Gun Violence at Festivals: Hear from the experts

While festivals bring people together and enhance social integration, safety at concerts and festivals has become a growing concern in our rapidly changing world. Numerous events have been targets for violence, quite memorably events such as the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing at an Ariana Grande concert, and most recently— the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California this past Sunday that took the lives of three people and injured fifteen as of Monday. The challenge we now collectively face is how we can balance the requirement for enhanced security measures to mitigate future risks versus the impact on the attendee experience.

Throughout all these tragedies, concert and festival-goers must be made to feel safe if event attendance is to continue. Companies such as Holm Security, Crowd Management Strategies, Oakview Group, etc. have been engaged to provide security at concert events and music festivals. Security presence at these types of events have increased and taken on many forms such as metal detection gates and/or wands to check for weapons, checking of bags for illicit substances, or security presence of armed guards. By developing a comprehensive risk-management plan, it can help ensure that leading event risks are identified and addressed in the best way possible.

 According to Dr. Linda Robson, author of “The Robson Risk Management Model,” “event professionals need to be held to a standard of ‘reasonable’ care as it is unreasonable to anticipate a crazy person cutting through a fence in the same way it was unreasonable for the organizers of the Las Vegas incident to anticipate a lunatic shooting from a hotel overlooking the event. The organizers should be recognized as having plans in place to deal with the unexpected; well trained and responsive police officers who dealt with the situation in the only way they could. It is my experience that event professionals continually seek education and training for risk management; it’s easy to look at an incident in hindsight.”

Although it is essential to establish risk-management plans to enact in times of chaos, realistically, it is difficult to create a fool-proof plan. In the current climate, it isn’t feasible to abolish guns or sweep every room overlooking any type of concert or festival gathering due to the varying circumstances and setting of every event— from intimate theaters like the Bataclan in Paris to larger spaces as in Las Vegas. As a society, we regularly debate gun control and what could be done to keep these lethal weapons out of the hands of the “disaffected, mentally unwell, angry individuals who self-connect with an ideological cause or formulate some perceived grievance to justify their violent attack” in the words of John Cohen, former acting undersecretary for intelligence at the US Department of Homeland Security.  The solutions are complex and divisive. He adds “the sad fact is that today - no community or venue is immune from being targeted for an attack and securing against an act of violence has to be a part of the planning for any public event.  

The public must also be prepared - taking time to locate exits and thinking about how they would respond if they find themselves at a location targeted by an attacker." In other words, it is not only the responsibility of the event producers to provide a safe space for attendees to be able to enjoy their experience, but the public also needs to be more prepared. There needs to be a bigger emphasis on how concert and festival-goers can take a proactive approach to their own safety and the well being of others by always being aware of potential threats and knowing how to let police know if they notice anything suspicious. 

But at the event level, what more can you do to stop these tragedies from happening? Michael Hodge— President of Michael A. Hodge and Associates, a Global Security Management Firm— believes that the best solution is that “security planning must consider and anticipate as much as possible the unknown based upon the information they have at their disposal such as the history of an event, then set forth primary and secondary plans and hope that approach mitigates unfortunate events.” It is imperative that event producers of concerts and festivals think outside the box to cover as many possible scenarios that can take place so the tragedies of the past will not haunt the future of the festival experience. 

The potential innovative risk-management plans that event producers, police, and event security come up with may potentially take away some of the freedoms that our society enjoys such as: “social media monitoring, locking down perimeters, and establishing good access screening points that will mitigate risk and help prevent these tragedies.” This means this is more reason for all involved (organizers, talent, patrons, managers, etc) to be vigilant and be part of a ‘prevention culture ‘through reporting any kind of suspicious activity” states Michael Downing, Chief Security Officer at Oakview Group.

Festivals and concerts are a safe haven for millions of people to flock to, to let them indulge in their love for the music, love for the musicians, and love for the camaraderie that can be found at the venue alongside hundreds and thousands of others. These events should be full of love and joy, not hate and heartbreak. It should be a place for people to feel safe to go to and share their love with everyone else there. 

As a big fan of attending concerts and festivals, when the shocking tragedies of continuous violence at these events blow up on social media, I sit dismayed thinking, “That could have been me.” I feel like a statement like that frequently pops into a lot of people’s minds when tragedy hits and you can relate it back to yourself at the scary reality that our safe havens are no more. But seeing the unification of fans and artists in the wake of tragedy has inspired me to never give up on these types of live events because not only is it one big community— but it’s what makes me the happiest. 

I will never be happier than when I’m in the crowd at a show, yelling Florence and the Machine’s lyrics back to her while she angelically prances around the stage and tells us to go spread love because that’s what our world needs more of. Despite the fact that concerts/festivals have much more to improve on their security detail to ensure a safe experience to dive head-first into the magic of live shows, I believe that festivals are still a safe space to be yourself and share the love of music with your fellow fans and the people who created it. Backing down, giving up on live events, and letting the fear take over is the moment that hate wins, and I refuse to let that happen. 

To see how to create an event safety plan, go here: