By Peter Evans for Security Informed
Owning and operating an entertainment venue comes with increasing levels of risk – whether it’s during the current pandemic or in a post-pandemic world. With the additional challenge of safe re-opening comes increased levels of social unrest, emboldened and unruly patrons, and increasing threats from weapons and other prohibited materials.
The venue owners and operators have an obligation to keep patrons and employees safe from these kinds of security threats, while not negatively affecting the patron experience. The consequences are far-reaching and often extend beyond the brawl or other acts of violence. The recent events at Leister square at the Euro finals speak to the ongoing issues.
As former FBI Director, William H. Webster, once said, “Security is always seen as too much until the day it is not enough.”
The impacts of a security failure fall into three categories of potential business damage that venue operators need to factor in when considering the total cost of a security incident:
There is an immediate business impact due to an act of violence in a venue in the form of business disruption. Cancelling the event and future events, evacuating the facility and the impact of panic and distress to patrons, police investigations, and interruptions of normal business operations can have costly and long-term implications to the business. These impacts are immediate – in the moments and period shortly after the incident – and have a longer effect as the business has to address the perpetual disruption from an unplanned situation.
Additionally, there are other considerations to ensure that the staff is managed through the event and are confident of a safe work environment. There will be obvious concerns and stresses, and distractions resulting from the event that will require staff care support, along with potentially incremental hiring and training of staff. Further, the current social unrest has created a security challenge for staff who are no longer guaranteed protection as they perform their security functions, adding to the cost of staffing and security.
With violence comes lawsuits and media attention. The collateral “damage” from an event is often lengthy, with teams from legal, media, operations and the executives engaged in costly and lengthy processes to manage through the post-event complexities. The direct costs of these events can be hundreds of millions, as previously reported for the Mandalay Bay and Pulse Nightclub shootings. The indirect and sometimes hidden costs for business disruption can often be the same or more. We live in a very litigious society – and violent incidents are fertile ground for both legitimate and opportunistic lawsuits.
Major physical security incidents can come with the risk of a negative brand impact. Regardless of the incident, or the proximity to the venue, the venue brand gets tainted with negative news. With “cancel culture” and our social media-fueled world, the headlines and impressions created can have long-lasting impacts to patron attendance, revenues, and profitability – especially since they are circulated without all the details and facts. Unfortunately, individuals consciously or unconsciously avoid venues that have a negative brand impression. A brand that has a challenge with guns or fights may also cause many potential patrons to stay away – a key reason why Major League Baseball stadiums opened “family sections,” though ideally, all areas of the ballpark would be suitable for families.
Mitigating The Cost Of Security Incidents
In the post 9/11 world, security has become a top priority for larger entertainment venues, with particular attention and certifications being driven by the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, this has also had a detrimental impact on the patron experience. Historically, security, whether physical security or cybersecurity, has been at the cost of patron experience and ease of use. More security equals a much poorer experience. For example, long lines at metal detectors are now expected by people when they attend sporting or entertainment events. While this helps to protect against the risks and costs articulated above, it reduces the amount of time patrons are in the facility, which impacts revenue. Also, it simply shifts the target from one side of the metal detector to the other, where long lines and crowds form outside the venue. This open area is still considered within the brand’s responsibility.
Digital technology holds one answer to managing risk and the impact of an incident while ensuring a very positive experience.
The world of metal detectors, wands and widely deployed security guards is all part of today’s “brute force” manual approach to security. This is a very labor-based business model that does not scale and has a fixed approach that cannot adapt to changing venue requirements. New, multi-billion-dollar stadiums are being built with a focus on a broad and immersive patron experience. Digital technology fits into this model to deliver next-generation patron safety with enhanced experiences.
For example, modern gateway weapons screening solutions enable patrons to walk into venues unimpeded – just like the pre-9/11 world. These systems only alert guards when an actual weapon is detected, eliminating the need to screen the 99+% of patrons who are not carrying anything dangerous into the venue.
Likewise, AI-enabled video can surveille the premises 24/7 and automatically alert and brief guards when they detect a disturbance or other concerning event (like an abandoned package, or even a spill on a floor). This also removes guards from the “look for trouble” model – guards spend their time effectively responding to actual digitally-detected events.
With these new technologies, security transforms from being a roadblock to being an enabler. The technologies enable patrons to have a better experience in the venue and they enable guards to become knowledge workers focused exclusively on mitigating developing problems for patrons, rather than manual screen-watchers. And, they enable venues to dramatically reduce the likelihood of incidents happening in the first place – which is the best way to mitigate the costs of security incidents.