Leadership / 11.13.17
Welcoming All Audiences: Impact of US Bathroom, Gun and Other Laws
When the 2017 INTIX Annual Conference & Exhibition got underway in New Orleans in January, two major news events were still fresh in the minds of ticketing professionals: the passing of the controversial bathroom bill in North Carolina and the mass-shooting deaths of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
With this in mind, it was no surprise that the Welcoming All Audiences panel discussion kept coming back to one central question: How do entertainment, sports and other venues ensure everyone feels both welcome and safe?
Panel participants were Dee Dee Hill, manager at Smith’s Tix in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Debra Pollock, CEO of the Center-Advancing LGBT Colorado in Denver, Colorado. The discussion was moderated by Maureen Andersen, president and CEO of INTIX.
* * * * *
The North Carolina state legislature passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act in March of 2016. Commonly known as the “bathroom” bill, the Act was designed to force transgender individuals to use public restrooms and change rooms based on their biological sex. The legislation has since been modified in the wake of an angry backlash from professional sports teams, entertainers and other critics; however, it is still of concern. In the meantime, more than a dozen other states, most notably Texas, are moving ahead with restrictive laws of their own.
For Pollock, bathroom access comes down to common sense. “What I would do if I were in your shoes,” she says, “is just come at it from a customer service standpoint. If you’ve got single-stall restrooms in your venue, direct people there.” For smaller venues that do not have single-stall restrooms, Pollock recommends ensuring staff are equipped to manage situations as they arise. “Train whoever is going to try to police the situation or whoever will be called in to referee.”
The bathroom bill wasn’t the only law to come under scrutiny. Panelists also expressed concern over laws dealing with concealed weapons. Hill spoke of the need for clarity around the issue in her home state of Utah. “We have a really diverse set of gun laws,” she says. “We have public facilities that you can walk into with a gun, a loaded weapon any time, and they can’t stop you.”
“Private buildings like the 20,000-seat USANA Amphitheatre can restrict guns according to Utah laws,” explains Hill. “Public facilities like the University of Utah don’t have that option, Utah was the first state to allow guns on campus. We have public buildings that are privately managed where we can stop guns from coming in. It’s not that I’m not comfortable with weapons, but I’m just saying we all need to know what we can do to limit our exposure, because it is frightening.”
Hill’s concern isn’t solely about a potential terrorist threat. She says it’s far too easy to get a concealed carry permit in her state. “I went into a class and it took me just 20 minutes to get one. They didn’t ask me if I could load a gun, if I could shoot a gun or anything. So, the threat isn’t just a person coming in to shoot up the place. It can also be a person who has their gun illegally or improperly stored on their person. I think we should all be pushing for better education in our states to make sure that if you do carry a weapon, you at least know how to use it.”
While the bathroom bill and legislation surrounding guns serve as examples of how laws can impact venues and ticketing professionals, it was the ever-increasing concern over security at public events that gained the most attention during the panel discussion. This was not at all surprising given the continuing spate of mass shootings and bombings, both at home and abroad.
The panelists talked about the challenges facing entertainment venues and offered advice that, along with updated interviews conducted in June 2017, form the basis for the following tips that all venues, regardless of their size, should consider.
1. See something, say something.
For Hill, awareness is everything. In a follow-up interview, she reflected on the Virginia ballpark shooting in which a member of Congress and three others were shot. She noted that the assailant was positioned outside the venue, which, she says, highlights the need to look at security in broader terms. “It goes far beyond securing the venue itself,” says Hill. “We need to be aware of the people around us. Whether it’s a relative, friend or neighbor, we have to ask whether a person is mentally stable.”
Pollock agrees and reminds attendees to report anything that may appear suspicious. “One day when I was walking my dogs, I walked across the street and there was a gun holster. It was 7 a.m. and I wasn’t quite awake yet. I thought it was weird, so I walked back and looked again. There was no gun, but I took a picture and sent it to Homeland Security with an app on my mobile phone called See Send, a suspicious activity reporting tool.”
For Pollock, the more people understand what to look for and when to speak up, the better it is for everyone. “Just reminding people to be on guard is so important,” she says. “During our Pride parade, we had portable road signs with programmable LED screens that flashed ‘See something, say something.’ Venues can easily do that to raise awareness as people are on their way to an event and even when they are already inside.”
Andersen says it is more critical than ever that venue staff be aware of anything that appears out of the ordinary. “The same person that you see walking by every day, who doesn’t have a Starbucks coffee walking to work, if they are just lingering, ask yourself why. Are they near the stage door? What are they doing there? Are they stalking your star? We need to teach our employees to be more aware of their surroundings.”
2. Always know who is in your venue.
While security during events might be a no-brainer, Andersen says it is also important to be on guard at other times, to always know who is in your building and what they are up to. “If they’re taking pictures, are they really tourists? That kind of thing.”
Andersen also shared some good advice from the New York City Police, who suggested ticketing all tours, even those that are free. This ensures you will have names and other information to help identify who was in the building if something untoward happens. “And we need to be consistent,” she adds. “Just like you come in to work, take your coat off and hang it up, it’s a habit — a mindset that we have to adopt.”
3. Consider perimeter security.
The May 2017 attack outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester offers a visible example of the need for perimeter security. A suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured at least 119 others near the ticket office outside Manchester Arena.
“There is absolutely a need for venues to look at a wider perimeter,” says Pollock. “We’ve already begun using bomb-sniffing dogs, although this isn’t usually apparent to the public.”
Pollock also recommends installing bollards, big cement posts that can stop a vehicle from driving into a crowd of people outside a venue, or similar plastic barricades filled with sand or water, which are designed for temporary outdoor events.
