Are Clear Bag Policies Becoming Standard on Higher Ed Campuses?

In December of 2019, Boise State announced that a clear bag policy would take effect at Albertson’s Football Stadium at the end of the year, according to Idaho News. Fans will be permitted to bring one clear or vinyl plastic bag, package, or container that does not exceed 12x 6 x 12 inches; a one-gallon clear plastic freezer bag, or a clear purse, bag, or clutch no larger than 4.5 x 6.5 inches into the facility. Boise State Athletics informed students that large purses, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, luggage, computer bags, or bags larger than the size would no longer be permitted at games beginning with the 2020 season, with the exception of guests with specific medical needs or those caring for young children. Boise State is just the latest college or university to prohibit opaque bags for major sporting events, as clear bag policies are becoming standard on higher education campuses. 

Not long after Boise State rolled-out plans to institute a clear-bag policy, posting signs around the stadium following a big game against New Mexico months ahead of implementing the new rule, another nearby university announced a similar plan. University of Idaho announced a clear-bag policy for all events taking place at the Kibbie Stadium with an expected crowd of over 500 people, to take effect on January 1, 2020, according to the Argonaut. The University of Idaho Campus Security Manager Bruce Lovell noted that similar policies are common across the United States, and the school intended to add the policy to bring security standards up to par with the rest of the country, as per the Argonaut. 

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Idaho is far from the first state with higher education institutions making the change; though a clear bag policy is not federally mandated or ubiquitous by any means, it is becoming a more popular practice. By implementing the guideline, the University of Idaho hopes to help security staff and identify potential risks or suspicious behavior more easily. For example, students might have left a backpack unattended outside of the venue prior to the guideline, as many attend sporting events after class. By doing so, it becomes difficult for campus safety teams to identify if an unattended bag is suspicious or a risk. With the new policy, it becomes easier for law enforcement to determine if an abandoned bag might be intentional, as opaque bags are no longer allowed near the premises during a sports game.

In an era with new safety risks and rising rates of gun violence, holistic practices to bolster safety such as clear bag policy are becoming more common on campus, though for now are largely within the jurisdiction of a sporting event where safety management of a large crowd is required.  

Why Are Clear Bag Policies Becoming More Common? 

Since mid-august, gunshots broke out near more than 20 school sporting events, according to the New York Times. Amid rising rates of national gun violence, many college or university campus safety managers have prioritized preventing gun-related incidents on campus, but physical security efforts often focus on the classroom or shared community spaces, such as a student center. It’s critical that campus leaders do not overlook athletic programming as part of a comprehensive security plan, and safety managers are beginning to agree, somewhat unanimously, that clear-bag policies might be a best practice on campus. 

Security for major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, have become a subject for major news reports. Due to recent tragedies at public and private events, such as the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2017, or the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April of 2013, many safety managers have begun to rethink safety for events with large crowds. NCAA football games are a microcosm of the NFL. Ensuring that attendees are safe requires a holistic safety plan - and instituting a clear-bag policy can streamline safety procedures.  

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It seems likely that clear bag protocol will become commonplace for college and university campuses hosting a major sporting events, but there are no federal or state laws mandating a school must institute such a policy. Nor does the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) require football leagues to follow a clear-bag policy, though events hosted in collaboration with the organization often do. Each school can use appropriate safety training information and research on policies on decide how the practice can work on their campus. 

Will Clear Bag Protocol Apply To Other Campus Facilities? 

For now, clear bag policy is most commonly leveraged to ensure safety at football games or other major events. However, some colleges or universities have considered expanding clear bag requirements to other events or facilities - such as other smaller sporting events, such as volleyball, basketball, or baseball, as well as commencement ceremonies or conferences. For any event with over 500 guests, and those which bring guests to campus, ensuring that unfamiliar packages are not being  brought into a facility is a valuable practice. 

Pushback from students, faculty, and staff may arise if a college or university opts for a clear-bag policy for all of campus. For many, an umbrella clear bag can contribute to a general feeling that the campus is unsafe. Other critics of clear-bag policies have cited privacy concerns, and a general sentiment that a universal clear-bag policy benefits manufacturers, or forces students to purchase an additional bag, which may not be financially viable, can also be a concern.

Each college and university must determine when and where a clear-bag policy is appropriate, and might want to make other considerations, such as student’s financial concerns, before implementing clear-bag protocol across all campus facilities. No matter what your campus decides, communicating is essential. 

Leveraging Technology During a Clear Bag Policy Transition

For any college implementing a clear-bag policy for the first time, or looking to expand an existing policy to other facilities on campus, a mass notification system can be a valuable tool. Many college or university safety teams likely already use the system to provide students, faculty, guests, and security personnel on with non-emergency information. Ahead of a new football season, campus safety managers can alert attendees of the change in policy, so students can leave any bags which are prohibited at home, or if they are bringing a bag, be aware that their luggage might need to be locked up by security at the event.  

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Interdepartmental communication amid major policy changes can be facilitated by mass notification as well. A mass notification system has the ability to segment uploaded databases into groups according to locations, roles, or other attributes. This facilitates group messaging in a similar way to messaging apps in order to keep different departments in the loop about protocol developments.

SMS Opt-In is another feature of a mass notification platform that can play a key role on game day. By leveraging the capability, a temporary keyword opt-in function that enables event attendees who are not students or campus staff to connect with the service and receive alerts should an emergency occur. If guests will be on campus for a football game or other major event, safety managers can send a reminder about the newly-instituted clear bag policy to these people as well.

Higher Ed CIO

Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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