Protecting Entertainment Venues

By Francisco Mateo

Entertainment venues around the world are important establishments of our global society.  Since ancient times they have provided the world with a release mechanism from the incredible burden of everyday life.  By way of experience we also know that whenever a group of people gathers many risks linger. From terrorist attacks (Indonesian island of Bali, bombing in 2002, and  the Moscow theater hostage crisis) to night club fires (The Station nightclub fire; The Lame Horse nightclub in Moscow and much earlier, The Happy Land nightclub fire in New York), entertainment venues face a wide range of risks. In this installment I will attempt to cover the most common hazards you should consider when you set out to have fun at different entertainment settings, whether it is your hometown or during vacation.

The rule of thumb during a vacation, especially while overseas in countries prone to terrorist threats or lax fire regulation enforcement, is to know before you go. Many sources of information offer travel risk rating (including SBB) to help assess the risk of whether to go to a particular place and what places to avoid if you decide to go. Keep tuned to those information sources as many savvy travelers do. 

The last thing in the average person’s mind when setting out to see their favorite team play is the risk they would encounter on and off the soccer, baseball field, tennis, basketball court; insert your favorite competitive sport.  We have the often false sense that people that organized the sporting events have their patrons’ security all squared away. But this is not always the case. From “the 1972 Munich Olympics and the Centennial, Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games” and due to a number of geopolitical reasons; major sporting events have attracted the attention of both large terrorist groups as well as lone wolfs.  Add to that the fact that controlling large crowds of people is very troublesome, especially if the proper risk assessments have not been conducted in advance.  A proper evaluation would focus on both internal and external risks, by looking at: patterns of criminal activity; identification of “high risk” locations in the host-city; potential for social, political, or labor unrest; risks to users of public transportation; threats that are specific to the type of event; as well as the capabilities of local law enforcement and venue security personnel. Many countries have taken steps to curve risky practices at sporting venue by adopting regulations and guidelines to standardize protection measures. You as the fan should owe a duty of care to yourself to evaluate if any of these areas represents a potential, viable risk that could be avoided.

There is much to be concern about when you mix alcohol (possibly drugs) in a crowded, confined space. The music blasting, euphoria in the air, it’s not difficult to imagine being disconnected from reality and forgetting even hard-wired information that would allow you to react automatically to any perceived risk. That is the scenario you face when you go into a nightclub and thus the reason why caution should be exercised.  Some basic common sense actions are in order; for instance knowing where the exits are. Knowing your different egress options would give you the ability to find the safest one to get out unharmed before panic sets in.  For nightclub owners/administrator it is imperative to have more than one exit at their establishments, because in an emergency crowds tend to enter into panic mode and stampede towards the exit, that being normally the same way they entered the venue.  Like other entertainment venues it is important to know what threats your establishment is exposed to. Is the nightclub exposed to an active shooter scenario; a bomb attack; or can it be used for the illegal distribution of controlled substances? Consider that even though terrorism is a remote threat in most countries, there are a few where it is indeed a reality that should be mitigated.

Likewise, “in many urban nightclubs catering to young-adult crowds, it is becoming increasingly common to use metal detectors at the doors to prevent the introduction of knives and guns, as some patrons seek to bring outside conflicts (and violence) into the club.”  Knowing what your risks levels are would be the starting point to designing appropriate security arrangement. Conditions at the nightclub would dictate which measures are implemented. Among the standard measures you should fine are: security screening, “a “frisk” is insufficient, as patrons are seldom, if ever, physically patted below the waist (where many weapons are concealed). A metal detector (hand-held or walk-through depending on volume of patrons) is recommended, along with training in its calibration and proper use. A female security officer is recommended as part of the team to frisk females who set off the metal detector.”  Also to be considered are the club’s floor security personnel which should be deployed according to its layout at a ratio of 1/50-75. CCTV monitoring and recording should be used conspicuously in both internal and external areas for a number of applications: likewise, communication equipment and distress alarms should be employed as needed. 

Some countries regulate the level of security that is provided at nightclubs, bars, taverns and other such venues, but this should not be limited to physical security at the venue, since the risks are as varied as the patrons that congregate there.  Many nightclubs understand that venue security goes far beyond complying with a “duty of care”, they recognize that security and personal safety are an intrinsic part of the patron’s experience. A sort of unwritten contract exists whereby their patronage should include any protection costs that the club owner incurs to ensure proper levels of security.  

