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Concert Security Expert on What Las Vegas Tragedy Means for Live-Music Industry

Bataclan, the Pulse nightclub, Manchester — and now Vegas. The past two years have seen horrific acts of mass violence at music events, and each one has been different from the other. The November 2015 attack on the Bataclan in Paris that killed 130 people was part of a larger coordinated attack on the city by the Islamic State. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 with automatic weapons at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., claimed to be affiliated with ISIS but was a lone actor. In those two cases the individuals were able to overpower security and gain entrance to the venues, but in Manchester — where suicide bomber Salman Abedi, who’d met with ISIS officials in Libya, killed 22 people on May 22 — the incident occurred outside the venue as people were leaving. And in Las Vegas Sunday night, Stephen Paddock (whose connection to ISIS was unclear at press time) killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500 by firing automatic weapons from windows of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, some 32 floors above Las Vegas Village, an open-air venue on the Strip surrounded by many tall buildings and thousands of windows.

Each incident ratchets up the need for enhanced security — inside a venue, at the entrances, around its outdoor perimeter, now in the buildings that surround open-air venues — and promoters, venue operators, and security need to be ready for anything. These situations are what Prevent Advisors was created to address.

Launched in October 2016, the company is a security consulting division that is a subsidiary of former AEG chairman Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff’s Oak View Group (which also includes the 26-member Arena Alliance, among them Madison Square Garden, the Los Angeles Forum, and Boston’s TD Garden). Its chair is former LAPD chief and NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, and its executive staff includes CEO Chris Robinette and COO Ben Tolle (both are Green Berets; Tolle was also in Special Forces). Variety spoke with Robinette in May after the Manchester attack, and we spoke with him again early Monday afternoon.

What’s your professional assessment of Sunday’s tragedy in Las Vegas and the response to it?
First, I would define this as more of a nightmare scenario. The venue, Live Nation, and the various promoters are all focused on securing the facility. This threat was external — via the hotel, where they have no jurisdiction or operational control or ability to manipulate the variables around security, so that in and of itself makes this very complicated and very dangerous. Because if you’re a promoter or an operational entity, it’s difficult to account for those [external] things, and if you’re Mandalay Bay, you’re not waking up every day thinking about somebody that might want to engage people external to your facility. It’s really difficult to counter and respond to situations like this, given the geography and geometry of what occurred.

So does this mean open-air venues are now unsafe?
I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as unsafe; there is now a known risk. I’m from Denver and Coors Field sits inside the metropolitan area and is surrounded by buildings overlooking it with balconies and roof spots. So whether it’s Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park or football stadiums, there is now a risk and it’s demonstrated and real and now has to be accounted for. We don’t anticipate that you’re going to see fewer concerts — entertainment and concerts and these experiences that define our lives are things we’re trying to preserve and protect. This is a known risk that we need to mitigate, and it’s going to be challenging.

Obviously it can be done for presidential visits and things like that.
Absolutely, various agencies and the government deal with this on a day-to-day basis, but now we need to start thinking about [whether we need that level of security] for everyday concerts. Concert promoters, sports leagues, and facilities are all going to have to ask the question, do we put this particular event outdoors or indoors? And if we put it outdoors, what are the security measures and coordination we need to account for? Those risks and threats have manifested themselves with vehicle-ramming in London, indoor active shooters like at Bataclan, explosive devices in Manchester, and now an active shooter from a distance in Las Vegas. How do we mitigate that? Much more collaboration with local law enforcement and security entities in adjacent buildings, and having a plan to respond in the event that they occur. It’s just a matter of being prepared. No one is suggesting you can reduce these risks to zero, because you can’t.

Do you have any thoughts as to why these attacks are happening at music events and not sports?
We don’t really draw a distinction between them, quite frankly, we just call them “dynamic public assembly.” It could be a shopping mall, a political convention, a sporting event, a music concert. They continue to happen at these events because they generally serve as soft targets, and they draw a lot of attention to your message. So if you are a terrorist entity or you have a statement to make — and I don’t know [Paddock’s] motive in Vegas — they get a lot of media coverage. They are intended to scare or deter people from our way of life, and that’s why they continue to choose these soft targets — because you can produce a lot of damage and a lot of casualties quickly.

On the average, do sporting events have more or less security than concerts?
At least with [Oak View’s] Arena Alliance members, their protocols for concerts and sports are identical. They don’t differentiate. If you’re talking about music-only venues, I would not necessarily describe them as any more or less secure than a sporting event, it’s just about being diligent.

In the wake of this tragedy, are you hearing about artists being reluctant to perform in open-air venues?
I have not heard of any major reluctance to do so, but I will tell you there is increased chatter and concern from artists and managers, so now I think there’s just an increased emphasis on thinking about heightening safety and security of not just artists but the experience as a whole — the fans, the venues, the business. All of them are at risk and I think everyone understands that and has a growing level of concern, for sure. But I have not heard any immediate chatter that artists are more reluctant to play, and I think it’s great that concertgoers and promoters and artists have been so resilient [after the attacks on concerts in recent years]. It just is incumbent upon those involved now to think about this in a different way.

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