December's SSI cover for the annual Technology Issue is an exclusive profile of the new video surveillance upgrade the San Francisco 49ers have installed at their Candlestick Park home. For that story, 49ers Vice President of Stadium Operations and Security Jim Mercurio was interviewed extensively.
Now in his 19th year with the club and enjoying the Niners' renaissance as one of the NFL's top teams, Mercurio discussed a number of topics in addition to specifics about a surveillance upgrade that followed highly publicized shootings and other violence during a preseason game last summer. Here, he addresses challenges unique to the disposition of Candlestick Park, strategies for handling different types of events, as well as plans for the 49ers new stadium set to be built in Santa Clara.
What are some unique attributes specific to the way Candlestick is laid out or the surroundings that pose security challenges for you?
Jim Mercurio: We've got a mountain behind us, so that may be challenging sometimes. We've got water on the other side, so you kind of look at sort of those attributes. But the biggest one is that it's just an old facility. Being that it was built in the 1960s the amount of roadway for getting to it is a challenge in of itself. So, one of the biggest complaints you'll have from fans is that getting in and out of the stadium is quite difficult. So how does that pose a security threat? I guess it depends on what kind of threat you're talking about, but the biggest challenge is having the ability to get things out in the parking lots or out of the gates prior to us doing some of the work that we did here in the off-season. We didn't have cars and people mixing, which is never a good scenario. So, what we are able to do with some rent credits from the city this off-season was install a bunch of new gates here at the facility to help with the load of ingress and egress.
That was one of the biggest challenges we had, and we were able to address it. Now, with respect to some of the security enhancements we're doing with the NFL policy going from pat-downs to wands, there are some other challenges we're facing there. But every stadium has to deal with that.
How does providing security for players differ from fans or from employees at Candlestick Park? Are the potential threats and preventative or response measures different depending on who we're talking about?
Mercurio: There certainly are different levels. There are certain things you're a little more concerned or heightened with when it comes to player safety. Or there might be certain criteria that could be more prevalent to employee safety when they're dealing with a security guard, usher or engineer who might be working in certain areas. I will tell you that just because it's different scenarios, it doesn't mean that the security of our fans or players, coaches or staff are higher than one group of people because they're not. Really, it's everybody entering the building that we're concerned about and we want make sure that there is safety and security.
I say that in that order on purpose because sometimes people will say the security of this person or that is paramount, but it's really the safety and security of people that we care about. And the safety could very well just be slips and falls, whether you're cleaning up spills appropriately. That's what camera systems can sometimes do when people miss it. It's like, “Hey, there is a spill there in the concourse that hasn't been cleaned up. Let's get that maintenance person over there," or "There is a puddle in the parking lot that seems to be forming." You can see so many things that you might not see if the camera system wasn't in place.
How, if at all, do the security measures or practices change based on the nature of the event at that facility?
Mercurio: It could be weather changes. It could be which team you’re playing in that it may draw a different crowd. A baseball crowd, a football crowd versus a concert. They have the same characteristics, but there is always a different flair or an edge that you have to be cognizant about. For instance, I was talking to a friend of mine who works at the opera. People would think an opera versus a football game that there is zero concern for security needs at an opera. Well, it's quite the opposite. There could be an older crowd; it could be more medical needs there than say at a baseball game or a hockey game.
The bottom line is the same tactics and strategies will be used as a common denominator, so to speak, across the lines, whether you're at a 70,000-seat arena or at a 3,000-seat concert hall. You're still going to have those same type of concerns that you have to deal with, with varying degrees of things that may influence behavior or issues. Whether you're serving alcohol or not serving alcohol; whether it's hot out or cold. All of those types of things really do play into how we look at what type of security we might have inside the event.
What can we expect to see from a security and safety perspective once the 49ers move to their new facility in Santa Clara in a few years?
Mercurio: That new stadium is going to be where we take the best of the best from every stadium across the country, if not the world, and make it one of the best if not THE best. It's going to be from the ground up looking at every aspect of the building and how we can put our fingerprints on it from a safety and security aspect. Right now, at Candlestick Park, we've got to accept certain challenges. The infrastructure is what it is. We've been able to work with our architects since 2006, so they've got a handle on some of the challenges we have here at Candlestick. They understand what's happening at Dallas Cowboys or MetLife Stadium, so we've been able to take all of those things and the lessons learned from those stadiums and actually apply them to our design here in Santa Clara.
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