Behind the scenes: Security operations at the Little League World Series

There's a high-level of security that goes into a short-term event

Each year in late August, the Little League World Series (LLWS) in South Williamsport, Pa., kicks-off. However, before the games, there’s a ramp –up on security at the Little League Baseball World Series Complex, which requires months of preparation and planning.

Part of this ramp-up requires implementing temporary, yet supremely effective, security measures on top of what’s already in place, says Jim Ferguson, Director of Security for the LLWS.

The LLWS has been fortunate to have several electronic security companies, including AXIS Communications, Extreme Networking, and Lenel, volunteer their time and equipment for the event for the past 17 years, Ferguson says. These companies donate cameras, access control, and wireless networking.

“We have a group of people that have this place pretty well secure in several days, which is amazing to me,” says Ferguson.

“It takes us several months to get everything we need on our end put together, but it takes these volunteers several days to get everything up and running.”

Working on security at the Little League World Series Complex is something of a family affair too. Ferguson’s son, Jon, has been helping his dad set up security at the LLWS since he was 15.

Now, working for Lenel himself as a Product Training Specialist, Jon is sent over for a couple weeks every year to help his dad set up. “I’m lucky to have been around for all of it,” he says.

International Grove is a self-contained area with dormitories, laundry service, an Olympic-sized pool, a dining hall, recreational center, and infirmary, where all the players, coaches, and managers live while they’re participating in the World Series.

The area is enclosed, with a six-foot tall fence and three entry and exit points. “Everyone that gets in there has to have a badge and a background check before they can even have access to that area,” says Jim Ferguson.

“One of the bigger challenges when we started protecting The Grove with access control a couple years ago was to try to avoid having turnstiles or any scary looking access control points,” Jon Ferguson added.

The team ended up putting readers on PVC fence posts with “multicolored LEDs wrapped around the top to give it a nice, professional look,” he says.

“There’s an in-reader and an out-reader and as people swipe, it either provides a green LED ring to show that they have access to the area or a red LED ring with a buzzer to indicate that they don’t.”

The readers are accompanied by 24-hour guards monitoring people coming in and out. Access control only needs to be available during the LLWS; the rest of the year, the area is open to the public.

The readers are “an innovative solution to a mobile problem,” says Jon Ferguson. In the stadiums and other buildings, more traditional access control is used, with card readers that are mounted permanently on the doors.

Integrating sophisticated yet temporary AXIS Q6000-Eand AXIS P1428-Ecameras with those already permanently mounted at the stadiums enables the security team to have a 360° view of large areas of the complex.

The AXIS P1428-Eprovides clear video and can optically zoom in to potential objects of interest. AXIS Digital Autotracking, used in conjunction with the cameras, automatically tracks moving objects; allowing live monitoring and providing a quick way to locate and take care of potential security incidents.

Wireless networking is also brought in by Extreme Networking so “we’re able to place cameras where we normally wouldn’t have them to keep the property safe,” says Jim Ferguson.

Increasing the number of security officers - called “event staff" for the LLWS - is another temporary measure to ensure everyone’s safety.

Ferguson says he has approximately 170 security officers, as well as a large assortment of Pennsylvania state troopers, local law enforcement, FBI, and prison guards from the Pennsylvania area who are deputized for the event.

Each of the six security gates to the complex have what Jon Ferguson describes as “airport-level security” under a tent. Similar to airports, bags are thoroughly checked, liquids are not allowed, and even aerosolized cans such as sunscreen are banned. There are also six to eight metal detector lines at each gate, overseen by event staff and prison guards.

A combination of factors influenced an increase in security at the LLWS Complex back in 2001. That was the year Volunteer Stadium was built and used for the first time along with Lamade Stadium because Little League had doubled the number of teams in the World Series to 16.

It was also the year then-President Bush attended the event, which meant metal detectors, manned by the Secret Service that year, were used for the first time. The LLWS always occurs in late August, so this particular event in 2001 was just a couple weeks before 9-11 happened.

All of these factors played into a large increase in security presence and preparation for the 2002 LLWS and beyond. “As other events transpire, things like more metal detectors, more thorough scanning, and fewer items being allowed in have increased more subtly over the years,” Jon Ferguson says.

Keeping security tight but as unintrusive as possible can be challenging at an event that averages 350,000-400,000 people.

“A lot of preparation goes into what we do,” says Jim Ferguson.

“We try to make the issues that we had this year better for next year. We’re always trying to upgrade. Remember, security is not convenient for anybody, and we’re very much aware of that, so we’re trying to make it as simple as possible, yet as safe as possible.”

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