Rachel Bomeli, Fox Theatre in Atlanta
Bredan Buckley, Nationwide Arena and Schottenstein Center
Carl Monzo, National Event Services
Moderated by Jeff Nickler, BOK Center
“I will be the first to say that I am not a security expert,” Nickler began. “I have no law enforcement background. No police training, no secret service training, and no military background. But I am the general manager of a 19,000-seat concert arena. I have been entrusted with the job of protecting the safety of hundreds of thousands of fans each year. That is a very daunting task, one that I don’t take lightly. For that reason, it has become really important for me to stay engaged in the discussion about security. In fact, everybody in this room has an obligation to be engaged in a discussion about security. As the threats have changed over the past decade, there is a real probability that something will happen in one of our venues over the next few years. It’s something that we can’t be complacent about.”
Nickler introduced his panelists: “Rachel Bomeli is Director of Events and Public Safety at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. She has been there for about eight years, and she works 200+ public events and 200+ private events per year. She manages the security team and other life safety personnel, as well as the guest experience team, event managers, and merch.
“Bredan Buckley is Vice President of Columbus Arenas where he manages Nationwide Arena, home to NHL’s Blue Jackets, and Jerome Schottenstein Center, home of Ohio State University’s men and women’s basketball programs and ice hockey team.
“Carl Monzo is President and CEO of National Event Services, a full-service crowd management company. They provide on-site public safety consulting and staffing at venues and festivals including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella. Carl began his career in emergency services in 1979. Over the past four decades, Carl has emerged as an industry leader in safety and security at mass gatherings.”
Planning & Training
“We all have an emergency action plan,” Nickler said. “We all have invested money, and worked with local law enforcement and local security experts, to develop this plan. Mine sits on my desk and I see it every single day. Many venues and events do a poor job of the next crucial step – training and practicing with that plan.”
Bomeli reports that all 275 Fox Theatre staff members, part and full time, undergo a minimum of two emergency preparedness trainings a year. Drills are specific to different types of threats – active shooter, severe weather, civil disturbance. They also prepare with tabletop exercises and department-specific training. Those who participate in the incident command team, or play a role in leading a department, train more frequently. The focus is on communication, radio protocol, and accountability, always with redundancy. “Not everyone is expected to understand the entire plan, and every nuance within it,” she said. “But each person should know their job in an emergency response. Everyone should understand precisely what their narrow order of operations is in the big puzzle.”
Bomeli has a training budget and holds to a training calendar. The Fox event calendar is “relentless,” according to Bomeli. “We plan our all-staff emergency preparedness training, incident command team training, and MOD training three years in advance. That calendar drives everything else we do.”
Buckley has a similar system. He said, “It’s important to go through that emergency action plan regularly. We all live in dynamic communities. You might find that the parking lot where everyone is supposed to meet is now an office building.” In additional to annual training, Buckley sends email communications and Survey Monkey quizzes to staff on a regular basis to make sure safety stays front-of-mind. “For us, it is all about communication and repetition.” Buckley also volunteers space in his venues for police, emergency services, and bomb dog trainings. “They love it and it’s a great place for them to set up different scenarios. Plus, it makes them more familiar with our venues.” Buckley encourages local and social media coverage of this training events. “We want the general public to know what is going on. We want them to feel safe and understand that we are all in this together.”
Monzo attempts the same type of training. “The difference,” he said, “Is that they have 365 days a year to work on it. We’re working on a 7-day schedule when the majority of our staff are on site. We’ve tried online staff training prior to coming to the festival site. Some of our larger groups are bused in from far away, and we’ve done video training they can watch on their way in. The best training is the orientation on site.”
Last year, Monzo began offering bleed training and having bleed kits available, not only to security and medical staff but also to production and site ops teams. Nickler said, “With a mass casualty event, we can’t be naïve and believe that there isn’t going to be a fatality. It’s about minimizing those fatalities.
“We have several hotels that border our property,” Nickler added. “On their website, the Department of Homeland Security has a free training program about identifying suspicious behavior for hotel staff. We work with these hotels so that their valet, front desk workers, and managers all have this training.”
