The story of the ISIS attacks in Paris is, sadly, far from over. The investigation into how this happened and whether follow-up attacks are possible (much less probable) continues, all while France contemplates its next steps.
Yet, some comfort can be taken in the small victories that prevented this tragedy from being even more deadly. French security officials confirmed that one team of attackers attempted to enter the Stade de France to kill innocents at the France vs. Germany football match.
According to published reports, a security guard screened the suicide bomber as he attempted to enter the stadium. The deadly payload was quickly discovered, leading the bomber to back away from security before detonating a vest loaded with explosives and bolts.
Imagine if that bomber had made his way in to the Stade? Given the number of fans in the area, there's no doubt the casualties would have been much greater; the number of dead and wounded could easily have been on par with the Parisian concert hall massacre.
This was not, as some have suggested, the result of good luck or providence. The actions of the security guard were the result of years of training and refined security policies. Trust me, I know: As a board member of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), run out of the University of Mississippi, sports security officials across the globe have worked incredibly hard since 9/11 to massively increase security at stadiums.
The net result has been that stadiums are often inappropriately labeled as "soft" targets, meaning terrorists could easily strike there with devastating results. Here in the United States, sports leagues and their security leaders have spent the last 14-plus years working tirelessly to transform their venues into "hard" targets by exchanging best practices and ramping up security at all levels.
This has not been easy--as Jeffrey Miller, the Senior Vice President of Security for the NFL, noted on Sunday, security at stadiums is a careful balance between increased vigilance and ensuring a pleasant fan experience. That's certainly a true statement, particularly because turning a stadium into a de facto Fort Knox is a no-win situation.
Thankfully, sports leaders have invested a great amount of time and effort into the smart application of layers of security at their respective venues. That means that safety isn't measured by overly simplistic metrics such as the number of police present. Rather, it is determined by the overall security program and how well it addresses security at multiple locations.
Unfortunately, a few too many critics have been quick to skewer these increased security measures. Baseball, for instance, was criticized for installing metal detectors earlier this season at ballparks across the country. Skeptics argued that increased screening and searching of fans entering a ballpark would only lead to entrance delays, with no measurable impact on fan safety.
The Stade de France patrons whose lives were saved as a result of just that kind of "theatrical" screening likely would beg to differ. (Full disclosure: I serve as counsel to Major League Baseball and participated in the development of MLB's fan screening policies).
The larger point is this: ISIS is far from invincible, and common sense security measures implemented in the past decade have made us safer than we realize. Are we immune from terrorist attacks? Absolutely not--anyone with enough motivation and time can cause chaos.
Thankfully, though, here in the U.S. and elsewhere security professionals are seeing the fruit of their hard work. Lives are being saved, and lessons are already being implemented to help increase security and to minimize the likelihood of another tragedy. Let's all be thankful for that.