How Security in the Sports Industry Is Changing: Interview With Atlanta Hawks

The pandemic has affected every business, industry, and sector including the professional sports industry. Professional teams and organizations have been actively figuring out how to keep players and coaches healthy while still providing an exciting at-home fan experience for millions of enthusiasts. From implementing testing and health checks to updating visitor management protocols, security in the sports world is changing and adapting to a new normal post-COVID.

In this interview with Atlanta Hawks Security Supervisor Jacob Artis, we discuss how security in the sports industry is changing and how professional security teams can manage the continued challenges ahead.

Atlanta Hawks Security Supervisor Jacob Artis.

Tell us about your background and experience in security.

Jacob Artis: I actually started in college at Albany State University and didn’t know I was going down this path. I just needed money in my pocket and started at Ross Dress for Less as a Loss Prevention Officer. It was simple stuff — mitigating theft and fraud, but there were so many things that I learned in just those few months being in that position. I learned I had a knack for it, so much that within four or five months, I was promoted to supervisor, and then manager when needed. 

I got homesick and moved back to Atlanta. I started working with AlliedBarton as an officer while still going to school — money in my pocket at the time. Eventually, it just kept rolling and rolling in as I got another position as a manager for another security company. I started to realize, wow, I really enjoy what I’m doing. 

I then started looking for more opportunities and joined the AMB Sports and Ent. Group. As a sports fan,  I had finally found a place that merged passions with my talents. I continued to move up in that company. Then, I saw an opportunity with the Hawks and took it. I was headstrong and kept my nose to the grindstone. It’s been a great experience up to this point, especially dealing with the pandemic. I’m able to see a different side of things that not a lot of people understand who are on the outside looking in.

What made you transition to security within sports? 

I’ve been a big sports fanatic since I was a kid playing baseball. Baseball is my first love, and growing up in Atlanta, I’m a huge Atlanta Falcons fan. I started out just wanting to be in the stadium and found my way in working security. It was a different type of security I had never encountered before. I had done contract and retail security, things like that. This felt like it would be different and it was. I saw the different sides of security that I never thought I’d experience, like working with FEMA and the secret service when the president came to the stadium. It was pretty cool. So, when I saw an opportunity to not only gain new experience but work for the team that I’d always loved, I had to take it. 

What is your current role and responsibilities for the Atlanta Hawks?

Currently, I’m a Security Supervisor for the Atlanta Hawks building security. I have a team that reports to me that I ensure do their patrols and account for equipment. I try to make sure I create an environment where they can thrive as well. Often, the security officer job comes with a security officer profile — one of those dead-end jobs where the person can’t do anything or go any further in their career. I don’t believe that. I believe these people have an opportunity to better themselves. I introduce different trainings to them like report writing and how to keep their minds engaged while at a post. I’ve also introduced them to different programs and ways of thinking that they could use in other jobs or positions that don’t necessarily have a security base. 

Have you seen a shift from security to safety during COVID-19? How has security changed post-COVID? We’ve talked to a few security professionals and we’ve heard it’s less about security and more about creating safety on all levels. 

Yeah, I would agree with that. And in a way you can say security and safety are synonymous. They go hand in hand to bring more awareness to how you operate your day to day. You protect yourself and the health of your body. If you think of your body like a building, you start to talk about access control. There are certain things you don’t want in your building, like you don’t want in your body, to keep it healthy and running like a well-oiled machine. I’m sure a lot of people don’t think about the virus in the context of the security field, but we are allowing people to freely roam in different places and have to find a way to contain the virus and keep it out as often as possible. 

What are the specific challenges & needs within sports (ex: Fingerprint scanners are bad cause players are sweaty all the time)? What is unique to the sports industry? 

The games and the fans. You deal with so many different people from so many different walks of life, and it’s a mixed bag at every event. You may have a similar demographic or a million different people — it all depends. Dealing with this pandemic was so tricky just for the simple fact that you just don’t know where people are coming from. Certain jobs can ask their people, “Have you been in contact with someone within 14 days?” But from an industry standpoint, you may not be able to ask thousands of fans that question. You have to think about quick ways to do quick scans and pray that not having a fever is enough. Then, once the fans leave, you have to deploy more safety measures because you don’t want your employees or your officers to get sick from what’s been left in the arena or stadium. So, it definitely brings about so many different hoops and hurdles.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your current role?

Keeping my employees safe. Making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do during work and after work. We can’t enforce the safety protocols if we’re not following them ourselves. I had a personal battle with the COVID-19 virus. So, having that experience with it made me realize just how much you have to take care of yourself. I thought I was doing everything right. I was wearing my mask and washing my hands all the time. Every time I got off work, I would jump in the shower because I have a family to protect as well. Even with all the precautions, you can still contract it. But to me, the challenge is just making sure that my officers are doing what they’re supposed to do. And even though they still have a job to do, you still practice social distancing as much as possible. I’m just focused on keeping them out of harm’s way as much as I can. 

How big is the team that you manage? And what is the biggest concern you hear from your officers?  

I manage over 15 people. Making sure the company is taking precautions to keep the employees safe. When you’re working security, you’re on the front lines; you’re the boots on the ground. My officers are doing everything they can for the company and they want to make sure the company is doing the same — taking care of them in return. 

What new changes, protocols, or guidelines have been implemented post-COVID?

We are taking the same approach that a lot of people are taking. Checking people before they come in, especially temperature checks, and making sure they have masks and gloves. We make sure we account for everyone in the building and nobody comes in unannounced. 

What is your policy for visitors and visitor management and has that changed?

We make sure that we know who’s coming in the building. Communication is always key. 

What’s the security environment like as far as players and coaches? 

We treat everyone the same: players, coaches, employees. Everyone gets a temperature scan and answers the questionnaire. That’s our number one process. Once all of those items are processed and pass our authorization process, they are allowed into their respective entries. 

Is that a health check questionnaire through an app? 

Yes, we have different ways to do it. Each individual must scan a barcode provided by the company and answer the questionnaire. Some people can do it via an iPad or on their personal mobile device, whichever one gives them the most comfort. 

Did you adopt the ring like they did in the bubble? Any particular reason why or why not? 

No. I am sure the company is considering it with a host of other practices to prevent the spread. The Hawks have been doing everything they can to make sure all of our guests and employees are safe at all times.

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