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Can technology make stadiums more secure? Seattle renovation team ups its game with new safety initiative

Oak View Group rendering of Key Arena. Via Oak View Group.

Oak View Group is serious about keeping its arenas around the world safe and secure.

That’s partly why the sports and entertainment facility company led by CEO Tim Leiweke — who will speak at the Sports Tech Summit on Thursday — recently launched its own security-focused subsidiary made up of former members of the LAPD, Green Berets, and Special Forces.

Mike Downing. Photo via OVG.

Called Prevent Advisors, the company is responsible for ensuring that OVG’s 26 arenas across the world provide a safe place for sports fans and concert-goers to experience their favorite team or artist. That includes Key Arena in Seattle, where OVG will lead a $564 million renovation and try to lure the NBA and NHL to the Emerald City.

GeekWire caught up with Mike Downing, a 35-year veteran of the LAPD who ran the counter-terrorism special operations bureau and oversaw more than 1,000 employees. Downing last month joined Prevent Advisors as its vice president of security and talked about how technology is being used to keep arenas secure.

“We’ve got a tool chest of new technology that is out there and ready to use,” Downing said.

He said there are ways to prevent an attack like the one in Manchester last month after an Ariana Grande concert, noting how there were hints on social media and in ISIS propaganda of a potential bombing.

“Predictable is a strong word, but you knew we were going to get hit again,” Downing said. “You knew the attacks were going to come.”

KeyArena renovation
Renderings of Oak View Group’s proposed KeyArena renovation. (Oak View Group Renderings)

He said there needs to be focus on not only creating a safe environment indoors, but also on securing the area outside of an arena or stadium. Technology can play a key role in that — for example, solutions like “eyes in the sky,” which are high-depth smart cameras powered by algorithms that run off a database; anti-drone systems that keep out weapon-equipped drones; or cybersecurity tools that protect against digital attacks. Other solutions include Vapor Wake Dogs and decoy cars.

All that information can be used to help alert a security team before it’s too late.

“If you get the heads up, you can put more effort into the prevention side of things,” Downing said.

He added that enhanced security screening systems can help reduce the amount of queuing that happens outside an arena.

“Queueing is a potential ‘soft target,’” Downing said. “You want to reduce the queuing and increase the flow in and out of the stadiums.”

While technology is important, there still needs to be balance with the human side of security, too. Downing said team staff needs to be extra vigilant and should know what to look for, while fans shouldn’t hesitate to point out suspicious activity.

“You can’t lose sight of the human factor,” he noted.

Leiweke and Irving Azoff created Oak View Group in 2015. Leiweke, who has more than three decades of leadership experience in the sports industry, will join us at our second annual GeekWire Sports Tech Summit on June 21-22 in Seattle to talk about how technology will impact the future of sports stadiums and the fan experience. Tickets are still available below; for those attending, here’s an FAQ page for the event.

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