By Rich Abrams CSS
December 1, 2000
Reprint Protection Officer News - Fall 2000
It's Monday morning and you've just received notice that Harold and the Hot Dogs (the absolute latest in teenybopper music) is going to appear at your facility. What steps do you take to assure the safety of the attendees and the entertainers? I have been assisting with convention and theater security since 1969, so this article will outline some of my own experiences in major US cities.
First, take a look at your building. Is there adequate seating? (Not folding chairs, but actual bleachers or auditorium quality furniture is required.) Are there wide aisles leading from the audience to the back of the house? Is house lighting and emergency lighting sufficient for a sold-out venue? Take a look at the stage itself, since it must be able to support the weight of performers and equipment. Are your bathroom and snack facilities able to accommodate a crowd? These are all basic items that road managers look for when preparing for a show.
Next, how are you planning to handle crowds? Are the ticket takers able to control a large group of anxious music lovers? Are the fire exits clearly marked? Have you allowed a budget for extra ushers and security staff who may be needed? Is there a waiting area near the parking lot, since lines will form quickly? (When I was working for 1970's era bands like the Grateful Dead, the devoted followers started lining up three days before the actual concert date.) Have you rented extra barricades and yellow traffic cones to assist your staff with entrance and exit lanes? An important note- make sure to work closely with local police and fire officials as this event unfolds, because they are also going to have special manpower and planning requirements.
The band is arriving today. Have you prepared the dressing room and backstage area for them? Do you have signs, guest lists, and admission passes in place? Has your public relations department geared up for the local media? (Often, a major TV show such as Entertainment Tonight will also be attending to document the show or conduct interviews. This requires additional security manpower.) Is the catering department ready to meet the contractual requests such as "only blue M & M's" or "French Onion Soup in a Crock-Pot with melted Swiss Cheese"? (Keeping the performers fed prevents tempers flaring, if you can believe that!) Have you arranged for valuables storage in a safe deposit box? (Costumes and jewelry often cost more than the music.)
OK-the show is going up and you're feeling better. Are you monitoring communications between the lobby, auditorium, and stage to prevent any major problems? Have you arranged for the money transportation from the box office? (Another side note-I once carried twenty thousand dollars in a paper bag between the manager's office and the dressing room at a show because the band insisted on cash payment!) Has a cutoff time been arranged to prevent sixteen encores and forced overtime for the stagehands and your security staff? To quote a famous promoter-"Elvis has left the building." Are the limousines in place to whisk the performers away to their hotel? (Fans and autograph seekers crowd the exit and cars after a show, so make sure you are ready.)
Good-the show is over and a weight is lifted from your shoulders. What next? Have you detailed security officers to "sweep" the auditorium and common areas for stragglers? Have you done a cursory check of the facility for damage to seats and aisles? (Believe it or not, rock music shows have problems due to patrons standing up in the seat and dancing in the aisles.) How is the load-out going? Are the trucks in place, and have you assigned staff to monitor the cases of equipment as it leaves the stage? (I once had a bold thief attempt to roll a case full of audio gear away from the loading dock. He was caught because he went in the opposite direction of the tractor-trailers.) Is the cleaning staff attacking the remains of candy, soda, and souvenirs? And last, have you met with the facility manager for a quick debriefing before you depart?
I used to think that the strangest picture was an empty arena after a show. Hopefully you have followed all of the guidelines described in this article, as well as the safety procedures that you have developed in your own professional experience. The music industry survives each generation of new songs and strange costumes (or haircuts), and you can help your venue to survive one night of raw energy. (And this article doesn't even cover other types of special events such as WWF Wrestling or a sports playoff.) The security manager plays a major role in presenting a "hot show in a cool theater". (Oh, and a final note, I suggest investing in ear plugs to prevent hearing damage during the show!)
-Rich Abrams is an alarm operator II at Yale University Security, and a former security coordinator for concert promoters on national tours. He has worked in major venues such as Madison Square Garden and the Hynes Auditorium, as well as smaller theaters such as the Palace in New York and the Palladium in Los Angeles. He recently received an award for his work as Assistant Security Chair for the Norwalk, Connecticut Oyster Festival which features entertainment and attracts 250,000 attendees over three days.