Jody Hodgson says his guys have seen it all.
He’s been the general manager of Ralph Engelstad Arena for nearly a decade and a half, and he’s seen guests try to carry all kinds of things through the front door. A lot of the time, it’s someone well-meaning with a penknife in their pocket. Other times, it’s an inventive way to smuggle in contraband.
“We’ve seen just about every object imaginable that alcoholic beverages can be transported in,” Hodgson said. “We’re certainly aware of some of the new and creative ways people are doing that.”
The Ralph might catch even more in the future — and, though officials there hope they don’t have to, they may catch someone who means genuine harm as well. The arena is this year is unveil the devices at a range of events in the building, including marquee sports games like men’s hockey.
The men's hockey season begins today (Saturday, Oct. 5), when UND hosts the University of Manitoba for an exhibition game. It will mark the first time fans have filed through metal detectors at the doors of a UND hockey game.
“As we evaluate and try to balance out our guest services program with the fans’ safety, we didn’t think that it warranted having the walk-though metal detectors, but we made the decision over the off-season to implement them moving forward and use them as an added safety precaution,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson declined to discuss the full array of security measures at the arena — as well as the full budget — noting that he does not want the general public to gain too much insight into the measures meant to deter wrongdoing. But he pointed out that the arena also relies on an extensive camera network.
“Everybody should assume they’re on camera at all times when they’re at Ralph Engelstad Arena,” he said.
Security measures like metal detectors, bag checks and the like are something Americans have become intimately familiar with in recent decades, and markedly so since 9/11. Perhaps the most famously restrictive measures have appeared around air travel — but the same fears have shaped the way stadiums and other large events managed their own security, too. Sports Illustrated reported in 2011 that the St. Louis Cardinals’ stadium, opened in 2006, had “five times as many security cameras as in early plans.” The design also included a “buffer zone” that could keep cars further away from the structure.
That same culture of concern came to North Dakota, too. In 2004, the Associated Press reported that the world junior hockey tournament — hosted at the Ralph — was seen one of several “potential terrorist targets” around North Dakota, alongside gubernatorial inaugurations and Minot’s Norsk Hostfest.
Hodgson, whose previous job was at a venue in Tacoma, Wash., said security evolved quickly after the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.
“(Security culture) changed significantly,” he recalls of the post-9/11 era. “It changed instantly and immediately, and it’s been evolving ever since.”
There are doubts as to how effective some security deterrents really are. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security tried to smuggle faux bombs and contraband weapons through TSA checkpoints. In 67 of 70 cases, it succeeded. In 2017, the test improved to a 70 or 80 percent failure rate, according to various outlets — one that left many observers skeptical at the time.
Bruce Schneier, a security expert and lecturer at Harvard, wrote in an email to the Herald that metal detectors and bag checks aren’t much of a serious deterrent to large-scale attacks — more like a line of defense for concession stands.
“It will protect against random drunk/violent idiots with guns and knives,” he wrote in an email. “It won't protect against terrorism.”
But Anna Rosburg, general manager of the Grand Forks Alerus Center, points out that her building is striking a balance.
“We’re working to do our due diligence on the facility side following industry best practices, but we still want to make sure we have a building that’s accessible to the public,” she said.
The Alerus regularly uses metal detectors, including at the Chris Young concert Thursday evening. Event-goers seem to be adapting well.
For major ticketed events, the Alerus also uses bag checks and metal detectors for guests and has an array of security cameras — though, like Hodgson, she declined to go into further details for fear of revealing too much about the systems in place. Spending on the items is hard to immediately quantify, Rosburg said, with costs varying by event.
“Our job is to prevent, you know, major loss of life, potential weapons, that sort of thing,” Rosburg said. “That’s the reason we do it, that’s our job, and that’s the reason we have those protocols in place.”