Concert safety in a time of terror

By Beth Casteel

Pulling her phone out of her pocket to film the last act at the Louder Than Life Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, Victoria Gray, a junior majoring in biology at Cleveland State, is startled to see one text message after another appear on her phone’s screen.

Immediately checking to see what was wrong, she began seeing texts from friends and relatives asking if she was okay. Confused, she began replying to the messages when a notification popped up that a mass shooting had occurred at a concert, much like the one she was currently attending.

“When I first read my texts, I was confused more than anything,” Gray said. “Once I found out what happened I understood [their concerns].”

After the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas — a massacre that left  489 injured and 58 dead, a number that may continue to rise in upcoming weeks — the alarm bells are ringing for many people about the safety of concerts.

 For many, going to a concert is a way to let loose and forget about the hassles of their day-to-day lives. Going to a show and being surrounded by people who share similar interests and taste in music is an experience hard to replicate elsewhere, but waking up to yet another headline about a new tragedy at a live event can make even people like Mike Gibson, a die-hard concertgoer, question the safety of attending live events.

The United States has an easily remembered history of similar attacks — from Columbine in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007 and Sandy Hook in 2012 — these are just a few examples from an extensive list of mass shootings.

This is occurrence is not uncommon in the United States. According to an article published by  CNN based on a report by Adam Lankford an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, between 1966 and 2012, there were 90 mass shootings nationally. Globally, there were 292 similarly categorized shootings in the same time period, with the attacks in the U.S. making up nearly one-third of all mass shootings recorded in those years.

This number comes from the definition put in place by the Congressional Research Service which stipulates that the gunman must have killed more than four people, selected victims randomly (gang killings and killing of multiple family members are excluded from this) and the attack must have occurred in a public place.

Following that same definition, between Jan. 1 and Oct. 3, there have been nine mass shootings in the U.S. Paired with events like the bombing of the Manchester Arena earlier this year, the Pulse nightclub shooting the year before, the Le Bataclan shooting in 2015 and the tragedy in Vegas have many people questioning if going to live events are even worth the risk.

With the number of mass shootings growing nationwide, arguments that an increase in gun control could be the solution to preventing such tragedies from happening in the future have drastically increased in recent years. Many are calling for the implementation of laws that make obtaining a gun in the U.S. more difficult.

A study done by Pew Research in 2017, found that 47 percent of people surveyed believe that making it harder to obtain a firearm would result in fewer mass shootings. 39 percent of those surveyed believe that stricter laws would make no difference in mass shootings and 13 percent believe there would be more.

Graphics by Ashley Mott

Even though the research found violence with guns is an issue with the majority of people, the divide between Americans on how to handle it is where the problem lies.

Residency laws are different in every state, and where you live determines what your rights are when carrying a firearm. Most states in America will allow a law-abiding citizen to obtain a permit to conceal carry upon the completion of the requirements that the state has.

In Ohio, those laws include being 21 years old and a resident of Ohio for at least 45 days. If you meet those requirements, you then may take an eight-hour training course to obtain a Certificate of Competency.

When purchasing a firearm, people have to fill out an ATF 4473 form. Implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the 4473 form is filled out when people purchase a firearm from a licensed gun shop.  

Robert Debany, owner of B and D Gun Range said that every legal gun store must do a background check and have the purchaser fill out the 4473 form in order to sell a firearm.

After that, a person must have a form of government-issued ID with their current address. If they cannot provide that, they are not allowed to purchase a firearm. To purchase a rifle or shotgun you must be 18 years old or older, but to purchase a handgun, the buyer must be 21 years old. After meeting the requirements and passing the background check, the buyer can then purchase a firearm.

To Debany, the question of modifiable items, like the bump stocks used in the Las Vegas massacre, should not be the question or focus. In his opinion, it’s why it happened that’s most important. While Debany believes stricter gun laws will be pushed for, he mentions that it won’t stop someone who is determined enough to execute such a horrific plan.

“There’s not a lot of things laws can do to stop someone from doing things like Vegas,” Debany said. “If you have someone who is determined enough to kill people, they’ll find ways to do it.”

Hearing about these tragedies, the fear of going to an event is more present now than ever before. With instances like this adding to the list of both mass shootings in the U.S. and acts of mass violence on concert venues across the globe, it’s caused a lot of people to be fearful of ever going to another event.

For venues, the safety of their guests is crucial. In recent years, many venues have upped their security measures to ensure the safety of the people attending their events. Chris Zitterbart, the owner of Cleveland’s Agora Theatre and Ballroom, stresses that the safety of his guests is his number one priority.

With the recent tragedies in news, Zitterbart maintains that he tries to provide not only an enjoyable but also safe experience for the people who attend events at his venue. When people first walk into the venue, they walk through a metal detector. If the alarm goes off for any reason, he makes sure that the individual is checked by a hand-held metal detector, as an additional precaution.

One of the biggest safety measures that the Agora takes is security at each entrance to the venue. According to Zitterbart, they want to secure every single entrance around the venue, whether that be the door that the showcasing artist uses or the main entrance used by audience members.

