Jay Hammes said he began developing an after-school safety and security plan in 2002 after witnessing gunfire outside a high school basketball game in Wisconsin.
The longtime former teacher, coach and athletics administrator is the president of Safe Sport Zone, which is sponsored by American Family Insurance. (USA TODAY High School is also sponsored by American Family). He has traveled the country speaking about ways to improve the safety, security and enjoyment of fans at school events.
The organization has a free 90-minute online training and certification program for after-school event staff on ways to prevent and deescalate incidents. Hammes said its completion may help schools mitigate liability if an incident occurred. The program includes a roughly hourlong video presentation, followed by a 23-question test and printable certificate.
We’re not in it for money. We’re in it to mass train as many people as we can,” Hammes said. “Unless it’s mandated, people in the school industry are, not reluctant, but they’re so busy, there’s so much that’s on their platter, that to take a course and pay for it is not an easy task. That’s why we want to come out and give it to them free. So now it doesn’t cost you anything and superintendents can go in and say, ‘I want everybody involved in after-school event security to take that course. I want to see your certificate.’ They can do that. And it’s not going to cost them anything.
“No one can provide a safe environment,” he said. “But we can provide a safer environment. A much safer environment, by putting these procedures in place and utilizing technology and getting trained. That’s what’s important. “
Event staff will learn ways to keep charged situations from escalating out of control, identify problem individuals and situations before they become an issue and establish and understand clearly defined and communicated procedures for events.
Hammes discusses seven steps to mitigating liability, which include:
- Selecting of an event management team
- Developing a comprehensive master plan for every imaginable emergency
- Protecting the gate
- Building positive relationships with students and fans
- Being aware of “hot spots,” especially concession areas and parking lots at halftime and after the game
- Understanding “spectator parameters”
- Identifying all fans
Given the differences in size and scope among U.S. high schools, Hammes’ suggestions aren’t one-size-fits-all, but several school administrators who have seen his in-person presentations and spoke to USA TODAY Sports agree the information provided is useful and important.
“It’s really about being aware of all the different things that in 2015 we have to worry about,” said Rhonda Blanford-Green, the executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association, the governing body for athletics at 308 public and private schools. “People aren’t just coming to watch a game anymore. And people aren’t rational. And so it’s how to be prepared. It’s about being proactive and prepared for situations that could deter from what that end goal is, which is to have a great tournament or a great game.”