4. Train your staff and educate your audience.
The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL) in Denver provides inexpensive training at venues across the United States, which focuses on signs of terrorism.
“It’s the eight signs to look for,” Andersen says. “Things to look out for, things that don’t look or feel right, things that are out of place. These are things for your ushers, your hospitality staff and others to be trained on so they will be more aware when someone comes into the building or parks a big truck outside your venue and so on.”
Pollock’s organization provided CELL training because of concerns over security at its annual PrideFest. “We put all of our staff, our Board chairs and approximately 30 key members of our PrideFest committee through the two-hour training,” she says. “Then we contracted with CELL to come to our event and do a half-hour abbreviated training for volunteers. Everyone got a credentials laminate with reminders on the back of what to look for. This gives us another 400 trained eyes and ears who are empowered to say something if they see something.”
Another advantage of CELL training is that it comes with official certification that the government looks for when considering whether an organization or venue is eligible to receive reimbursement for expenses related to terrorism attacks. “If you’re not certified then they usually don’t pay out, so that’s another impetus to get trained through their program,” says Pollock.
Following a deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood Center in Denver in 2015, parents peppered Pollock with questions about security around a youth program at an LGBT community center. “We had parents start calling and asking if we had an active shooter plan,” says Pollock. “So, we hired a private company to come in and train our staff.”
Whether it’s a community center or a sports stadium or entertainment venue, Pollock says what she learned is applicable everywhere. “Basically, it’s a run-hide-fight scenario,” she explains. “They teach you about the types of weapons that are generally used in these kinds of incidents and they have mock weapons that people can hold and touch. They shoot little fake bullets, so you can become familiar with what a weapon like that looks like and how it works. The scenario goes like this: If you can get out, get out. If you can’t get out, barricade yourself with furniture against the door. You want to make it as difficult as possible for that person to get into the room you’re in and you don’t want to all stay together. You want to spread out, you want to grab stuff, you want to throw it, you want to scream, you want to disorient the shooter. They also taught us how to disarm a shooter if you are in the position where you have no choice but to fight. Then they ran a couple of scenarios with us where we had two mock shootings and our staff was able to practice taking a person down and disarming them.”
Panel participants also recommend the Run! Hide! Fight! video from Homeland Security.
Hill stresses that a lot can be done without the latest technology. “Our smaller venues are getting much better, at least when it comes to pat downs. They are a lot more thorough. Everyone is also getting better about what people can take into a venue. I know the NBA wanted to pass a league rule preventing people from carrying anything in unless it is in a clear shopping bag. With so many people coming directly to a game from work, how does that work? At what point do we inconvenience our customers so much that they don’t even want to come to an event?”
Finding that balance is a definite challenge, but one that venues cannot afford to ignore. As panel participants noted, untrained staff and inadequate security measures are a recipe for disaster in more ways than one. Lawsuits over lax security were filed after the Planned Parenthood Centre shooting in Denver and following the shooting of singer Christina Grimmie in Orlando in 2016, when the family sued the club, claiming it had only done superficial bag checks, had no scanners and didn’t even do pat downs. Hill points out that when an incident does occur and people sue, they sue whoever has the deepest pockets which, unfortunately, can come back to the ticketing company, a reality that is now forcing them to turn away potential clients who are unwilling to take security seriously.
While training staff is important, Hill says it is also a matter of educating audiences, helping them understand the need for cooperation without antagonizing them.
“We now pat everybody at the 20,000-seat USANA Amphitheatre,” she says. “But that creates a whole new problem: We need to get people to the venue earlier. When you’ve got people lined up, it takes us up to an hour longer, so it’s about trying to educate your audience, explaining that you are taking measures to ensure their security. Ask them to please come early, please leave as much stuff in your car as you possibly can. Next year, we’re going to clear bags. You won’t be able to come in to the amphitheater unless you are carrying a clear bag.”
5. Reach out.
The panel stressed the importance of creating a relationship with local police and, if necessary, Homeland Security and the FBI.
“Reach out to your local Fusion Center,” recommends Pollock. “After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, we had them come in and do a threat assessment for us.” Seventy-eight different Fusion Centers were set up across the country after 9-11. They are an amalgamation of law-enforcement agencies that share information with one another.
“In light of the Ariana Grande situation, make sure that they’ve been through your venue so that you can make any changes, especially to the box office, that are going to keep you safe.”
6. Have an emergency plan.
“You need to have an emergency plan in place,” says Pollock. “If you don’t have one, get one. You need it.” She suggests finding a venue or an organization that is similar to yours and, if they have a plan, see if you can use it as a starting point in designing your own.
“We have an association of Pride festivals and had talked to Boston Pride who in turn had taken cues from the Boston Marathon,” Pollock explains. “We had access to their plan and were able to adapt it to our needs.”
Hill agrees wholeheartedly. “It’s critical to have a plan,” she says, “so everybody knows their job. I think it’s critical to have an emergency response plan so everyone knows what to do if something happens. They know what the game plan is if something happens.”
A final word
A final word from panel moderator Andersen, who addressed a question about increasing security potentially raising the level of public fear to a point where they may hesitate to come to an event.
“It’s not about elevating fear,” says Andersen. “It’s education and transparency. You come at it from ‘We have taken these proactive steps to make sure we have the safest, most accessible, inviting environment — we want to welcome all our audiences. Just like we have smoke alarms for a fire. It’s not scaring them; it’s assuring them that we take their safety seriously.”
INTIX thanks Dee Dee Hill and Debra Pollock for sharing their experiences at our 2017 conference. Members with questions can reach Dee Dee (email@example.com) and Debra (DPollock@GLBTColorado.org) directly via email.
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.