Bank OZK Arena will host eight graduations over the next few weeks, which has prompted new security protocols to ensure a safe and enjoyable time for all those attending.
According to Jennifer Wolcott, director of operations for Visit Hot Springs, this proactive approach of establishing new measures actually took place last year with the Arkansas State High School Basketball Tournament. This year the measures have been modified to specify only clear bags 14 by 14 by 6 inches will be allowed within the arena.
"During state basketball (this year), we probably had 55,000 people, give or take, and it went off really good that weekend," Wolcott said. "We had clear bags and the schools got the word out, and process and procedures were good. So this year for graduations, we've checked with Verizon (Arena) and all the other facilities in Arkansas. It's just what we're going to.
"So this year we're doing the clear bags for all the graduations in the arena. It's not for all events yet -- we're looking at that in the future -- but it is for the graduations this year."
In addition to only clear bags, only one bag per person is permitted. All individuals entering the venue are subject to search.
"We're following what other venues are doing and trying to be proactive with it," Wolcott said. "We don't want anything to happen, so we're being proactive."
Prohibited items for the graduation ceremonies include:
• Knives of any kind.
• Firearms of any kind.
• All bags larger than 14 by 14 by 6 inches.
• More than one clear bag per person.
• Fireworks or pyrotechnics of any kind.
• Outside food or beverages.
• Beach balls.
• Laser pointers.
• Noisemaking devices.
• Audio or video recording devices other than mobile phones.
• Signs, flags and banners.
Other items deemed by staff to be potential safety or security threats will also be prohibited.
Wolcott said the response has been positive to the new protocols, which she said can be attributed to communication with the school districts.
"(The schools) got all the information out and this year, I've already had several calls thanking us for doing this," she said.
"All the schools have our policy. We've been working with National Park (College) for over a year and they even sold clear bags for people on their campus. They've been working really well with us."
Wolcott said there has not been any pushback, she believes, because people have "attended stadium events, SEC ballgames, things like that, so at basketball they were aware of it.
"We haven't had pushback and we think everyone will just work together and it will go well for us. Our main priority is for them and their safety, and I think when they realize that, everyone works together and we get it done."
The arena will host eight graduations with the first -- Fountain Lake High School -- taking place Friday. The arena also requires at least two Hot Springs police officers depending on the size of the event. The larger the event, she said the more officers are on site.
"A lot of the schools bring their own resource officers for their graduates, as well," she said.
Bank OZK Arena will not be using metal detectors, Wolcott said.
"I know Verizon does do metal detectors, and some other places, but we're not doing that. Just the clear bags. Just so people are aware," she said.
"It's all about communication and getting it out, so that's why we've been making sure everyone is aware and is prepared so it can be enjoyable and nobody walks in not knowing."Local on 05/07/2019