Commentary on the NHL100 Outdoor Game Security Failures in Ottawa

I attended the festivities of the NHL100 Outdoor game. Perhaps this post is a little tardy, but it’s been a busy week, especially with my recent NYE post. This past weekend was the NHL 100 outdoor hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens, held on the Redblacks/Fury field at TD Place. This event was very popular and highly anticipated, not just for fans of each team, but for the local business community as well. With an anticipated 35,000+ people coming to the game, plus many more for the surrounding festivities, the area was alive with energy. In order to accommodate this volume of people, the stadium took advantage of the recently erected “east side” temporary stands that were put in place for the Grey Cup game.

This post is not a review of the event, but rather a commentary on the failures of the planning committee with regards to crowd flow and preparation for the temperature. Throughout the afternoon and evening, I was able to do a lot of people watching leading up to puck drop, as well as witness the interaction between patrons and the volunteers and security guards, through the actual game and more interestingly, the intermissions.

The Layout:

In order to enter the arena area, you had to use one of four gates, each of which was equipped with a standard NHL regulated metal detector and security screening. Gates 1-3 were located in and around the actual TD place stadium, utilizing existing infrastructure of the facility. Gate 4 however, was a temporary measure designed to accommodate the additional traffic for the temporary east stands and the public area located on the “great lawn” behind those stands. Gate 4 was also the closest gate to where the shuttles dropped the people who were arriving from multiple park-and-ride locations from within the city. It was also the closest gate to multiple restaurants in the Lansdowne area as well as the outside festivities of the pre-game show. As part of the pre-game show, the NHL held a party inside the Aberdeen Pavilion, located just beside the stadium. The pre-game party boasted such offerings as beer, food, and most importantly for mid-December, warmth. I’m not sure of the overall capacity of the Aberdeen Pavilion, but there were hundreds, if not thousands of people in there. The entrance to the Aberdeen Pavilion was located on the opposite side of the building from the arena (the north side of the building) and exited from the east side.

The Process:

Entering the event was fairly straight forward: line up, go through a metal detector/security screening, have your ticket scanned. That’s it; that’s all. Pretty simple in theory, and it makes sense, when applied to an NHL arena, but not really conducive to an outdoor game. To enter the pre-game party, patrons were still required to enter through metal detectors, but there was no ticket scanning as they weren’t actually going into the game area at this point. The ticket scanning was done at the exit of the pre-game party where the patron could choose to turn right to enter the game area, or left to exit the facilities back to the Lansdowne public area. When choosing to go right, there was a small entrance where two people were prepared to scan tickets, but no security was required as the fans had already gone through the security process when entering the Aberdeen. This small entrance was separated from gate 4 only by the standard crowd control fence line seen at most events.

The Problems Begin:

I was hanging around gate 4 to see how the NHL and security would process that many people in a timely manner, equipped with only 8 metal detectors, and accompanied by the secondary scanning entrance beside the gate for patrons of the pre-game party. The design and layout seemed to be insufficient, and I was curious to see how it was handled. Find below my time line account of the events as they unfolded:

  • 5:00pm – doors opened to the game area, with only a handful of fans entering at that time, likely due to the -15-degree weather. There were plenty of people walking around the Lansdowne area, taking in the sites and going to the many restaurants for a bite before game time at 7:00pm;
  • 5:30pm – The line at gate 4 picked up slightly and people were being processed through security and ticket scanning at an expected rate. The pre-game party line into the Aberdeen was longer and the Pavilion was filling up accordingly, while patrons enjoyed the accompanying warmth of both heat and beer;
  • 6:00pm – the number of patrons to get in gate 4 suddenly increased as many people arrived at the same time, resulting in a line that quickly built up to a point where security could simply not process the volume of people as quickly as the patrons would have liked. Although still moving at a steady and expected rate, the number of lines was simply not conducive to the volume of people arriving. In an attempt to hasten the processing time, an “express line” was opened up to accommodate people without bags. The line for the Aberdeen also continued to grow as people were looking to avoid the newly formed line at gate 4 and warm up before puck-drop.
  • 6:30pm – the line ups had doubled in length to get into gate 4 and ran out into the street by the Horticulture building. Although it was getting difficult to distinguish one line from another, the express line was the longest of the 8 lines and ultimately it became uncertain if it was truly the faster option. The line up at Aberdeen also continued to grow to the point where both lines had intersected in a massive group of people and confusion. People started to leave the Aberdeen Pavilion through the exit and make their way to the game area where only 2 tickets scanners were available to process them. This line very quickly built up and became a considerable issue.
  • 6:45pm – Very little change in the line for gate 4, it was moving at a snail’s pace with what seemed to be about a 30 minute wait (estimated as I didn’t time people) to get into the game area. At this point, there were no definable lines, it was just one huge cluster of people. The line into the Aberdeen trickled out to a handful of people, but all the patrons inside the Aberdeen were now leaving en masse and heading into the game area. It was discovered that the people in the Aberdeen Pavilion held tickets to all four gates, but when leaving the Aberdeen were trying to enter at the small gate 4 entrance, as it was by far the closest option. The line was massive! With security slowing down the line at gate 4 due to standard processing time, more scanners were sent to the small gate 4 entrance where security wasn’t needed (since these patrons went through when entering the Aberdeen already), but processing was still slow.
  • 7:00pm – The F-18 (only one, the second one that was supposed to be with it broke down right before the game, according to my RCAF contact) did it’s flyover and the opening ceremonies started. The crowd began to become very angry at this point having waited for so long with no end in site. Toersa security, at the front end of the lines was faced with the brunt of the anger, getting yelled at and sworn at by many aggressive fans waiting in line. They did their jobs very professionally and didn’t seem to let it bother them. At one point, when the secondary line from the Aberdeen was discovered by the patrons in the main line, the people in the main line became even more enraged as it was moving at a much faster pace. Those in the main line started shaking the fence line to a point where I thought it was going to come down (remember that night at Bluesfest?? Read my commentary of that here): http://www.covertottawaguy.com/2017/07/19/bluesfest-security-incident-on-hip-hop-night/
  • 7:30pm – Part-way into the first period, there was still no end in sight for the people in line, and with still only eight metal detectors, there was little movement for the multiple thousands of people in line, and the anger and hatred escalated quickly. Ticket prices were several hundred dollars each (depending on where the seats were), and it appeared as though the entire first period may be lost for those still waiting in line. The NHL, privy to all this commotion, made an executive decision to open up the small entrance to gate 4 to anyone who wanted to use it. This set off a stampede of people still at the back of the line straight into a secure zone, bypassing any security measures. The people in the middle to front of the main line at gate 4 were still stuck waiting in the line, while watching people who arrived after them get in first. You can imagine how well this went over. People just wanted to vent their newly enhanced anger and yell at anyone they could, so once again Toersa security bore the brunt of the anger, but continued to handle it well.
  • 7:45pm – Due to the league deciding to bypass security procedures, the line was cleared, with several thousand people making their way into the stadium. The NHL decided to focus on customer service over safety and security. I spoke to several security guards in the minutes after the chaos ended and they were all relieved that it was over, but at the same time frustrated at the lack of preparation by the organizers and the decision to remove security at the last minute.

