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A Tough Week

George Petersen • August 2019Editor's Note • August 11, 2019


Americans were shocked and saddened by the recent events at the Gilroy Garlic Festival (Gilroy, CA), a Walmart in El Paso, TX and the Oregon entertainment district in Dayton, OH. The carnage from these unprovoked shootings resulted in a total of 30 deaths and dozens wounded, many critically.

Unlike airports or military installations, all of these locations are considered “soft” targets, attracting ordinary people out for a day of everyday activities, like enjoying a festival, attending a club or simply doing some shopping. And as such events draw crowds, they are somewhat of a lure to unbalanced individuals with a deadly agenda, whether political, personal or merely something in the warped mind of a lunatic. Unfortunately, over the years, we have become so accustomed to these episodes — whether at a movie theater in Colorado, the 2013 Boston Marathon, the Pulse club in Orlando or Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas — that we have become numb to the shock.

Sometimes, there isn’t much that we can do to prepare for these atrocities. For example, even with security guards at the Bataclan Club in Paris, there was little they could do as the lobby was strafed with machine gun fire. Despite the promoters’ best efforts to maintain a safe environment, the shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival bypassed the security access points by reportedly cutting through a secluded creekside perimeter fence. In response to that, at the nearby Fremont Festival of the Arts — the largest free street festival west of the Mississippi, held Aug 3-4, 2019 — stepped up security by erecting a centrally located 30-foot police watchtower, adding concrete street barricades and uniformed SWAT officers with high-power weapons patrolling the crowds.

Aside from arming every front of house and monitor engineer with bazookas and lining the stage edges with claymore antipersonnel mines, we as event professionals can be a factor towards increasing safety for anyone — crew and the general public — through educating ourselves about dealing with active shooter situations. FRONT of HOUSE has addressed this topic in past issues, such as at, and this provides excellent guidelines to review with your staff.

‡‡         The ESA Responds

Speaking of safety, the Event Safety Alliance (ESA, is a non-profit, membership-driven organization dedicated to promoting “life safety first” throughout all phases of event production. The ESA was quick to respond to the Gilroy incident and association president Jim Digby and VP Steve Adelman issued the following statement:

We have been here before. “Thoughts and prayers” become increasingly empty the more they are offered without any healing actions to support them. Culprits are identified and pilloried to suit agendas and to fulfill the desire for simple answers that allow us to feel safe despite the carnage.

In our study of safety issues at live events, we have found that there is rarely a single cause of anything, or at least anything important. Consequently, we do not suggest one “best” response to Gilroy; instead we suggest reasonable options, any or all of which can help improve your event security in our increasingly dangerous world.

Consider using this incident as motivation to revisit the training for security professionals who staff your events. Review your emergency action plan to ensure that all staff and volunteers know their roles as well as the plan’s overall objectives. Make sure your egress signage is easily visible under the conditions in which it would be most needed. If you don’t have these things, explain to your budget people that if violence could reach even a farming community like Gilroy, your event should be prepared too. Talk to your local public safety officials about how you can work more cooperatively with their departments when you have a venue full of guests. Write to your elected officials. Support organizations that stand for what you believe in.

The Event Safety Alliance believes anyone should be able to attend an event and emerge with fond memories, maybe some merch, and a desire to return with more friends next time. If you feel the same way, then please join us in working to make every event as safe as possible, so the show can go on.

‡‡         Moving Ahead

There’s definitely some excellent advice here and some good guidelines to implement — right now — and not after an active shooter incident affects your crew, your productions and your audience and your life. We may not be able to stop these entirely, but the time to act is now.

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