The hand-held wands are mostly gone. In their place are walk-through metal detectors at every gate.
That’s the biggest change in game-day security for Buffalo Bills fans entering Ralph Wilson Stadium this year, and it starts Saturday at the preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
While that’s the most noticeable change in fans’ game-day routines, many fans and Orchard Park residents will notice two changes in nearby parking lots, and both should appeal to neighbors and town officials:
• Privately owned satellite parking lots will need permits to park vehicles, starting in the regular season, and police will be able to patrol those private properties.
• The campers’ lot will be available by reservation only, probably eliminating the long lines that often formed outside the lot long before it opened on Saturday mornings.
But the metal detectors will affect the vast majority of Bills fans.
The metal detectors are designed to be less annoying, quicker and more effective than the hand-held wands that had been a fixture since 2012. Fans still will have to remove their cell phones and glass cases, but not their belts, shoes, wallets, keys, coins or watches.
“You eliminate a lot of human error from the screening process, because now you’re going through a metal detector,” said Andy Major, the Bills vice president of operations and guest experience. “The walk-through metal detectors will provide our fans with a safer, less invasive and more efficient screening process to help them get inside the gates quicker.”
Last year, the Bills and their security force installed 15 new metal detectors at one entry point, Gate 3, along the Abbott Road side of the stadium, in anticipation of installing the detectors at all gates this season.
The National Football League’s Best Practices guidelines urged the implementation of walk-thru metal detectors in 2015 and 2016, while they’re required for all teams in 2017, Major said.
Major and Scott Berchtold, senior vice president of communications, described the history of the security measures at stadium gates here, beginning with the universal pat-downs that took effect after the Sept. 11th attacks. That was followed by the hand-held wands starting in 2012 and now metal detectors.
That evolution has followed the way the world has changed since 2001, Berchtold suggested.
The Bills will have roughly 100 metal detectors total at the various gates, staffed by CSC and APEX security officers, plus sheriff’s deputies. Major said the team has installed more units than it probably needs, putting as many as it could fit into the available space.
The metal detectors, besides being less invasive than the wands, also speed up the process. That’s because the detectors don’t go off as frequently as the wands, and when they do, they signal where the detected metal is, like on the left shoulder or right foot.
Compared to the average of maybe 11 to 13 seconds for each fan in the wanding process, the metal-detector will be a much quicker process.
“You literally walk right through, in one or two seconds,” he said. “It’s drastically different than the wand.”
People with artificial knees or hips will be able to go through the detectors, Major said, while any fan who objects to them can opt for the wand.
Despite the quicker entry times, Bills officials, urge fans to arrive at the gates at least 45 minutes before kickoff.
The two parking-lot changes came largely in response to safety and traffic concerns voiced by neighbors and Orchard Park officials, the Bills executives suggested.
Requiring reservations for the campers’ lot should end or reduce the long lines of campers stretching from Abbott Road to Southwestern Boulevard, beginning late Friday, for fans waiting for the 8 a.m. Saturday lot opening. Major said about 80 percent of the spaces have been sold through season passes, and the remainder should be sold in advance, so people without a pass have no reason to line up.
“It created traffic and safety issues for the town, for the Orchard Park police and for other vehicles in the area,” he added.
The Bills, after working with town officials toward a new permit system for private satellite lots, are targeting the Sept. 15 home opener against the New York Jets to kick off that program.
“Those folks will have to get a permit to park cars on their property, and part of that permit will allow law enforcement to go into those lots,” Major said.
The team’s game-day policies and rules haven’t changed much, including tight restrictions on bags and two measures enacted last season, banning all tobacco products and drones.
This year, the team has added another no-no – “battery-operated clothing.”