What Makes You Feel Safe?

What Makes You Feel Safe?

I feel safe when everyone around me knows their job and is trained to do it well. Providing a safe environment is not for amateurs or enthusiasts

Steven A. Adelman

Since Paris and San Bernardino, increasing security in public places has been a hot topic in the news, among event patrons, and with venue and event professionals. But in the frenzy to do something, the question that I rarely hear addressed is, “What makes people feel safe?” This article considers the three responses I see most often: more magnetometers and security guards visible to patrons; more guns in venues; and more active shooter training.

1. More Mags and Guards

On December 16, 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin that admitted that, although the government had no knowledge of a specific or credible terrorist threat against the United States, it nonetheless expressed concern about terrorist-inspired homegrown extremists who might target public events or places.

The next day, Disneyland, Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios
announced that they were installing metal detectors at their entrances and adding more security guards, as well as discontinuing toy gun sales and barring people 14 years or older from wearing a costume. Some artists, and event promoters like Live Nation, have similarly beefed up their requirements, insisting on hand-wanding in place of, or in addition to, bag checks and pat-downs, and walk-through magnetometers in place of hand wands.

Do the new devices and guards help? As always, the value of security is hard to quantify because if it works, nothing happens. Statistically, there have been no major security breaches at a live event venue in the six weeks preceding the date of this article, but timing does not equal causation. (If it did, then the criticism of TSA would be especially mystifying, since there have been zero domestic hijacking incidents since its inception.) Maybe the greater benefit is that patrons perceive that they are safe, but ticket sales might rise or fall due to lots of factors, such as the weather this winter.

Perception is a perfectly justifiable reason to enhance visible safety measures, but if a new device or staff person adds only to patrons’ perception of security, then you have what has derisively been called “security theater.” On the other hand, if even DHS is telling us that there is no specific or credible threat, then maybe all there really is to address is perception.

2. More Guns in Venues

Arizona, where I live, is an “open carry” state, meaning that anyone can carry any weapon in the open, without a permit, so long as it is either kept in a “holster or scabbard,” at least partially visible on one’s person, or in plain view in a vehicle. Effective January 1, 2016, Texas joined the few other open-carry states. But even in the most permissive jurisdictions, it seems that many people are comfortable with guns in public only when carried by law enforcement or military personnel. I tested this during a presentation at IAVM’s January 2016 Arizona chapter meeting, where the majority view was that venue professionals don’t want civilian guns in their buildings.

One rarely has to look far for good reasons for this preference. In Renton, Washington, last week, a drunk 29-year-old man, allegedly fumbling with the loaded .45 pistol in his waistband during a movie, dropped it on the floor, where it discharged, shooting the woman sitting in front of him in the shoulder. On the other hand, an armed barbershop holdup in Columbia, South Carolina, was foiled this week when a customer and a barber, both with concealed weapons permits, fired at the suspect, shooting him dead. News accounts indicate that there were multiple employees and customers in the shop, “including children.” Is all well that ends well?

3. More Active Shooter Training

I have seen a renewed emphasis on active-shooter training. This is fine, up to a point. First, I assume the accuracy of a couple of foundational ideas. I accept the 10-80-10 principle of crowd behavior, that 10% of people will help lead in an emergency, 80% will follow if leaders give them clear direction, and 10% will somehow hinder constructive action. I also acknowledge the Run-Hide-Fight instruction to run away if you can, hide if running is not an option, and fight if the bad guy is going to find you where you’re hiding.

I further note that active shooter incidents usually end very quickly. In a review of 160 shootings from 2000 through 2013, the FBI observed:

In 63 incidents where the duration of the incident could be ascertained, 44 (70%) of the incidents ended in 5 minutes or less, with 23 ending in 2 minutes or less. Even when law enforcement was present or able to respond in minutes, civilians often had to make life and death decisions, and, therefore, should be engaged in training and discussions on decisions they may face.

To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, The Untouchables, what are you prepared to do?

We know that we are supposed to run, and help our invitees run to safety with us. And if there is a public safety official nearby before an active-shooter incident has ended, we know they will use their authority and training to assume command of the scene, and venue staff will take direction from them until law enforcement gives the all-clear.

With due respect to the people who provide active-shooter training, which I do think is valuable, the more likely function of venue staff will be to direct the 80% to the nearest exit so they can get away from the danger. The location of that exit under any given circumstance is the life and death decision for which, I contend, training and discussion among venue professionals is appropriate.

4. What Makes You Feel Safe?

I know that I feel safe when everyone around me knows their job and is trained to do it well. I have never felt that providing a safe environment is for amateurs or enthusiasts, and recent events have not changed my mind about that.

So, what makes you feel safe?