December 9, 2022


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Watch now: How LPS is working to keep sports events safe using new national training | Education

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Fans catching a high school football clash under the lights at Seacrest Field or a College World Series game in Omaha are there to watch what’s unfolding on the field, not off of it.

That’s what risk-management teams and law enforcement are for: To prepare for the worst and respond if something happens. But being ready for the scenarios that could unfold, from severe weather to an active shooter, takes communication, training, and perhaps most importantly, teamwork.

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This week, Lincoln Public Schools — working with local law enforcement and other agencies — became one of the first school districts in the nation to host a sports event risk management training session led by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security.

The center, based at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers a number of courses for organizations focused on threats to sporting events. But it only just recently began offering a course tailored for high school competitions.

Kyle Poore, a security coordinator at LPS, had worked with the center before and invited local agencies to attend training sessions in Lincoln this week.

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Among those represented were the Lincoln Police Department, Lincoln-Lancaster County Emergency Management, the Omaha Police Department, the Nebraska School Activities Association and others.

“We probably haven’t had this level of collaboration where it’s bringing everyone in at the same time,” Poore said.

LPS trains to prepare for disasters in schools, like reunification drills in which students are safely relocated to another building, but nothing specifically aimed at sporting events, Poore said.

The NCS4 training, which continues Tuesday, is more pencil-and-paper learning than simulation, with teams going through activity-based modules to improve planning, risk assessment and training.

Participants also studied scenarios, like one from the Indiana State Fair in 2011, when a gust of wind from a thunderstorm knocked over a stage, killing seven people.

The advice is timely with the College World Series coming to Omaha later this month. Assessing threats to the public is front of mind for many following a wave of gun violence across the U.S., including last month’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 dead, including 19 children.

“We used to think years and years ago when I started in law enforcement — 25, 30 years ago — that it was more so the target was the stadiums, the facility, and that’s not the case now,” said Joey Sturm, an instructor with NCS4. “It’s the crowd, it’s people and … we need to plan accordingly for that.”

Sturm takes an all-hazards approach with his training, running the gamut from more common weather-related threats — such as storms or excess heat — to shootings or power outages.

The vast majority of games, he points out, go off with very few issues.

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“But we have to plan for the worst, and in those instances, we have to do everything to prevent, prepare, mitigate those risks and should something happen, we need to be able to respond,” Sturm said.

LPS already works closely with local police and the county’s emergency management team to ensure events are safe, said Director of Athletics Kathi Wieskamp.

For large events, such as a track meet or football and basketball games, LPS often contracts with off-duty police officers for traffic control and other duties, which comes out of the athletic department’s budget. LPS also works with emergency management officials to assess the weather and Lincoln Fire and Rescue to handle medical emergencies.

The district hasn’t broached the idea of instituting protective measures like metal detectors at big events, but Wieskamp said this week’s training will spark conversations about the future.

Lincoln’s two new high schools — Lincoln Northwest and Standing Bear — will also be home to shared athletic complexes when they open, including a new football stadium at Northwest. Wieskamp says the district is working on developing risk management plans for those venues right now.

Administrators from Lincoln Pius X were also invited to this week’s training, and the course will be offered to other schools in the Heartland Athletic Conference later this week.

“So even when we go up to Norfolk, we’re going to have the same thinking and the approach around a situation,” said Wieskamp, who retires at the end of June.

There are also plans to bring back NCS4 for a future training course that goes more in-depth.

“It helps us be better,” Wieskamp said, “and that’s what we’re constantly working at.”

The course is funded entirely by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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