Stayin' Alive, Part 2

by FOH Staff
in Editor's Note
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine

One of author Peter Benchley’s ideas for a tagline to promote his blockbuster 1975 movie Jaws was “just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.” Ironically, some version of that could today be applied to the safety of attending (or working) live sound gigs. This certainly comes to mind considering last month’s carnage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas or the May 22 Manchester Arena bombing after an Ariana Grande show. Ironically, both of these attacks came from outside the performance space, where measures such as metal directors and security patdowns are ineffective.

Even inside the venue, elaborate security checks may not provide much in the way of protection, as was the case exactly two years ago, when machine gun-wielding radicals rushed inside the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, leaving a wake of destruction.

Of course, it should be emphasized that these examples (and others, such as last year’s shootings at Orlando’s The Pulse nightclub) are exceeding rare events. One analogy here is comparing live events to say, the air travel industry, where hundreds of thousands of flights operate without incident every day. Yet, of course, none of these ever make the headlines. In a similar statistical vein, anyone’s chances of being hurt or injured at a music event are quite low, unless you include being crushed by a stage diver or hit by an airborne drumstick.

›› FOH — A Most Dangerous Job?

Forbes magazine cites roofers, high-rise steel workers, loggers, fishers, truckers, taxi drivers and electrical line installers/repairers as among the most dangerous occupations in America, but should concert and sound production pros be added to that list?

Perhaps not, but besides having to deal with the occasional enraged fan, our profession does have its own inherent dangers, which include being in proximity with overhead suspended loads or working in dark spaces where footing may be unstable or impeded by gear or cables. [And don’t even get me started about forklift safety…] There are also security issues, particularly on smaller gigs where a lone sound tech may become a crime target, perhaps while loading out a vanful of expensive (and easily fenced) audio gear in the early morning hours after a gig.

If that’s not enough, there is also the possibility of working in a space where exits may be blocked or locked, as was the case in Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire from a year ago, where audience members (and the FOH engineer) were trapped in a burning warehouse.

›› And Some Good News

All is not bleak — in fact, far from it. Often, incidents can be avoided (or at least substantially reduced) with some education and advance preparation. On page 54, we revisit some recommendations from the Event Safety Alliance (eventsafetyalliance.org) on dealing with active shooter situations, which is particularly relevant considering last month’s massacre in Las Vegas.

And in his “The Biz” column, Dan Daley mentions that during Thanksgiving this year, he will give thanks that in 2017, the entire festival and outdoor touring industry season got through the season without a single weather-related fatality. This is a far cry from the Indiana State Fair disaster of 2011, which at least raised the awareness of weather-related dangers.

Fortunately, many adverse weather conditions can be monitored, with storm tracking technology and an increased willingness of promoters to postpone/cancel an event if lightning looms. Hurricanes may be slow moving and generally predictable, yet tornados are much less so. One example of this occurred just a few weeks ago, when an EF1 tornado struck the River Wind Casino in Norman, OK, during a Beach Boys concert. Despite some roof damage, no one was injured and the venue was safely evacuated.

›› The Bottom Line

In the grand scheme, much of what contributes to the safety of you and your crew is education and awareness. On arrival, check out any possible exit pathways. Look into possible inclement weather patterns, whether you are working an indoor or outdoor gig. And do not be afraid to voice any of your concerns about event safety.

If you have security concerns for your loadout, insist that the venue provide some security to keep watch. And at any event — before a venue fire/earthquake/tornado/etc. — establish a meeting area (a nearby parking lot may be ideal) where you can make a headcount of your crew to verify that everyone made it out safe. There’s nothing worse than telling first responders that one of your staff is missing (and possibly still within a structure) when that person simply went home afterwards without telling anyone.

Anyway, as we kick off the holiday season, may your gigs be plentiful and safe, where the worst danger you face be simply overdoing the carbs and sweets during your Thanksgiving. And as David Morgan likes to intone each month, “Safe Travels!”