Recently, they added a new camera system to enhance the monitoring of what is happening at the Agora. Zitterbart also explained that they look to the trends that are happening through social media to learn what is happening at other venues. He emphasizes the importance of learning from such tragedies like Manchester and Las Vegas.

“We try to learn from events that have happened in other places,” Zitterbart said. “We’ve been doing this a long time and safety is extremely important to us and it’s something we take very seriously.”

Additionally, Zitterbart also has a close relationship with the Cleveland Police Department. If the venue needs things such as an increased security presence or extra police cars, the Cleveland Police help provide them with this.

Cleveland State’s own Wolstein Center, much like the Agora, also has a close relationship with law enforcement. According to Cleveland State University’s Police Department Chief of Police Gary Lewis, they work closely with the Wolstein Center when events are held at the venue to ensure the safety of all attendees.  

According to Lewis, the Cleveland State command team and senior leadership monitor trends from local, state and national events to help better determine what they can do to improve the safety of concert and event-goers.

“The Cleveland State University Police Department in conjunction with Wolstein Center staff work together closely at evaluating each event to address specific needs for those in attendance,” Lewis said. “Safety and security is a priority.”

The Wolstein Center is a large venue that accommodates nearly 14,000  people. With a number of Cleveland State related athletic events and outside clients for potential concerts, the Cleveland State Police Department in conjunction with staff at the Wolstein Center consider the precautions needed for each event and plan accordingly.  

The university’s police also regularly conduct threat assessments to determine things like staffing and other resource-based items. As is industry standard, Lewis could not go into much detail about what exactly they do for security purposes.

While some venues in Cleveland could not be reached for comment, places like the House of Blues give their safety precautions and item restrictions right on their website. On their site, they encourage guests to review the provided information to ensure a customer’s best possible experience while attending an event.

One suggestion on their website is that guests should arrive early to the venue in order to move people through the queue. Before going into the venue, bags will be checked and in some cases pockets will be asked to be emptied for examination. Guests are searched by security with either a wand, a walk-through metal detector and sometimes pat-downs to confirm that no restricted items are being brought into the venue.

As for restrictions on personal belongings, the House of Blues provides a list of prohibited items that will not be allowed into the venue. Some of these items include outside food or drinks, personal video cameras, laser pointers, bags over 10 inches, jewelry that can inflict harm and weapons of any kind, which include firearms and knives.

With the rise in security measures and item restrictions that many venues have created, some avid concertgoers feel that going to a live event today is much safer than going to one in years prior.

From his experience, Mike Gibson — the die-hard concert goer who is also a drummer of Cleveland punk rock band ‘Dead Ringer’ — feels the security at shows has greatly improved from when he first started playing in 2001.

From his experience playing at multiple concert venues, Gibson has seen venues triple their safety precautions since the early 2000s. With added restrictions, more security and increased rules, there is a greater sense of safety that he feels when attending a concert.

“I remember playing a show in 2005 where there was no security to stop people from throwing glass bottles at the bands and fighting in the crowd,” Gibson said. “Punk shows used to be incredibly dangerous, but that was the point. It wasn’t supposed to be safe. That wasn’t punk rock.”

While most venues have increased their security measures, Gibson does feel like some of the smaller “do it yourself” venues could increase what they’re doing. More established venues follow a much stricter guideline for safety, something that Gibson feels is done well. For him, venues like The Agora or the House of Blues don’t necessarily need to improve their safety measures because they do as much as they can to ensure that their guests are safe.

Having played almost 500 shows in the course of his career, some of those DIY venues he’s played could use more precautions for guests. To Gibson, some venues that are smaller have a false sense of safety because of the scene, there is a mentality in the music industry – especially for people in the punk lifestyle – that feel like everyone has the same beliefs and values. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in his opinion, Gibson feels like they should try to improve what they are doing to ensure the safety of the bands and people at the show.

For Gibson, it’s a give and take issue, some venues do a great job at securing their venue while others could use improvement. Even though some of the smaller venues could use increased security, Gibson maintains that show safety is a top priority to every established venue he’s been to.

While venues do as much as they can to ensure the safety of their guests, there’s also a responsibility for the people attending the event to make sure they create a safe environment. Gibson believes that while it’s a venues job to ensure the safety of their guests, people should also take responsibility and be mindful of their own security.

Reflecting on the Las Vegas shooting and her own experience at the two-day festival, Victoria Gray remembers not feeling discouraged or afraid of attending another show and is determined not to let the tragedy in Las Vegas take away one of her favorite pastimes.

“I’m not going to be discouraged from going to concerts [after events like Vegas],” Gray said. “I will, however, take more precautions.”

Making a plan before going to a concert or another live event can help create a sense of security. With the tragedies at live events becoming increasingly common to see in the news, maintaining your safety when attending an event is of the utmost importance.

After speaking with security guards, students at Cleveland State, bands and employees at venues, there were some frequently mentioned trends in regards to concert safety. While these aren’t all the tips that one should take, these are common things that were frequently brought up.

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