Paris in Perspective

Paris in Perspective

Four things that venue managers can do to make their public accommodations less appealing for bad guys, and therefore safer for patrons, staff and artists

Steven A. Adelman

Since I am not a fan of instant analysis, which I find often lacks context and mainly allows self-proclaimed experts to apply their existing beliefs to the latest news, I have resisted wading in on the terrorist attacks in Paris until now. I’m not suggesting that one should ignore all the coverage; although there is some familiar hand-wringing, some of the opinions I have seen make good sense.

Consistent with my usual focus on what is reasonable to expect of venue and event operations, I see four things that professionals can do to make their public accommodations less appealing for bad guys, and therefore safer for patrons, staff and artists:

1. Add technology. Stadiums and big arenas now routinely use walk-through magnetometers (best) or hand-wanding, but smaller spaces and security providers often haven’t spent the money and still do pat-downs and bag checks. This can change as quickly as management is able to find sufficient cash and people to train on the new equipment, or as fast as artists or insurers can add language to their contracts requiring such measures as a condition of performance.

2. Add guards. The first response by the major professional sports leagues on Saturday was to promise more security guards. It’s good to have more people with uniforms, because that makes the crowd feel safer and is a visual deterrent to people who would do harm, but it’s mostly “security theater” (i.e., the appearance of security without much of a substantive change) unless the additional guards are actually doing something that wasn’t getting done before. If given a choice, I prefer more eyes on a crowd rather than fewer, so I think that adding guards – both uniformed and plain-clothes – is a reasonable and valuable step as part of an enhanced security plan.

3. Add CPTED. Generally, the inside of a venue is more secure than the outside because patrons inside have passed through some checkpoint already. This saved many people at Stade de France, for example, when someone with an explosive vest was turned away by an alert guard. Using principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), venues can move their perimeter farther from the main entrance, meaning away from larger groups of potential targets. Bollards outside a venue are a common type of CPTED; being structural, this is obviously a longer-range upgrade to consider.

4. Improve communication with agencies that monitor threats. In the U.S., every state and major urban area has a “Fusion Center” – a creation of the Department of Homeland Security that monitors chatter and terrorist-type activity. Again, major venues routinely have relationships with their local fusion centers, but smaller venues can do the same. Information is not a zero-sum game – to the contrary, it grows when it’s shared. This is an improvement most venues can make at little or no cost.

In addition to offering these four things likely to positively impact security at venues, I take particular note of one measure likely to have a negative impact: More guns.

Not to make this political, but some candidates and office holders in the U.S. immediately claimed that, at least at the Bataclan Theatre, lives would have been spared if patrons had been armed. We have seen this same argument following shooting incidents at movie theaters, shopping malls and even schools, and I think it no more appropriate at night clubs.

The idea that safety is enhanced by adding guns to the mix of darkness and alcohol seems patently absurd to me. The far greater risk would be that routine disagreements would turn into gun battles in which innocent lives would be lost in the crossfire. I, for one, do not favor this approach.

I offer these thoughts with the hope that you will use them as the impetus to consider what you do well at your own events, and what you might reasonably improve. This is hardly an exhaustive list. The one certainty is that doing nothing is a poor solution because, as we are reluctantly forced to conclude, none of us is as safe as we thought we were before the attacks in Paris.

Elsewhere, there remains much work to do.

Because we can all get distracted by the shiny object that is the latest headline, particularly when it is as obviously important as the attacks in Paris, it is worth remembering that, even if we cannot do a lot to stop terrorists, there remains much that we can all do to make shows safer and potentially save lives.

With that in mind, I remind you of the October 31, 2015, nightclub fire in Bucharest, Romania, and the November 15, 2015, banister collapse at a nightclub in Malta, which together left 27 dead and more than 230 people injured from what appear to be preventable safety issues.

In Bucharest, the Colectiv club, built in the basement of an old factory, was hosting a free concert that included pyrotechnics. In a distressingly familiar story, the pyro apparently ignited something flammable, people were slow to react because they thought the flames were part of the show, and when they did start to move they found only one usable exit.

In Malta, a glass banister at the +1 club collapsed when patrons tried to leave due to a suspected gas leak. Among the injured at the age 17+ event were girls as young as 13 years old.

You may have only modest ability to prevent a terrorist attack, but there is a lot you can do to ensure that:

  • exits remain well-marked and accessible,

  • crowd managers are trained and ready to assist in an emergency,

  • dangerous substances are handled with care only by licensed technicians,

  • venues are routinely inspected and repaired, and

  • basic public safety measures, such as age limitations, are enforced.

You can make a difference. That is what a reasonable person would do under these circumstances.