Grand Forks arenas using metal detectors to up security

Metal detectors sit in the concourse of Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

GRAND FORKS — 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.”

Engelstad Arena staff 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.

With the University of North Dakota men’s hockey season beginning Saturday, Oct. 5, with UND hosting 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 familiar with in recent decades, and markedly so since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That same culture of concern came to North Dakota, too. In 2004, the Associated Press reported that the world junior hockey tournament — hosted at Ralph Engelstad Arena — was seen as 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.

Bruce Schneier, a security expert and lecturer at Harvard, wrote in an email 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.

For major ticketed events, such as concerts, the Alerus also uses bag checks and metal detectors for guests and has an array of security cameras.

“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.”

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