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Metal detectors at Bills game portend future of NFL security

Roughly 10,000 Buffalo Bills fans entering one of the Ralph Wilson Stadium gates for each game this season will get a glimpse of future National Football League security measures: They will pass through walk-thru metal detectors similar to the kind found in airports.

But they won’t have to take off their shoes or belts or remove their wallets or coins from their pockets.

Bills officials say the 12 new metal detectors at Gate 3, along the west – or Abbott Road – side of the stadium will provide less invasive and quicker access than the hand-held wands still being used at the other gates.

That’s just one new game-day security measure unveiled Tuesday by the Bills, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the county Office for the Disabled. The Bills open their regular season at home Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

Among other measures, fans will not be allowed to bring any tobacco products – including cigarettes, lighters and e-cigarettes – into the stadium. And any season-ticket holders using Accessible Parking permits without the permit holder being present could lose their season tickets.

The dozen new metal detectors already were used for the team’s second home preseason game. Similar detectors also have been employed in NFL stadiums in New York, San Francisco, Oakland and New England. The detectors will become standard procedure throughout the league next season.

Based on their earlier use, those teams have reported that the use of the metal detectors, compared to hand-held wands, has decreased the walk-thru time from about 11 or 13 seconds to 3 or 4 seconds per fan.

Apparently, part of the reason for the quicker walk-thru time is that the metal detectors don’t go off as frequently as the hand-held wands. And when the new detectors do go off, they signal exactly where the metal item is, whether it’s on the left shoulder, right knee, left foot, etc., officials say.

“As good as the hand-helds are, there still is room for human error,” said Andy Major, the Bills vice president of operations and guest experience. “With the walk-thru, there is no human error. It’s a machine you have to walk through.”

Fans can find the new metal-detector guidelines written just above the 12 new light-gray metal detectors at Gate 3. The signs ask fans to remove their phones, cameras, glass cases and other large metal items. But they don’t have to remove their belts, wallets, coins, jackets, shoes, watches or jewelry.

Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard admitted Tuesday that he initially was skeptical about the new metal detectors and their ability to provide quicker access for fans. But then he saw them in use at the Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game on Aug. 29.

“I will confess that I was wrong with my skepticism,” Howard said, noting that the new detectors can increase safety while also speeding up the gate-entry process. “So I applaud it.”

Security personnel working Gate 3 at the last preseason game told Bills officials the same thing, that they had gone from being skeptics to believers, Major said. Bills officials also asked fans who had just passed through the new detectors.

“Some fans came up to us and said, ‘Man, you should have done this years ago. This is great,’ ” Major said. “It’s nice to hear.”

Officials on Tuesday also once again took aim at the stadium smoking problem. For the first time, the Bills are banning all tobacco products inside the stadium gates, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, lighters and matches. It’s clear that the team is trying to make a statement.

“Ralph Wilson Stadium is a smoke-free facility,” Major emphasized. “Even though our arrests and ejections have gone down … we still see a number of smoking incidents inside the stadium. This will help the process. If you can’t bring [cigarettes] in, you can’t smoke them.”

Major, Howard and Frank Cammarata, executive director of the Erie County Office for the Disabled, all pleaded with fans to adhere to the accessible-parking rules. And they noted that violators, especially people using counterfeit Accessible Parking permits or anyone using them without the permit holder being present, will have the permits confiscated and could be “in jeopardy” of losing their season tickets.

“It’s a matter of respect for people with disabilities,” Cammarata said.

The Buffalo Bills website also lists one other newly prohibited item this season:

Drones and Unmanned Aircraft Devices.


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