A concert is another entertainment event where security is a must.  Like a nightclub, concerts combine many volatile elements.  Because of the large crowds that gather at concerts, things can quickly go from fun, to rowdy, to chaotic in a short time. When the stakes are so high, security can’t be an afterthought. For this reason pre-concert planning should consider: the type of event, audience profile, artist profile, venue facilities, topography, local transport and volume of visitors needs to be assessed to create the right risk profile that would enable the concert organizers to make concrete protection decisions for all stake holders. Security controls during concert day such as proper screening of concert-goers, metal detectors and bag checks by trained staff; ID authentication; should be considered to make the event more secure. A good security staff/concert-goer ratio should also apply. Since you won’t be able to screen out all possible risk, you should be able to quickly detect and neutralize trouble before it gets out of hand. As far as perimeter security, both natural barriers, and montion-sonsored barriers should be considered. Also mobile watchtowers can be utilized to keep a close eye on the outer perimeter where trouble sometimes brews. Concert-goers should also consider which areas lack security and would be vulnerable to mischief or criminal acts. In confined spaces you should know where all possible exits are, especially the one nearest you. Having an egress plan worked-out in your head may be a worthy investment of your time while enjoying the concert.   

I feel compelled to make a reference about movie theaters. This is the one entertainment venue where an entire family is likely gather most often around the world. However movie theaters for the most part have a much lower security profile, despite being exposed to high risks in some countries. All confined venues have their inherent risks as previously mentioned. As such some of the same protection measures apply. The best security measure of all, in this case, is provided by the movie theater themselves.  At these venues the movie-goers stand a better chance of detecting suspicious activity (you’re more likely to keep your wits about you) on the spot. Remember that half the battle is being aware; the rule of thumb is that if you see something amiss; say something to the venue security guard or an usher. I’d strongly advice against “shouting fire in a crowded theater” which is the right metaphor for having a measured reaction to any threats, to prevent unnecessary panic.     

Prevention Measures

Where an entertainment venue owner/administrator starts to design or retrofit protection measures would depend on the type of facility under their purview. If they’re building a new facility architects should consider the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principals, which as the title implies has been an effective and widely used crime prevention methodology. The following highlights include some key elements:

  • Among the various threats that should be measured are crime, fire, terrorism, riots and hooliganism, natural disasters, hazardous materials spills and power failures. The assessments should be on-going and frequent
  • Implementation of security technology for proper prevention and detection: surveillance cameras, explosives trace-detection systems (mostly for large scale events), access control systems, chemical and fire detectors, public address warning systems, and crowd-control barriers.
  • Careful attention also should be paid to human-resource issues and security planning and procedures – including but not limited to the careful background screening of all employees and appropriate training, badging, special-event planning, V.I.P. logistics and protection, crowd management procedures, and both cargo and package checks
  • Simulation software has already been developed which would allow you to test for a wide range of emergency scenarios against your facility’s ability to handle evacuation and other reactions to disaster events
  • Also the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has developed an on-line Vulnerability Self-Assessment Tool (VSAT) for stadiums possessing a large seating capacity

It is of the utmost importance that I, as a progressive security practitioner, address the issue of the proper security posture you should assume whenever visiting an entertainment venue, especially being fully conscious that we as humans have a tendency to overreact when face with danger from unknown sources. As the saying goes the truth is in the pudding, Olympic security reflects this fact.  The right counterbalance is in order, like this one provided by Bruce Schneier discussing a similar subject “By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms.” and which I fully endorse. As the subject of the article describes “security theater” is diametrically opposed to what I’m advocating for throughout my writing. Instead of having a “false sense of security” the right posture calls for common sense measures that make everyone, with a stake to hold, resilient against that which presents a real threat.

Despite their inherent risks, entertainment venues are an important release valve in our modern societies. The concert or sporting event organizers, nightclub and theater owner as well as their patrons and fans owe a duty of care to make the place safe and secure for everyone to enjoy. Being aware of the risks is half the battle, the other half is either preventing or deterring any threats these venues may face. I hope this article, and the links herewith, would serve as a guideline for all the stakeholders.