AT THE 2019 NBA ALL-STAR WEEKEND in February. Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Hamidou Diallo soared above Shaquille O'Neal to win the slam dunk competition, but he was not actually the player who got the most air--soaring even higher was an even newer player: a tethered drone. Hovering near the Spectum Center arena in Charlotte. North Carolina, this was the face of a different contest being played that weekend as risk management and event operations professionals increasingly leverage advanced technology to help elevate event risk management at sporting events, concerts and music festivals.
"We've explored the use of drones, just to get a higher angle to identify potential threats," said Anshell Boggs, vice president and head of risk management for the National Basketball Association. Tethered drones like the one deployed by the NBA boost video surveillance capabilities by moving vertically to offer a broader perspective of an area, but are restricted in lateral movement to reduce safety concerns. "We don't use free-flying drones because it creates FAA issues, but we're looking at utilizing whatever technology is available to be proactive."
Drones are just one of the wide range of tools being adopted by the NBA and a wide range of organizations increasingly interested in pursuing more innovative ways to proactively monitor and mitigate risk in an ever-evolving threat landscape. But this only scratches the surface of the new applications for the technology being deployed. For example, when Taylor Swift played a concert at the Rose Bowl last year, concert security measures included the use of facial recognition technology that analyzed attendees' faces against a database of her known stalkers. According to Peter Williams, global product lead of live entertainment at Allianz, some event security teams are also using heat-detecting cameras to identify any build-up of people and send staff to break up crowds or prevent congestion around stairways or escalators, reducing the risk of individuals being slowed or injured in the event of an emergency. For events that occupy temporary or changing locations, like a parade or mixsic festival, security teams frequently deploy supplemental surveillance cameras attached to movable poles.
Police now often monitor cellphone traffic at festivals "to pick up chatter, whether it's from a lone gunman or just kids having fun and deciding to do something stupid," Williams said. In addition to potential acts of violence or terrorism, authorities "monitor for things like flash mobs because the kids to love to invite everybody to suddenly rush the stage or rush some other part of the festival for fun," he explained. In crowds of tens of thousands, this helps security identify such groups early and disperse the crowd before anything happens.
All these tools show promise for improving event security, but drawbacks remain, especially in terms of scale and accuracy. While facial recognition is being used to verify identities at airports to speed the security process and reduce the need for tickets, for example, the technology still needs to mature significantly to scale up from 300 people for a flight to 30,000 at a concert...