Security Experts Talk Concert Safety Challenges, Logistics After Orlando Shootings

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The scene outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday

“I think you'll see more and more wanding and walk-through metal detectors for all sizes of events and establishments," says Cory Meredith, founder and president of Staff Pro Security.

In just seven months, the music industry has seen four horrific incidents of gun violence: at the November terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris, the backstage shooting last month at the Irving Plaza in New York and the two separate incidents in Orlando last weekend that killed 49 at Pulse nightclub and singer Christina Grimmie. All in the industry agree that steps to enhance security must be taken.

“It's getting bad out there,” says Cory Meredith, founder and president of Staff Pro Security, one of the leading concert-security firms in the U.S. “I think you'll see more and more wanding and walk-through metal detectors for all sizes of events and establishments” in order to prevent people from entering venues with weapons. 

While that may seem like an obvious step, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The cost of metal detectors ranges from a few hundred dollars for wands to around $5,000 for walk-through detectors similar to those used at airports and government buildings, and training in their use is relatively simple (and, of course, critical). Still, most venues have multiple entrances, live-music establishments have crews loading unwieldy equipment in and out constantly — and the time required for fans to pass through them is a deterrent for their widespread adoption.
 
This is especially true for small venues, where public assembly safety and security consultant Russ Simons speaks of a “dichotomy” between arenas and stadiums, which routinely use wands and walk-throughs, and small-capacity rooms like those targeted in recent weeks. “Many of the people I know on the smaller performance facility side would have liked to do more [to tighten security] earlier, but it’s simply a question of resources,” Simon says.

“The security investment is harder to absorb for clubs that have small capacities,” Meredith agrees. “The hand-held metal detectors are not that expensive, but the nightly cost for the security guards to operate the technology is an additional operational expense.”
 
Still, Meredith believes, “this metal detection staffing will become more and more the norm to ensure the guests feel safe and secure.”
 
While metal detectors might be cost-prohibitive for some venues, “pat-downs are actually more effective — and probably cheaper, given the hourly rate for security guards,” says Steve Adelman, an entertainment attorney that also serves as vice president of the Event Safety Alliance. Adelman says that magnetometers work best when it's important to keep the line moving quickly, and can be calibrated to be more or less sensitive.

“But if something is detected, a guard still has to stop and pat the person down,” he points out. “Some patrons don't want to get patted down because they feel it's intrusive, but a well-trained guard is more effective than a loosely monitored and enforced machine.”
 
Simon, on the other hand, flatly disagrees that pat-downs are more effective than metal detectors due to the human-error element. “The metal detector is the best technology we have today because it is consistent,” Simons stresses. “It isn’t dependent on whether or not the person doing the pat-down is tired, it’s not dependent on whether the person has been properly trained and, more importantly, is properly and consistently supervised to perform those activities.”

While reps for Live Nation and AEG declined comment, Billboard spoke with Carlos Orjuela, National Latin Talent Buyer for Live Nation, on Sunday, just hours after the Pulse nightclub tragedy. He said the company was in the process of determining an approach to security moving forward, and an emergency meeting has been called in the wake of the shootings. “Our main priority is security,” he says, noting this is the third violent event linked to nightlife in Orlando this year (in February, two people were killed at the Glitz Ultra reggaeton club, then last Friday, Christina Grimmie was gunned down). "It’s the first time something of this level has happened to us."
 
“I think moving forward, in any massive public event, we are going to have to take measures to take care of everyone, regardless of who the event is for,” he continued. “They’re all the same and the security has to be the same."
 
In the end, Simons believes that ongoing training best serves the industry — and fans — when it comes to safety and security, but it’s also where the industry falls short. “Everybody needs appropriate training, but more importantly, you can’t train them once and forget about it,” he says. “The key is to train people right, then observe them and assess their performance, and that’s where it goes to training for supervisors and managers. That is where we fail more often than not. In my professional opinion, we don’t do [what] we should do in making sure we are training and supporting our supervisors who are responsible for our line staff delivering consistent performance.”
 
That said, training is expensive, and most smaller venues are already operating on a razor-thin profit margins. Many clubs hire off-duty police to work the doors, and Simons suggests venues use these law enforcement officers (LEOs) as a resource. “A law enforcement officer has situational awareness skills that are light years beyond the rest of us,” Simons notes. “So, as a part of what their job and responsibility, can they also be an asset or resource to ‘coach people up,’ if they weren’t doing the pat-down consistently or if there was something [flawed] in the way people are getting into the facility. You have [an LEO] in place, I don’t think a lot of people think to ask them to do more than just be present. That’s a great example of where you don’t need extra money to get additional support out of something you’re already paying for.”
 
From a legal perspective, it is incumbent on venue operators to “behave reasonably under the circumstances,” Adelman says. “That doesn't mean venues must spend money they don't have, especially if it won't make patrons materially safer.”

Of course, the definition of “reasonable” care is changing with each incident, which have ranged from terrorism and hate crimes to VIP and backstage security in the four separate instances since November. “Statistically, there simply are more active shooter incidents now than ever before,” Adelman says. “Therefore, the duty of reasonable care must have changed to reflect that. In other words, what was reasonable before [the recent uses of] assault weapons against innocent people in public places is no longer reasonable. There is a new normal.”
 
Few would dispute that statement, but all parties stressed the advances in concert security that the industry has made in recent years. “We have continued to get better and better as an industry,” Simons says. “But we’re facing a new and unexpected threat, candidly, and even though we were aware of the threat for a long time, it never before manifested itself in terms of the soft targets that were unfortunately targeted last weekend.

“It’s going to be an ongoing challenge.”

This story first appeared on billboard.com

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