Rachel Bomeli, Fox Theatre in Atlanta
Bredan Buckley, Nationwide Arena and Schottenstein Center
Carl Monzo, National Event Services
Moderated by Jeff Nickler, BOK Center
If You See Something, Say Something.™
The key is situational awareness. This is one of the most basic, yet effective, tools out there. We all play a role in keeping each other safe. “If you see something, say something” engages both staff and patrons through awareness–building. This program includes training guest services personnel to continually scan the environment for challenges and potential danger, all while performing their regular duties. We want front-line staff to realize the value of their role. It’s imperative to motivate them and to recognize and reward their contribution. Security measures are only as good as the people manning them. This tool is also helpful with post-event assessments and identifying key lessons to learn from actual incidents.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s program is the basis for a significant portion of our security training. I love that Carl was talking about staff being approachable,” Nickler said. “DHS says that 70% of detected threats come directly from the public. Creating that culture where the public or a fan is not afraid to speak up or share information is key. Our guest services and front line employees are our first line of defense. Often times these people are being paid minimum wage. They’re the people that we have trouble finding and keeping. It’s so important to engage and keep these front-line employees vigilant and empowered – present, alert, and engaged.”
Bomeli agreed, “We talk a lot about training specific to guest experience and security. A lot of times, folks will think that their job is one of these two things – protecting the guest experience or keeping everyone safe. We talk a lot about shared expectations and responsibilities. We talk a lot about surveillance detection. We are also enlisting the help of the guest. This year, we will launch a text-to-notify-us program. Guests can text us from their seat about something that they see that doesn’t seem right or safe. It will also serve a guest experience purpose. They can tell us about the drink that was spilled next to them or the guest behind them who is kicking them. The point is that we’ve added to those eyes and ears.”
“We consider our frontline staff to be our most valuable resource and asset,” said Buckley. “We try to employ directly, as opposed to using outside contractors. We want to have a direct relationship with our staff. This offers us the opportunity to pay them a little more and keep them happy, engaged, and employed. We identify stronger performers. As we onboard new employees, they are paired up together. We get feedback from the staff to find out what was missed in training, what really sunk in, and what didn’t.”
No one should be able to enter the facility at any time without going through the same screening as those entered at the beginning. Many of the attacks across the world have taken place after the crowd was inside and the event was underway. Vigilance also includes keeping staff at post, regardless of distractions and commotions.
Buckley stresses redundancy. He has roaming teams and also people in a command center keeping their eyes on video. They have direct communication with each other. “Overlap covers for us,” he said.
Keeping staff engaged for the duration of an event can be challenging. Bomeli said, “The ways that we combat that are old school – lead by example. When I am working as manager on duty, I am always on the go. I am making rounds the entire time and expecting everybody else to do the same thing. I am checking in with folks and high fiving. We instill a go-team-go attitude. We feed people more often than we used to. We give shorter, more frequent breaks.”
Monzo added, “I think we’ve become complacent in a lot of areas, especially back of house. I don’t think we put nearly as much time and effort into the backstage, our loading docks, employee entrances, or driveways. You have a multi-night tour, you see the same crew coming in day after day and, all of a sudden, he’s okay because he’s been here all week. We don’t do that at the front doors. Some of the bands want to be searched at every venue they go to. They’re rationale is ‘If I get searched, everybody gets searched.’ That means the crew, management, and everyone else. I think it’s a novel approach.
“At a festival, we are allowing lots of vehicles inside our perimeters. Law enforcement has warned for years about the risk of emergency vehicles being used in terrorist attacks. People will fake emergency vehicles or steal them. Police, fire, EMT, tow trucks, water trucks, port-o-let trucks – it doesn’t matter. We have a process. It can be very simple – the vehicle number and the name of the driver (who must provide ID). We’re also doing off site checkpoints with undercarriage mirrors, vape dogs, and a variety of other technology. But the truck itself is the weapon, and we’re letting them drive through our crowds. We’ve begun background checks on the drivers – both driving checks and criminal background checks. In addition to identifying the vehicle, we want to identify the driver. We want to know who is inside our perimeter and driving these vehicles through our crowds.”
