Sports ground safety in challenging times
Ken Scott, head of Inspectorate for the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, offers an insight into tackling the challenges facing sports grounds
Sport is an essential part of our national culture. Every week millions of people in the UK attend football, rugby, horse racing and other sporting events. Thanks to the dedication and commitment of all those who work in stadium safety, the UK is one of the safest places in the world to watch sport live. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority’s (SGSA’s) priority is to make sure people do so in as safe and secure surroundings as possible. We do this through our regulatory role within football, and our advisory work with other sports.
The SGSA was borne out of tragedies which struck football grounds in the 1980s. Its predecessor, the Football Licensing Authority, was created as a result of Lord Taylor’s report into the tragic events of Hillsborough, which took place 30 years ago. Since then, we have worked with sports grounds owners to develop safe, modern stadia. But as Lord Taylor said: “Complacency is the enemy of safety.” We must never take safety for granted.
But the challenges we face today are not the same as those from 30 years ago. The incidents which have occurred over the last five years, including Stade de France in 2015 and the attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge in 2017, are a stark reminder about the vulnerability of crowded places and the importance of the work of those charged with keeping us safe.
Sadly, in today’s world, we now need to consider the increasing threat posed by terrorist attack when we are developing plans. This was at the forefront of our minds when developing the newly released edition of the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (also known as the Green Guide), published at the end of last year. This is recognised globally as the definitive statement of best practice in sports grounds safety.
The publication of the Green Guide is the culmination of two years’ work, which included researching and consulting with a range of organisations including football, cricket and rugby bodies, architects and the emergency services. The document breaks new ground in recognising the crucial part that areas outside of the ground play in the safe arrival and departure of spectators.
The boundaries of a venue, as defined on a plan or a safety certificate are often the boundary at which legal responsibility for spectators starts and ends for the venue operators. However, there is a moral obligation to ensure that consideration is given to the area beyond this line (which exists only on paper and is not painted on the floor).
Recent terrorist attacks, including that at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena showed that whilst we can be very good at managing the ingress of people into a venue, we can do more to ensure a safe exit and onward transit.
The last mile
The new version of the Green Guide recognises this and offers guidance on this zone that is ‘external’ to the stadium boundary which we call ‘Zone Ex’ – the area outside the stadium where spectators either arrive or leave via.
Stadium and event operators can no longer think about the space outside the stadium in isolation. When considering safety, the sum of all parts is critical to creating as safe an environment as possible for everyone at the ground. There are many challenges to ensuring safety in this area, not least of which is that it is unlikely that the venue owner has any legal responsibility for people within it. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed, working across disciplines such as safety, police, stadium management, ambulance and other key stakeholders to ensure that someone has the lead for safety in this area.
While it is new to our guidance documents, the concept itself isn’t new. The London 2012 Olympics used this principle – calling it the last mile. While this area may not be the direct responsibility of the stadium owner, it’s important that all parties are involved in the effective management of this zone to ensure that spectators are safe during ingress and egress.
Evacuation in response to a terrorist threat that could be outside the building may require different internal movement patterns than those for risks such as fire. For instance, although in a fire it might be appropriate to use all exits, in a terrorism scenario it may be necessary to consider internal movement to reach alternative exits and avoid emerging into a hostile situation.
Inviting people onto the pitch and getting them away safely at the end may be the only option, but it is a taxing thing. There are additional risks to that of a sports match because not only are you inviting people into different areas, but areas which were never designed to be accommodate standing spectators, therefore ingress and egress from the pitch is generally not designed to cope with that usage.
In new stadium design it’s important to understand people movement; using modelling and analysis we don’t now have to wait for the venue to open to realise what does and doesn’t work. We can get a good idea of outcomes from using technology and simulating how people move around sports grounds under certain conditions. The technology that can help us assess that is improving all the time and is a powerful tool in stadium design.
All safety managers need to be aware of the options they have available in their toolbox to help tackle any challenge. This isn’t about writing countless plans for every emergency possible. At times of emergency, you don’t have the time to consider if the most appropriate plan is number 536 or 537. Instead, the most useful piece of preparatory work a safety manager can do is develop a complete understanding of all of the options and tools available that can be used in a difficult situation.