Most of the time, I enjoy doing work that’s relevant to the world we actually live in. But sometimes, like yesterday, it sucks to capture the zeitgeist.  As of this writing, the shooting at the end of the Kansas City Chiefs victory parade has left one person dead and more than 20 others injured, including children.

For the last six months I’ve led a group that is creating an American National Standard for parade safety. When I learned about this latest spasm of gun violence at exactly the type of event for which we’re writing safety guidance, I had two thoughts: (1) What does our group know and are they all okay? and (2) Is there anything we can say in the standard that would have changed either the likelihood of something like yesterday from happening, or that would have mitigated the resulting carnage?

The people in my task group are all fine, although we are just one degree of separation from someone who was involved. I feel like we’re often that close to personally experiencing incidents in the event industry. I don’t know what I’d say right now, so I guess I’d just listen.
I have more coherent thoughts about the second issue, if only because I’ve been asked twice recently to accept the usual wisdom that the proper response in an active shooter situation is to Run, Hide, or Fight, in that order. (Some groups prefer the term “active assailant” to accommodate people with knives, bombs, or other instruments of mayhem. In this instance, I think it’s appropriate to focus on the shiny object of the day.)


A client recently asked me to create a tabletop exercise that included an active shooter scenario. I resisted. The venue’s perimeter security is robust, reducing the likelihood that a shooter could get inside to the point that I didn’t want to validate an unreasonable fear. (I did not think of this reasoning myself.) But that did not stop me from designing a scenario that tested the effects of Run, Hide, Fight where people in a crowd thought there was a shooter. That can happen anywhere, and unscheduled evacuation drills are useful for emergencies other than just bad guys, such as severe weather.

We know intuitively that one size rarely fits all. The mantra taught by the U.S. government since shortly after 9/11 was designed for office buildings and similar environments, not entertainment spaces. I haven’t studied how well it works in corporate suites, but I have shared some research and observations over the years on how this training works at live events, and I’ve learned more recently about concepts such as “inattentional blindness” that explain, based on cognitive science, why event attendees are so unlikely to quickly perceive and decisively react to unexpected scary threats.

We haven’t run my tabletop exercise yet, but given the physical environment and crowd demographics, I doubt it will go well. Which, as with any tabletop, is kind of the point. Tabletops are like near misses – opportunities to learn why things go wrong where no one gets hurt and nothing gets broken. If you haven’t done one, you should.

I recently joined an organization that focuses on risk management at sports and entertainment venues. Coincidentally, their upcoming conference is entirely devoted to an active shooter response exercise. Not coincidentally, they asked if I was interested in speaking. Of course I said Yes, but just this morning I added a request. I asked that I not be the only one – because I’m “the safety guy” – to challenge the presenter on Run, Hide, Fight. I’ve never considered it disrespectful to take someone’s ideas seriously enough to ask questions. To the contrary, that’s the compliment of paying attention. Perhaps they’ll say things that make sense even for environments where the venue, event organizers, and every vendor intentionally adds distractions to draw our attention to them, leaving little of our attention for things such as unattended packages or potential shooters who look like Vin Diesel


I am a big supporter of consensus industry standards. I use them in my work, and I lead the creation of new ones, because they fill a gigantic gap in safety guidance where statutes and regulations leave off. But some problems are more structural. In my exchange yesterday about the tragedy in Kansas City, I received this wise email:  

I wish our safety standards could stop shooters. 850 police officers could not.  

Thoughts and prayers, which we are once again receiving in abundance in the wake of yet another mass shooting in the United States, clearly aren’t saving lives. Litigation will likely follow, which will cause some money to change hands and otherwise accomplish little. It’s not my place to tell you, dear Adelman on Venues reader, how to feel or how to vote. But if you want to change the probability of more stories like the ones now coming from Kansas City, and the resulting threat to people’s willingness to attend our events or even work at mass gatherings, then do something to make your voice heard. On behalf of the people whose only mistake was wanting to celebrate their team’s win in a giant public gathering, that is one meaningful thing we can all do.


If you’re looking for ideas what to say, try this argument from the early days of the Event Safety Alliance. Back in April, 2012, we met with then-Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana to discuss responses to the 2011 Indiana State Fair stage roof collapse. At the time, he and his legislative leadership were considering drawing up safety-related legislation, an example of the axiom, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

After we applauded their good intentions, we suggested that state legislation that made Indiana different than, and harder to do shows in than their neighboring states, would have a negative economic impact on the Hoosier state. This was part of the argument that led to them endorsing ESA creating the original Event Safety Guide.

I see a similar argument arising in the context of guns and events. Some states allow guns at all sorts of events, others at only music but not sports, and some allow private venue operators to bar weapons entirely. Can you imagine the impact if major artist [insert name here] decides it’s not worth the risk to themselves or their fans to do a week of shows where they think it’s too dangerous, and instead does just one or none in that city? It’s not just lost ticket revenue. It’s all the room nights, meals at restaurants, nightclub admissions, freeway tolls, you name it. Not to mention the reputational damage of becoming a cultural flyover state.

Without getting into an argument about the Second Amendment, you can talk about things everyone believes in – money and reputation. That’s a conversation that can get you somewhere even with someone who doesn’t share your politics. We need to be able to talk to each other.
If not now, when?