For Buckley, it comes down to communication and repetition: “Bag checks and mags for everybody, no deliveries after 2PM on an event day. Just tightening things. Working with the security director on the tour, listening to their concerns and maintaining that relationship from the minute they walk in the door.”
Bomeli is always developing the Fox’s business continuity plans so that if there is an event, they can continue business afterward. She is also tracking and monitoring social media activity. “We’ve had some luck where our own social media team found activity online that warned us of protest activity or other specific threats to the building or events,” she said. In those cases, her team found out before local law enforcement.
National Event Services works with law enforcement, as well as internal resources, to identify key words or phrases, which could be as simple as “fence,” “drugs,” or “bomb.” They are able to quickly analyze to determine if they are a threat. If there is a lot of chatter on a specific topic – a hole in a fence or a gate left open – they can respond quickly. Monzo acknowledged that the technology is not cheap and it needs to be tested and verified. That comes with a big price tag.
Beyond video board messages, stage announcements, and push notifications on phones, there are a number of protocols to communicate with fans in the case of an emergency. Bomeli makes use of her trained staff. “If someone is on a bullhorn at a checkpoint outside, we make sure they’ve done that before,” she said. “They’ve practiced what they are going to say and what they’re not going to say. The people on mic from stage have practiced those messages. Whether it’s prerecorded or live, we’re making sure we’ve said those things out loud as redundantly as possible. So that in the moment – when you forget everything else you’ve done before – you can reference that.”
Nickler is in the middle of a major upgrade to his venue’s Wi-Fi. “If we had an emergency right now, there is no way our very antiquated Wi-Fi system would work with 19,000 fans online. We can’t keep up with that demand. Sometimes you have to have backup plans.”
Buckley added, “Managing public relations from the get-go is also important. Have a Director of Communications and get word out to the family and loved ones of people who were on site. They may be flooding phone channels and actually complicating matters. If you’re proactive on the front end and have that relationship with the media already in place, it frees things up for you.”
Nickler’s final question – asking his panelists to identify the single greatest security challenge at their venue or in their role.
Bomeli replied, “Keeping over 700,000 guests safe when threats, the means by which people intend to do harm, and technology all continue to change. We’ve combated that with a culture of preparedness. You may have heard Russ Simons say 100 times that you can’t ever be ready for an act of terror, but you can be practiced and prepared. That is the space that we live in. To build trust in each other, and within ourselves. To create a work culture where we understand the severity of our responsibility to send people home the way they came. But also to create a culture where we aren’t scared to come to work. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to balance those things.”
Monzo: “A porous perimeter. It doesn’t have to be a festival. The Pope came to Philadelphia three years ago. [We were] literally fencing off downtown. How do you patrol 15 miles of fence line? How do you stop people from coming over it? When you have a temporary venue, a porous perimeter is going to be your biggest security threat.”
Buckley: “The greatest challenge is the creativity of the bad guys. They’re thinking of weird new ways to do dumb things. The shootings at the Ariana Grande show in Manchester – that was outside the perimeter and same thing in France at the soccer game. The definition of perimeter keeps moving.”
Nickler closed by saying, “As I stated during my opening comments, it’s intimidating to be a GM or Director of Security because the threats are always changing and we can’t remain complacent. I want to leave you all with a few things. Up on the screen there are some free resources that are out there. DHS will do a free infrastructure survey for your venue or festival. They have the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign. There are tons of videos and training videos for bag searches and patron screening on their website. I spoke to you about their hotel program, it’s called “No Reservation: Suspicious Behavior in Hotels.” In Tulsa, we work with the Transportation Safety Administration. They have an office in most cities, and they will do a free vulnerability assessment for your venue. Subscribe to the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) for their unclassified bulletins. Your local first responders can also help with training. FEMA has some wonderful tabletop exercises that deal with weather preparedness and evacuations. The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security has free training programs. National Counterterrorism Center posts some fantastic bulletins and articles. There is so much information out there. The DHS website alone is incredible. It’s free and it’s out there. A lot of it is curated to our industry. Please check it out.”