Some venues have added metal detectors already. (Photo courtesy of Garrett)
The venue world reacted quickly to the devastating terror attacks on Nov.13, which struck the live entertainment world most directly when 89 patrons at Paris’ Bataclan Theatre were killed.
Just days after those assaults, Live Nation issued a directive to venues it works with to step up security at their buildings to ensure patrons feel safe while attending events. “The safety and security of our shows, fans and venues continues to be our highest priority,” read a statement from the company. “Due to the recent events in Paris and in an abundance of caution, we have implemented heightened security procedures globally.”
The company did not specify what those procedures would entail (and a spokesperson for LN did not return requests for comment), but VT spoke to several venues that have made, or are planning to make, big changes due to the new reality.
“The message [from LN] came through in December and they specifically referred to metal detectors,” said Bob Belber, general manager of the Times-Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
“We’ve had scanners near the backstage door for back of house comings and going, but in the front of house we did not have walk-through metal detectors.”
That all changed after Paris and the terror attack at a Christmas party for county employees in San Bernardino, Calif. in December. “Because of the potential threats out there, Live Nation sent out a memo to all of the buildings they do business with explaining that they have to have certain requirements, including walk-through metal detectors at each main entrance point,” Belber said.
Those requirements have been staples for the major sports leagues (NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL) for some time, but because the Times-Union Center doesn’t have a major league team, Belber said they haven’t looked into installing extra security until now.
According to a copy of one of the letters sent by LN to one of the buildings, among the new security procedures are: new restrictions on bag sizes (no larger than 13-5/8” by 15-¼”, walk-through metal detectors, camera systems with a command center monitoring real-time activity on event day, general staff training on appropriately handling ethnic/religious sensitivities and pre-event inspections and vehicle inspections at loading docks.
“We do have a hockey team [the AHL Albany Devils] and 99.9 percent of the time, whatever requirements the NHL puts in its buildings, the AHL normally follows very shortly. So between the LN memo and knowing that the AHL might have new requirements, we spoke to our Albany County representatives [the SMG-managed building is owned by Albany County]. We knew we’d need to spend some money and invest in the walk-through units to keep patrons and employees safe and protect their asset from potential threats,” Belber said.
So Belber’s team bought 10 new Garrett 6500i metal detector units at a cost of $40,000 and he couldn’t be happier about the purchase. “We went with the best brand and I love these units,” he said. “They have lights on the arena side so you can see where the metal is or any item that might be on someone.” The units actually help move patrons through more quickly because the lights blink from head to toe, making it easy to see what areas might need additional wanding.
“Without the walk-through we were using wands and that takes a lot longer to get someone through,” he said. “This process actually makes it go very quickly and we can make sure no one has any weapons going in.” There is also an armed Albany police officer stationed between the scanning stations and entrance doors, as well as a security supervisor for further deterrent factor.
Security enhancements suggested by Live Nation were already underway at Verizon Arena, North Little Rock, Ark., as well.
“We had already started down of that road before we got the e-mail [from LN],” said Michael Marion, general manager of the 12,000-capacity arena. At September’s Arena Managers Conference in St. Louis, Marion said he and some of his fellow non-NBA building brethren asked their major league colleagues how they were handling security in this uncertain age and whether they were using walk-through measures for every game.
“Most said they were [using metal detectors] at every event and we all said that was probably the road we needed to go down,” he said. “Then Paris happened, then San Bernardino and for me it was, ‘we gotta do this.’”
Marion ordered 25 units (at a cost of $93,000 from the building’s capital improvements fund) right around the time the LN email came through. “We were already on our way, so it [the email] didn’t matter that much to us,” he said. The issue was whether they’d be in house by the arena’s next big show, a Feb. 9 gig by Def Leppard. With a guaranteed delivery of Feb. 1, Marion decided to rent units in the meantime for a Harlem Globetrotters date and two monster truck shows in January just to get local patrons used to the idea and get the news out to the local press.
“I told the staff, ‘we want people to come to the building to see a show, have a good time and go home,’” he said, noting that of the 20-or-so concerts he hosts a year, at least half or more are LN events. “Theoretically we would have had to do it, but we were already on our way.”
Was the message from Live Nation that the venue needed to put the scanners in or else? The Albany arena, which hosts around 5-10 LN shows a year — in addition to events from AEG Live and Outback Concerts — uses the detectors for all its shows now, regardless of who is promoting.
“It was made clear that Live Nation wants these things in place and, without them, there is some concern that we might not be put into the routing if we hadn’t done what they were asking for,” Belber said, reiterating that LN has made it clear it is willing to work with each building to make sure the security measures are implemented in a way that works for each partner.
Ironically, the units were put into place on Dec. 12 for a University of Albany basketball game, just a few weeks after the Times-Union Center team held a meeting with Homeland Security, the FBI and state and Albany police in light of Paris and San Bernardino to get all law enforcement and first responders on the same page about potential threats and response time. “A few days after that meeting, we got the memo from LN requesting those items, which we had talked about at the meeting,” Belber said.
Not every building that hosts LN concerts has made the changes to date. Todd Hunt, executive director of Tupelo’s BancorpSouth Arena in Mississippi, said his 10,000-capacity building hosts only 1-2 LN events a year, with the first one in 2016 not slated until May. “I have yet to talk to LN directly over what we need to do to meet their demands,” Hunt said. “There have been some communications from LN to certain buildings as to what they want them to provide, but we haven’t gotten there yet.”
Hunt expects that situation will be addressed before the show in May. The arena has long had the ability to do wand- and bag-searches and in the past has evaluated each event and decided what level of security was needed. Since Paris, though, they’ve upgraded all events to include bag- and wand- searches.
“It does slow down the crowds getting into the venue a bit, but we’ve had no complaints so far in that regard,” Hunt said. “There are also some additional staffing costs we’ve incurred, but because those deals were already struck, we couldn’t add that to the costs of the show. In the future, though, if an event needs additional security, those costs will have to be picked up and our push will be to have those costs be shared between the parties involved.”
Hunt said his building, which is in a tertiary market, will absolutely consider upping security and would do it even faster if he was doing 10-12 LN shows a year. “We do about 700 events between the conference center and the arena, but where do you draw the line in terms of bag searches in an environment like a wedding reception?” Hunt said. “At the same time, look at San Bernardino, that was a Christmas party.”
The answer might be found as part of BancorpSouth’s upcoming building renovation. “We’re looking at facility design to help make the venue safer and studying expansion now that will have a security component moved to the forefront,” he said.
Contacted for this story: Bob Belber, (518) 487 2008; Todd Hunt, (662) 841 6573; Michael Marion, (501) 975-9030