09/08/2002 6:41 pm ET
Security plans adjusted after 9/11
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
For this post-traumatic baseball season to have unfolded without a depreciable decline in attendance, and without significant restraints on the mobility of ballplayers, is no small testament to that enduring American spirit of which we always talk.
It is also testimony to the efficiency of a mostly faceless security organization which works behind the scenes to secure all the venues where this most American of pastimes unfolds.
Along with our innocence, 9/11 took our ballpark simplicity. Nothing is as carefree as before -- traveling around to play the game, going through the turnstiles to watch it, entering a press box to cover it.
Yet we are safer in the ballparks than ever before, 9/11 having coerced those responsible for MLB security into a heightened sense of alert and readiness, vigilant about any crisis.
"We very quickly realized that we had to upgrade all of the procedures relating to safety and security in all our parks," says Kevin Hallinan, MLB's senior vice president for security and facility management. "We're better prepared for any emergency situation ... tornado, a train wreck such as the one last summer in Baltimore."
Hallinan is the hub of MLB's security efforts. He has held his role since 1986, and was already a 25-year law-enforcement and anti-terrorism veteran prior to joining the Commissioner's Office.
During the idle week following 9/11, Hallinan sprung into quick action to secure the nation's ballparks for the resumption of play, in close consultation with stadium and local law-enforcement personnel.
"We wanted to make sure that the level of security met the needs of our customers (baseball fans) and of our communities," Hallinan says. "We received tremendous cooperation, and input, from everyone.
"Our intent, absolutely, was to be as efficient and complete as we could possibly be, without the fans believing that they were in an armed camp. We're in the entertainment business, and we depend on return business.
"I think it's a pretty fair understatement to say that when people walk into one of our parks, they know they are in a safe environment."
When play resumed on Sept. 17, it was in a different ballpark environment. Some of the changes were evident to fans:
Coolers and backpacks were not allowed;
Smaller bags were permitted, but subject to inspection, leading to long delays at gates and earlier departures from home;
Areas within 100 feet of any ballpark were declared no-parking zones;
A more pronounced police presence existed both outside and inside the parks.
Others weren't as obvious:
All media, as well as other regular working ballpark personnel, required picture IDs for clearance;
In addition, media had to sign in wherever they needed access (locker rooms, elevator, press rooms), in many places both before and after games;
Daily, before the gates were thrown open, security forces swept a thorough dragnet through ballparks, often accompanied by specially trained dogs;
Regular deliveries to parks were inspected.
All of those measures remain in place, at selected parks joined by other regulations as the security effort continues evolving.
"Some clubs have elected to enhance what they do," Hallinan says, "and we support those efforts. Our fans have a sense that they are in a very safe place, without being overwhelmed by the security.
"As security experts, we can address issues very quietly and not turn it into a security event," adds Hallinan, who early in the process adamantly rejected the introduction of metal detectors.
"In my view, that is extreme. Baseball is a family sport, and that wasn't something we deemed necessary."
However, any and every aspect of Hallinan's operation is constantly re-evaluated.
"We've been consistent in criticizing our performance," Hallinan says. "We obviously try to battle the complacency that naturally sets in. We have to make sure that we're doing our jobs across the board.
"To further our goals, we're holding a series of security workshops with our clubs. We've had 15 so far, and we will continue that process throughout the season."
The ancillary benefits of greater overall vigilance have been obvious to Hallinan.
"As a result of 9/11, our stadium operators and their staffs are better at their jobs," he says. "We're much, much better at recognizing evacuation plans. Everyone, right down to the public address announcer, has a clearer understanding of what needs to be done.
"It's a learning experience. There's no book that gives you all this information. We've become better prepared in the most obvious and subtle ways ... being aware of some of the hazards close to parks, biological concerns, who are the first respondents to an event. On non-game days, we take a close look at and around properties, for things like where the fire hydrants are located."
Also evolving is how Major League teams travel. That clearly is a huge consideration, with more than a thousand players and other club personnel criss-crossing the nation from February through October.
Gone for good are the days traveling parties bussed to their charter planes on the tarmac, never setting foot in a terminal. According to Hallinan, MLB is still exploring a satisfactory arrangement within the intensified airport security dictums for the general traveling population.
"Even now, we are in discussion with the appropriate agencies to put together a program that addresses government concerns with charter flights," Hallinan says. "There will soon be a law targeting planes over 95,000 pounds, and it will change how we travel. We just haven't yet worked out the particulars.
"Travel has been a very strong consideration from the beginning. We have resident security agents traveling with our teams, and now they are also present at every Major League game. They pay attention to the slightest details ... hotels, luggage, mail processing ... across the board."
Prior to 9/11, Hallinan's concerns were relatively mundane. Every spring, he met with clubs individually to lecture on drugs, gambling and other vices. He helped gather the gambling evidence that led to Pete Rose's banishment. He guarded John Rocker after the reliever's controversial comments made him a target.
Then the field changed drastically, and Hallinan's anti-terrorist training unexpectedly became integral to his MLB duties.
"It's a very strange feeling to be in MLB security and to have my involvement with the investigation of terrorist activities come into play," he concedes. "I've worked with the FBI and the NYPD and organizations all over the country. In 1985, I attended Israel's anti-terrorism training school.
"The past year has been a culmination of all those years. It's helped me in some of the strategy developments. I've got a pretty good understanding of how we need to go about things now. That, and the fact stadium operators are really good at what they do, has made for a good combination.
"It's not me, by myself. Those individual stadium operators deserve most of the credit."
Tom Singer is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.