Fires, crowd surges, shootings and stabbings have marred live events recently and over the decades, prompting a question from litigation attorney Edwin McPherson, moderator of a panel discussion at Pollstar’s Production Live! Conference Feb. 7 at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.
“Are we getting better at this, or worse?” McPherson said during a session titled “Is It Time to Rethink Front-of-House?” He rattled off a number of tragic events, including The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, the Route 91 festival shooting in Las Vegas, the stabbing of Drakeo the Ruler at the “Once Upon a Time in LA” festival, the Christina Grimmie shooting in Orlando and the crushing death at the Astroworld Festival.
Cory Meredith, president of Allied Universal Event Services and founder of pre-cursor StaffPro in 1984 said event security professionals know what to do, based on past experience, “ever since the ‘60s when rock and roll started touring.” Back then, police officers were not working the front of house, he said.
“We’ve got to remember what we’ve learned from the past and make sure that we use safe and secure policies and procedures, but we also have to have the right people on board to understand how to implement that (and have) the right training and the right processes in place. You can’t put your head in the sand and say, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.”
Mike Downing, Chief Security Officer with Oak View Group’s Prevent Advisors, who is a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and commander of its counterterrorism and special operations bureau, said complacency is the greatest adversary.
“I think what we’re dealing with today in this era, where we’ve kind of been out of business for a couple of years, is a surge back to business,” he said. “Getting people properly trained, giving them expectations, making sure there are crowd management (measures) involved in deployment and threat assessments and how they are integrated into security plans. I think Cory is right (about getting) back to the basics, but also understanding that crowd behavior has evolved, a lot of things have changed. It’s not business as usual in my opinion. I think you have to look out over the horizon and see what’s coming and plan for it.”
Jim Digby, president & co-founder, Event Safety Alliance, said despite the number of times that live events end up making news when something bad happens, the track record of safety and security is pretty good when considering the total number of events that come off without major incidents.
“As an industry, we do very well, considering the scale and how many things we produce day in and day out,” he said. “What we don’t do super well is a coordinated effort for how we are better ab out safety, how we lead with safety, how we ensure that safety is at the front of the line instead of profit. There is room for improvement there.”
J.T. Klingenmeier, vice president with Prevent Advisors, said event security seems to run in cycles of vigilance and investment following major incidents, followed by a period of cost-cutting and less training.
“You have an incident, and it starts going back up again. It’s like a roller coaster ride,” he said.
On the subject of threat assessment, Downing said the “anticipatory intelligence” it generates is “gold” to law enforcement.
Having a handle in advance of potential threats, vulnerabilities and possible consequences as well as other hazards like weather, earthquakes and fires informs the marshaling of resources, many of which are free, from local police and even federal agencies.
“Being in law enforcement for 35 years, we loved it when promoters would ask our opinion, ask for our assistance and we would steer them in the direction of resources,” he said.
Integrating all of that into a unified command structure for events, especially big one, is invaluable, Downing said. It’s something law enforcement borrowed from the fire department and has subsequently become expert in.
“We do get push back on that,” he said. “People think it’s complicated and it’s not complicated. If you have it in place and you have a crisis, coordination of information, coordination of resources, intelligence, all that is built into it. So there’s no question, who is responsible, who has the authorities, where the resources are etcetera.”
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