University of Southern Miss game day is a picturesque sea of fans packing the gates, eager to hand in their tickets, get a bird's-eye view of the players and surround the stadium with tailgating activities.
The atmosphere smells of concession food as the pounding music of The Pride and roar of the crowd reverberates through the stands. However, one element is best left largely unnoticed, to blend into the environment.
Safety - that's Wayne Hedrick's job. As director of safety and security compliance for the Southern Miss Athletic Department, Hedrick is a retired FBI agent of 25 years. He has spent time working with Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, just to name a few. He joined Southern Miss earlier this year to work with the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management (CSSSM).
At Southern Miss, Hedrick sums up his role, which is "to do whatever needs to be done" to ensure game day security.
"If you look at any athletic department, you will see associate and assistant athletic directors in charge of a lot of different responsibilities; but you won't find anyone who works strictly with safety and security," Hedrick said. "The idea behind my position is someone responsible for spectator safety and all who are involved in game day."
After joining Southern Miss Athletics this summer, Hedrick said the first thing he identified was the need for a game day operation plan for M.M. Roberts Stadium. That includes listing all individuals who play a part in game day, from athletics to ushers. Another addition was to install access control for stadium suites.
M.M. Roberts Stadium already has undergone a security transformation in the past year as the first university stadium in the nation to meet the security requirements for the Sports Event Security Aware (SESA) Seal of Approval by the CSSSM.
University Police Chief Bob Hopkins said officials now have an emergency plan for evacuation, lockdowns before games, better credentialing, early positioning of security officials inside and outside game perimeter and increased assessments.
"People will notice more police present, because we have enlarged the facility, and a more professional staff," Hopkins said, adding that the university works with a company that provides support staff with security awareness training.
For Southern Miss football and other athletic events throughout the year, evacuation plans will be enhanced for the stadium, the coliseum and baseball field. There will be an increase in emergency drills, tabletop exercises, updates on emergency scenarios and including more surrounding area emergency officials for multi-agency collaboration – an initiative CSSSM officials emphasize when training on spectator safety at sports events.
Security is the component that ensures fans have a safe and enjoyable experience, said Southern Miss Director of Athletics Richard Giannini.
"To have Wayne, a former FBI agent that is heavily involved in stadium security really benefits us and puts us ahead of the rest in the country," Giannini said. "Spectator safety is first and foremost, and we're taking extra measures that our fans are in a safe environment."
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.