The night didn’t end there. I made my way into the game area (benefit of being Covert Ottawa Guy!) towards the end of the first intermission. There were people all over the place, exploring and taking in the sights at this once-in-a-lifetime event. There were food trucks and warming tents set up on the great lawn for people to utilize, as well as the basic merchandise shops and beverage stands located in the TD Place stadium. On the great lawn, there were multiple festival tents set up with heaters, two parked and running OC Transpo buses, plus the Aberdeen Pavilion and the North side stands available for fans to warm up and escape the brutal cold. This was simply not enough for 35,000 fans. The north side stands, as the closest warm location, became the go-to point for basically everyone in the east stands, and it quickly became a massive safety hazard. With people being crammed into every corner, pushing and shoving ensued, and an already hostile fan base was pushed to the limit. A decision was made right then and there that nobody without north side seats was to be permitted into the north stands once they had left. A team of 3-5 security guards (again Toersa) accompanied by half a dozen volunteers were dispatched to man a small fence line that was erected to enforce this new rule. It didn’t seem too difficult of a task, as the security was simply explaining to patrons that the Aberdeen, only a short distance away, was available to warm up. This was seamless until the second intermission hit, when it felt like Braveheart was being played out again with the hoards of people coming from the east stands to the north, as they had during the first intermission. The volunteers and security line held them off, but faced a second barrage of aggression from these fans. After successfully weathering the storm of the second intermission, the line of defence now had to face all the fans who had to pass through the stadium to “meet someone, get to their car, buy some merch, go get a bus/cab, or pick up something….” or any number of other excuses that made their entrance into the stadium necessary. This appeared to be more difficult to enforce than the intermission crowds as the latter were satisfied with a simple instruction of “go around”. As the game came to a close, and the crowd dissipated, there was a sense of relief felt from all parties that I spoke to. Everyone was tired, very cold and exhausted from being yelled and sworn at all night. One particular volunteer was a sweet little old lady, clearly not expecting this atmosphere, dealing with the hostility of the fans head on and seemed overwhelmed. I felt really sad for her, but when she left for the night, I noticed a smile on her face, and she said goodbye to everyone working. The jury is out on whether the smile was the satisfaction of a job well done, or just simply relief that it was finally over.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was simply the gate 4 area. I didn’t personally witness the other gates, and knowing that a massive number of people who held gate 1-3 tickets entered at gate 4 anyway, I imagine this was an isolated, or at least exaggerated incident, and I’m hoping that it was much calmer elsewhere. I expected a huge media backlash the following day, but it was quite subdued for some reason; perhaps they were focused on the event itself. However, my goal isn’t just to review events, but to focus more on the experience that people encounter when attending these events.

I’m quite impressed once again with the professionalism of Toersa Security. I am also impressed with the competence and ability to adjust to change of the ticket scanners. And finally, I’m impressed with the volunteers for this event. I’m sure it was a trying situation for all involved and none of those people deserved to be faced with the awful behaviour of the crowd. As an aside, the only demographic comment I will make is that while observing the fans at the entrance to the North stands (and to an extent, waiting to enter at the start of the game), there were a lot of inappropriately rude, and aggressive people swearing at volunteers and yelling comments like, “I hate Ottawa!” and, “this is why I don’t like coming here”. These fans often wore Montreal Canadiens jerseys…JUST SAYING!!! The NHL (or organizers) seemed to drop the ball on the supporting planning roles for the event, but aside from the mess of admission and overwhelming crowds, it seemed to go reasonably well. Overall, I’m sure the event was a huge success and, as any event, it will have people who loved it and hated it, praised it and complained about it. But it seemed well attended and was definitely a great show (of hockey, Bryan Adams concert, Air force fly by, and fireworks). OH! And the Sens WON!!! SHUT OUT!!!

If you have your own stories and feedback about the event, I’d love to hear from those of you who were there. Maybe even from the other gates that I wasn’t able to get to. Feel free to comment on this post, I’d love to stir up some discussion.

Links:

TD Place: https://www.tdplace.ca/

Toersa Security: http://toersa.com/

Ottawa Senators: https://www.nhl.com/senators/

Montreal Canadiens: https://www.nhl.com/canadiens

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