoming, NCS4 offers school faculty and staff
an extensive array of training courses as well as access to a knowledge
base of best practices that can help them improve their safety and
security position and mitigate risks. The partnership between NCS4
and a school often begins with a survey of students and parents to
assess “the feeling of security” among its constituents.
From there, NCS4 works with the school to create a viable security
plan that would include some best practices the school might consider
While the complete list of those school security best practices is
too lengthy to enumerate here, I would like to highlight a few for your
Creating a Secure Barrier: Fencing and Lighting
An open field is essentially an open invitation for crime. And once
someone is on your property, you could be held liable for anything
that happens to them. So I would suggest all school sport fields be
secured by at least a six-foot high, nine-gauge chain link fence with a
lockable gate. And the fencing should allow no more than two points
This first line of safety and security can protect the site from random
trespassers – whether a bunch of innocent kids gathering for a
pickup game, a vandal intent on trashing the place, or even a vagrant
looking for a place to bed down.
During practices, and on game day, a secure barrier can help school
staff manage the flow of spectators, deny entry to banned individuals
and prevent vehicles from driving onto the field and causing harm.
Keeping the area well lit is another important deterrent. Augmenting
the enclosure with motion-triggered floodlighting effectively
discourages anyone who might be contemplating scaling the
fence after hours. And it saves the cost of keeping the lights on all
Another best practice is to illuminate the parking lot during sporting
events. You can program the lights to go on at dusk on a game
night and stay on until an hour or so after the game concludes to give
cars time to exit the lot.
From there, you can switch to motion-triggered lighting as a loitering
or trespassing deterrent as mentioned above. Keep in mind that
lighting should be adequate enough to illuminate people walking
between and around parked vehicles.
Controlling Access: Keycards, Touchpads and Cameras
Many schools distribute master keys to faculty and staff authorized to
open concession stands, equipment sheds, the announcer’s booth and
other locked facilities used during athletic events.
The problem with this approach is that master keys get lost or retiring
staff who leave the job forget to turn them in at the exit interview.
So to maintain security, schools have to spend time and money recoring
all the locks.
A best practice would be to replace those metal key systems with
card readers and touchpad locks. Keycards can be quickly reprogrammed
with a few keystrokes. If a card is lost, the school’s database
administrator can simply go into the keycard file and disable that
keycard’s ability to open any doors, preventing anyone who finds it
from using it.
Alternatively, schools could forego the card readers in favor of
touchpads, assigning authorized faculty and staff their own unique
pin codes to unlock doors. When an employee is no longer privileged
to access these facilities their pin code can easily be deleted
from the system.
If running electricity to any of the locked facilities is a problem,
there are battery-operated models of card readers and touchpads that
can be easily installed.
Cameras can provide another layer of safety and security. I am not
talking about the smartphones that family and friends are using to
capture the action or even the broadcast cameras operated by the
local TV station airing the game. I am referring to a few well-placed
security cameras that can create a forensic history of the day’s or
In addition to having a record of what is happening on the field of
play, I would suggest cameras monitoring your transaction areas like
the ticket booth and the concession stands as well as your high asset
areas like the athletic equipment shed and the announcer’s booth
with its expensive audio system.
Other areas you might consider keeping a camera’s eye on are the
bleachers and the sidelines where incidents between fans can flare up in an instance. And then there are potentially problematic areas hidden
from public view, like behind the bleachers and in back of structures
where assaults or drug deals might occur without any visibility
for security teams.
There are a number of camera types that can help you maximize
your field of view while minimizing your camera count. As you
explore your options, look for features like:
- Wide angle and panoramic cameras to give you a broader field of view
- Wide dynamic range technology to capture sharp images in
shadow and bright sunlight
- HDTV and megapixel resolution cameras that are so sharp they
can capture the denomination of the bills exchanging hands at the
concession stand or ticket booth
- Multi-sensor cameras that can record events in multiple directions
Implementing Advanced Preventive Measures:
Analytics and Other Enhanced Technology
Because athletic fields are a tempting after-hours target for vandals,
even a single trespass could leave you facing significant clean up and
But there is another population that should concern you as well.
Your fields can also be a tempting venue for weekend warriors to get
If they slip on a wet bleacher or trip on a rock, they might try to
hold you liable, even if they did not have permission to be on school
property. For schools with more generous budgets, there are additional
technologies you could deploy to keep intruders out.
- Dwell time analytics embedded in a camera can detect suspicious
loitering and send an alert to school security or local police
- Radar technology can provide additional information about
detected objects that video cameras can’t – such as their exact position,
and the speed and direction of their movement
- Extremely lowlight sensors give cameras the ability to record fullcolor
images in nearly complete darkness, saving the need to
illuminate the field to capture intruder details
- Cameras equipped with infrared capabilities are another option for
- Thermal cameras can detect approaching intruders by their heat
signature, even if they are camouflaged by darkness or hidden in
- In addition to sending alerts to security staff and/or local law
enforcement, cameras and radar can also be configured to trigger
a loudspeaker horn to broadcast a verbal warning that police are
on their way, which hopefully would convince the would-be
intruder to flee
Make Sure Your Athletic Fields are Part of Your School’s
Security Management Program
It is time we recognize that unprotected athletic fields present significant
liability issues for schools – whether it is hosting afterschool-
hours athletic events or allowing the general public to use the
school’s facilities and equipment without supervision.
In the first six months of 2019 alone, the United States recorded
multiple violent crimes on school sports fields, reminding us of just
how vulnerable these areas really are. If your school possesses athletic
fields, their protection should be part of your overall school
security management program.
Just as you deploy technology, policies and procedures to mitigate
problems inside the school, you should apply the same level of security
rigor to your athletic fields, where crimes often take place when
school staff members are not present. Otherwise you may end up
facing some major liability issues that you never expected.
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.