When Big Ten football showdowns can attract upward of 100,000 people to campus, public safety on game day at Spartan Stadium is no small task. MSU Police, alongside their on- and off-campus partners, work together to ensure that “It’s a beautiful day for football.”
“Before the season starts, we look at the schedule and anticipate what games will have a high impact and draw big crowds,” said Deputy Chief Penny Fischer, who heads the MSUPD Support Services Bureau. “The season’s schedule also determines our hiring and training needs for the upcoming year.”
Hiring and training of football staff goes beyond police and security, however. Volunteers and staff who work concessions, the box office, ushering, custodial and more fall to MSU Athletics, Auxiliary Services and Infrastructure Planning and Facilities.
“The collaboration among all the groups involved in Spartan football is an incredible example of teamwork,” Fischer added. “Each group is responsible for a piece, and all the pieces have to come together for it to work.”
MSUPD also receives police support for home football games from the city of East Lansing, Ingham County and the Michigan State Police, with local fire and ambulance services on standby as well.
To keep track of all staff and volunteers who enter and exit the stadium, as well as officers’ responses and movements, MSUPD relies on robust employee accountability software.
Background checks and assignments are recorded in the days leading up to the game, and all workers check in through security on game day. Uniquely numbered ID badges are assigned and printed on site.
“This system allows us to generate a digital fingerprint for all the workers inside the stadium,” said Steve Beard, employee accountability coordinator. “It’s really improved our ability to respond quickly when a situation arises and move officers to where they are needed.”
Traffic and parking
The Special Events Division is responsible for managing traffic routes, parking areas and staffing for big events on campus. Headed by Lt. Jon Martin, the division supports around 1,300 events per year, with football drawing the largest crowds by far.
“It’s really important to have officers at designated locations to assist getting people in and out,” Martin said. “All plans are reviewed hours before kickoff, to account for any changes in construction, road closures and traffic conditions.”
Pre-game checks for traffic teams include setting up barricades, blocking off parking areas and roping off areas for the visiting team.
Typically, all outbound traffic positions report in at the end of the third quarter; however, each game is different, depending on when fans leave the stadium.
“When the weather’s bad, folks tend to leave the game early,” Martin explained. “Traffic supervisors are responsible for monitoring the game to determine when their officers should report.”
Technology and collaboration
The main command post inside the stadium, made up of representatives from all of the major football partners, is linked into major communication systems that allow a constant flow of information. While radios and cell phones are the main devices used to keep key stakeholders connected on game day, neither is a perfect solution. Crowd volume often interferes with radio, and nearby cellular towers easily can be overloaded. In many places, landline phones still are utilized.
Patrol officers also operate using rugged laptop computers connected to a statewide records system network and the Ingham County dispatch system used for history checks, writing tickets and responding to incidents.
“Our systems see heavy usage on game days, but we need them to stay up and running all day,” said Josh Wrobel, technology unit manager. “We are the eyes and ears in the stadium and across campus.”
The technology team is also on the receiving end of the anonymous two-way texting system, “If you see something, say something.” When a member of the public sends an anonymous tip, MSUPD can respond directly to determine what type of support is needed and where.
From a weather and emergency standpoint, MSUPD and a representative from the National Weather Service work together to monitor local weather patterns throughout the day and determine if/when it may become unsafe for fans to remain inside the stadium.
“In the event of an emergency, 80,000-plus people must be evacuated quickly,” said Lt. Dave Oslund, of MSUPD’s Emergency Management Division. “In the past, Spartan Stadium has been evacuated for severe weather, like lightning, but our protocols can be modified, depending on the situation.”
When the evacuation call is made, predetermined pedestrian routes and shelter sites go into effect. Custodial staff are on standby during every home game to unlock buildings, turn on lights and tend to restrooms and other building facilities.
While the basic outline of game day procedures doesn’t change drastically year-to-year, MSUPD spends time in the offseason conducting in-service training for officers and evaluating what went well and where there’s room for improvement.
Recently, the evacuation plan was reviewed in depth, and several changes were made to improve the overall process. Utilizing the “train the trainer” approach, supervisors are tasked with keeping officers refreshed and updated on changes made from the previous year.
To learn more about MSUPD’s services, visit police.msu.edu.