Security posture matters. “As we become more vigilant at our entrances with metal detectors, bag searches, and bag size restrictions,” Nickler said, “The bad guys have started looking at areas that weren’t traditionally part of our security perimeter.” One of the most recent DHS counterterrorism memos reaffirmed that vehicles are one of the top methods of attack. In outdoor areas, threats also include explosive devices and active shooters, underlining the importance of layers of security.
Buckley has increased the presence of uniformed officers and hardened outside perimeters with bollards and fortified planter boxes. “After Las Vegas, we started looking at adding snipers if we were going to have people on our plaza areas for any extended period of time,” he said. “Nationwide Arena is in a downtown location with office buildings all around. Every time something happens, you have to learn from it and adapt. At our Taylor Swift stadium show, [the tour] had giant video monitors showing her music videos in the parking lots and outside the perimeters. These monitors had cameras, and fans could be in the videos and dance around. It was a fan engagement opportunity. But, those were facial recognition cameras! [The tour] has databases of stalkers, and other people, they are looking for. It was kind of brilliant.”
“Over the years, we’ve fluctuated on how heavy or light our security procedures are,” said Monzo. “After 9/11, security went through the roof. Everybody responded accordingly and the public was okay with it for a time. During enhanced periods, we built towers in campgrounds, or elevated positions in the venues, where we could overlook. It took some convincing to bring these things back. The only way that we found to really convince event producers was to do some fan surveys. The fans don’t see it as big brother. They see it as somebody looking over them. In addition to the towers, we’ll often deploy illuminated 6-foot helium balloons so fans going back to their campgrounds know clearly where to go. The balloons have numbers on them and it’s almost like following the North Star back to their campground.”
Bomeli’s venue is in the heart of Midtown Atlanta, where some 600,000 cars pass the building daily. “We spend a lot of time talking about the guest experience and the transformation we desire to give to our guests when they’re experiencing an event at the Fox Theatre,” she said. “Then we talk about the security process that jerks the guest out of that transformation. The personnel outside our perimeter are frontline event staff in Fox Theatre uniforms, instead of security uniforms. That serves two purposes: we’ve extended the guest experience — that warm welcome can happen before the front door and we can help them with the path of travel from their car – but we’ve also added a layer of surveillance. We’re now operating in the spaces that the police would otherwise be operating by themselves. We’ve got additional eyes and ears, and we can approach from a more collaborative perspective.”
“One of the problems we’ve encountered for years,” Monzo added, “Especially with the younger audiences, if they’ve been drinking or if they have drugs in their system, is they’re afraid to come to the medical or security staff. They’re afraid of getting arrested or in trouble. They’re afraid their parents will be called. We took some of our festival uniforms and put messaging on the back: ‘What you say here stays here.’ ‘We’re judgment free.’ ‘You’re entering a safe haven.’ The first year we did it, quite honestly, was a flop. If you think about it, at a festival you have hundreds or thousands of staff members. If they all have this message, it really gives that welcoming feel. Over the last 5 years, these programs have become hugely successful.
“Years ago, some bands would have flipped if there was a cop anywhere near the stage – front, back, anywhere,” Monzo continued. “A lot of the bands were rebellious in their early years. Now they’re older. They want security and they want it to be visible. Now they say ‘The guy backstage with the machine gun, was he our guy?’ We now have state police with long guns walking through the festival crowds. We have deer blinds built into the trees – some visible and some not. Those things are distinct changes to what we’ve seen in the past. Now it’s not only about having a K9 sweep, but it’s having a dog stay onsite all night until the band leaves.
“Two summers ago, we had a bomb threat in the middle of a show. The venue had dogs on site all night. The dogs were able to sweep the area, announce that it was secure, and the band was able to go back on stage. The crowd didn’t know what happened. They just thought the band took an unannounced break. In prior years or at other venues, that show may have been canceled. It would’ve taken a long time to get a dog there and do the sweep. By that point, we would’ve been at curfew or the band would’ve just said ‘That’s it, we’re going to go.’ There are little changes that really don’t cost us a lot of money, but they go a long way in maintaining the safety of the band, the crew, the venue, staff, and our guests.”
It is also important to mix it up your security looks. Bad guys observe practices and learn procedures. Don’t give a threat your playbook.