As a Big Ten school with a several million dollar football program and a wealth of school spirit, the University of Michigan hosts massive football games that take place nearly every week during the fall semester. The University’s stadium, the Big House, is the largest stadium in the United States, seating over 107,000 people. The last time the stadium saw attendance under 100,000 was in 1975.
With such a large stadium, ensuring the safety and security of so many people is a major endeavor, local law enforcers tell The Michigan Daily. So how do the University and public safety authorities keep people safe during game days?
Lt. Mike Scherba, Ann Arbor Police Department special services section commander, told The Michigan Daily that numerous public safety agencies are involved in coordinating stadium security. According to Scherba, there are usually about 200 to 250 AAPD officers working the games.
“The part we play is getting people in and out safely (and) making sure they’re safe while they’re at the stadium,” Scherba said. “We just try to make the event a great experience for anyone that comes to the city.”
Scherba said the agencies working the game include the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS), AAPD, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, Pittsfield Township Police and Michigan State Police. Also onsite are staff from Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA), the primary EMS provider for Washtenaw County. Scherba added that there are usually representatives from federal agencies in attendance as well.
Melissa Overton, Deputy Chief and spokesperson of DPSS, said these public safety agencies have been consistently collaborating at football games for years.
“I’ve been here for almost 30 years and we’ve always worked very closely with all the agencies that work with us during football,” Overton said. “We do a lot of safety planning and coordinating well in advance of each season and even before each game specifically.”
LSA sophomore Jonah Fitzgerald said he is reassured by the visible security presence at games, such as the police officers patrolling the stadium grounds.
“I would say seeing police officers does make me feel more safe,” Fitzgerald said.
In addition to the impressive attendance in the stadium, over 50,000 people tailgate in Ann Arbor’s downtown area and stadium vicinity.
According to Scherba, AAPD is in charge of most of the traffic direction during game days, but other agencies such as the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office also assist. Once attendees reach the stadium gates, they are checked by security personnel, who reserve the right to search attendees upon arrival. Security measures also include a ban on certain items, such as bags, water bottles and items “that may obstruct or impair the view or enjoyment of another attendee.”
LSA sophomore Liza Lachter said the security measures taken at the gate make her feel safer.
“It makes me feel better that people can’t bring bags and then there’s people checking for your ticket and then your Mcard,” Lachter said.
Fitzgerald said he felt safe at games as a whole, but said he would like to see security staff perform more thorough checks upon entry into the stadium.
Although the University itself does not reveal information on safety issues at games, MLive generally publishes data provided by Overton after home games. The most recent article, after Sept. 24’s Maryland game, reports 21 individuals being ejected from the stadium, five of whom were ejected for excessive intoxication. It was also reported that 23 people were seen at the stadium’s medical facility, including 15 for excessive alcohol consumption.
Overton suggested that attendees be careful when drinking on game days.
“I always (suggest to) stay with a friend and know your limits with drinking,” Overton said.
Scherba encouraged students to be responsible with their choices surrounding alcohol use.
“What (students) can do is to make wise decisions about alcohol use and consumption,” Scherba said. “We see a few every game where someone has had too much to drink, they become sick in the stands or they pass out in the stands, things like that. So that’s how students can do their part.”
Lachter, who has been going to all the home football games, said she feels the general vicinity of the arena space is well protected.
“I feel like there’s people around usually and it’s a pretty open space in case of emergency,” Lachter said.
LSA senior Mutaz Faqqouseh said while he doesn’t feel unsafe at games, he could see how the large crowd of students before and after games could be an issue for others. Faqqouseh suggested that U-M officials work on improving the flow of people at congestion points.
“I do feel like the people that are actually directing people in and out of the sections almost inhibit people being able to move,” Faqquoseh said. “There is a lot of disorder that comes with these games, but I don’t think that just letting the disorder play out is the correct way to do it.”
Scherba said part of safety planning involves being aware of potential terror threats involving vehicles in crowds or dangerous drones flying over. Scherba said a variety of efforts are being taken to mitigate these threats and that there is constant planning and coordination between agencies to ensure that they do not become reality.
“We’re doing everything that we can and we’re keeping contact with the FBI and with other agencies to get any emerging threats and address them before they become problematic,” Scherba said.
Daily Staff Reporter Levi Herron can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.