Behind the scenes with Mosaic Stadium’s game day commander
Rod Buckingham’s team works tirelessly to serve and protect on game day
Sitting across from Rod Buckingham, a sense of calm radiates through his stories and experience from behind the scenes at Mosaic Stadium and across the CFL. The product of Shellbrook, Saskatchewan has spent decades serving his community – first, as part of the Emergency Response Team with the RCMP, then roles with the Regina Police, and now as the Security Director of the Canadian Football League. While security is a job that many only appreciate when made necessary, Rod and his team, employed both by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the CFL, work tirelessly preparing for every conceivable hazard and possibility. This preparation was evident as Rod reflected on meeting with over sixty people, each contributing to the safety of people in and around Mosaic Stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ season. “We have so much talent in Regina […] in Saskatchewan […] and across the country for the league. A lot of people doing very important work.”
When asked over email, Kent Paul, CFO of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, had this to say about Rod and his team: “We want to ensure everyone can have an enjoyable experience and return home safely. Rod’s team that he compiles has this same objective and it truly takes a team of committed safety professionals with a common goal to keep a small city safe on game days.” On game day, this team is led by a unified command system that is filled with numerous leaders all with a common goal: getting people home safe.
This comes together as a police crowd control lead, the fire assistant chief, a transit superintendent to dispatch the up to 60 buses per game, an EMS superintendent dispatching paramedics on the field and in the first aid stations, a security lead, database coordinator, Evraz front and back-of-house staff, a video surveillance team responding to incidents and auditing the gates where front line staff, supervisors and compliance staff work to usher fans in safely and to direct a specialized response team, and a meteorologist round out the command centre.
Meteorologists don’t just dictate whether offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas opts for an increased ground game – Rod and his team are monitoring the weather for numerous risks. Lightning represents a tremendous danger and people must be out of where the storm can touch. How big a storm is and ensuring staff and fans aren’t stuck at the gates in limbo of shelter is a key hazard monitored and mitigated each game. Four shelters in place at the Stadium in 2019 took place, two even before the crowd showed up.
Rod’s standard is simple. “The barometer if people feel safe is if they bring their children to the game.”
Preparing for every conceivable hazard is something Rod has worked collaboratively with others for his entire career. He counts himself lucky to have worked with so many great people. Rod trained with the Los Angeles S.W.A.T. while working for the Regina Police service as a Hostage Negotiator and now participates in NFL Security meetings while sitting on the United Nations Task Force for Counter-Terrorism and major Sporting Events. “The NFL has been tremendously helpful. There have been 95 standards and best practices across the league… to make it safer to go in. We want people to come have fun and be safe.”
Kent had this to say when looking back on his experience working with Rod, “Rod is a down to earth, nice person willing to give you the shirt off his back! … Over the last eight years with the Club, Rod and his leadership team has elevated the fan safety and provided a ‘world class’ security model […] The Riders see everyone in the stadium as a fan regardless of who you are cheering for. We want the visiting team fans to have the same safe experience as Rider Nation.”
Illustrating this commitment to visiting team fans, Rod described a unique strategy they use: “We have undercover people wearing the visiting team’s jerseys. We do that to make sure the visiting team people are treated well.”
When asked about milestone events that stick out, Rod reflected on his experience doing an inspection during military appreciation night in Edmonton. “A guy had an ISIS flag on his front seat, ran over the police officer, and it continued to be a dangerous situation through the night. It was probably a bit of a near miss with crowds and thankfully he didn’t get in there. The officer survived and everything was reasonably okay.”
The stakes are always very high in protective roles, and Rod has lost two police officer friends who were killed in the line of duty. By and large, everyone Rod knows does everything they can to protect people, including putting their own life on the line. When asked about what he looks for in his team he speaks to that basic tenant: you must have a protective instinct. You protect people, no matter if it is one person or 60,000.
Rod wants this protective instinct to continue to grow with each generation. In honour of his mother, Rod created the Alice Patricia Buckingham Award at W.P. Sandin Public High School. The school selects two grade 11 students that demonstrate compassion and protect their students and visitors to the school. Two scholarship award winners will be brought into the command center for the Labour Day game and align them with areas across public safety such as the RCMP training academy and the Regina Police Service. “We want the grade eleven students to go back and influence their peers with this experience. To continue to model these values.”
Each of the game’s quarterbacks would be the first to admit that no Game Day Commander can be successful without an unsung offensive line. Now, every fan, win or lose, when the clock shows 00:00, can find comfort in knowing that Rod and his team don’t celebrate a victory until the entire stadium is empty. A protective instinct at left tackle for each fan’s blindside.