On the night of Sunday, October 1, 2017, a lone gunman fired more than 1,100 rounds on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured. Investigations into the incident later found the assailant reserved a hotel room that overlooked the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park in Chicago.
No motive for the attack has yet been released, and tragically, the incident was far from the last mass shooting in the U.S.
Mass shootings are a topic of national concern, and while politicians, pundits and the news media debate long term solutions such more effective gun control, assault weapons bans, improved background checks and increased spending on mental health programs, fairs managers must be focused on the short term.
What if my fair becomes the next target?
Run, Hide or Attack
The Las Vegas incident – like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing -- reinforced the reality that outdoor events are prime, high profile targets for terrorists. Security is far from a new concern for fair managers, but with festivals now the setting for these tragic scenes of horror, it was clear that fair managers must take new measures to keep their outdoor events safe.
For the active shooter scenario, prevention may be crucial but it can only go so far. Staff and personnel – usually working in conjunction with law enforcement – are undergoing training to minimize fatalities.
Gary Kramer of the Accurate Event Group, an event security company specializing in security for large-scale outdoor events, including fairs, said that within the past eight to 10 years, metal detectors, hand wanders and a growing list of prohibited items have become the norm at a growing at a growing number of fairs. In addition, he said that increasing the law enforcement presence including a plain clothes presence, has likewise become standard practice at fairs as well as other larger events.
These general protocols are effective in a range of security threats, and certainly minimize the occurrence of an active shooter situation, but the reality is as Kramer points out, “there’s nothing you can do until it starts. If someone gets through and are determined, you have three options, run, hide or attack.”
The Accurate Event Group sponsored an Active Shooter workshop at the Florida Federation of Fairs annual convention last month. Mass shootings have especially plagued Florida, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, left 17 dead and the Pulse Night Club shooting in 2016 resulted in 49 casualties. The workshop – one the membership demanded the federation hold at their annual convention this year – was one of the most-well attended of the meeting.
“Everybody needs to know where they have to be when the time for action is here,” said Paul Davis, incoming president of the federation. “Everybody plans for an incident and has security in place, but at some point the time for planning is done. It’s a national trend where everybody in the fair industry is brushing up their emergency plans, and now that plans have to add in the active shooter.”
Active Shooter Training
The Florida Federation is far from alone from featuring active shooter seminars at their annual meeting. Since 2007, the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE), the leading national fair organization in the U.S., has held an Emergency Planning session every other year at its convention. “Depending upon the particulars of the individual meeting there may be more – or less – emphasis on active assailants as compared to something like bomb detection and prevention,” said Marla Calico, president & CEO, IAFE.
While how much emphasis will be place on active shooter training at the next convention is still uncertain, the security seminars presented by the IAFE are done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. However, trying to determine how many fairs are actually implementing new procedures and training is difficult.
“At some state fairs which are operated as agencies or departments of state government there might be some level of control that is out of the hands of the fair management,” said Calico. “ We’ve not asked our members to tell us what security measures they are changing or implementing as “new” in response to either heightened awareness or concern. I do know that some have undertaken to engage in active assailant training, generally working with their own local law enforcement authorities to have something customized for their own staff.”
She added that active shooter training was not specifically presented at the 2017 IAFE annual convention, but “at the Management Conference in April we utilized two different US Department of Homeland Security personnel to present sessions on two different topics. In addition, there was another presentation by law enforcement officials who worked with the 2018 Super Bowl. At the IAFE Zone 4 meeting in March in South Dakota, an officer for the local sheriff’s office did a session on active assailants.”
“After the shootings that have been happening across the country, the Red River Valley Fair Association has decided to take a proactive approach to this situation by working with our local Law Enforcement entities to do additional training for our full-time staff as well as temporary Fair staff.” Said Bryan K. Schulz, CFE, General Manager, Red River Valley Fair Association, West Fargo, North Dakota.
Schulz described the new security procedures – and a more intensive focus on active shooter scenarios – went “across the board for our Fair,” which included increased security staff, additional bag searches, and more staff roaming the grounds and midway area during all opening hours. Every building on the grounds will have some form of communication during our 6 day Fair that will allow us to communicate if an incident or inclement weather would occur. We have also brought on an intern that is a senior in Emergency Management at North Dakota State University that is looking at our current plan and re-writing areas that need tweaking.”
This reevaluation of the current active shooter procedures will be part of “a three-ring binder that each of the Superintendents will receive during a training class”
But new bag checks procedures and more security awareness was not enough for this fair. When it comes to active shooter security, the best training is a re-creation of worst case scenarios. On May 5th of this year, the fair conducted a 3.5 hour “Active Shooter” training program, which included both classroom and drills, and was conducted in conjunction with the sheriff’s department and local hospitals. “The hospital did some hands on first-aid training for possible gun shot or other types of wounds,” said Schulz, who added that 75 fair personnel participated in the training.
“Our public safety plan is in a constant state of continuous improvement,” said Chris Leach, Operations Director, Minnesota State Fair. “Our law enforcement experts are aware of the ever-evolving security threats we face, and work diligently to excel at the most important emergency management consideration of all, prevention. Additional security measures have been implemented in a variety of areas; including gate entrances, vehicle access, and overall traffic management throughout the fairgrounds.”
Preventative measures when it comes to active shooters can only go so far. Like many fairs, when it comes to active shooter programs, the fair relies on extensive police presence, working hand-in-hand with local enforcement. “The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards (POST) establishes the training requirements for all officers in the state,” said Leach. “During our annual fair we supplement with officers from over 75 departments across the state, who must also meet or exceed these standards. We have an extensive emergency management plan, which we developed in coordination with professionals from federal, state, and local agencies. This plan includes strict processes and procedures designed to impede, or react to an array of possible incidents, including active shooters.”
As large-scale events go, the wide walkways, the expansive layout and milling crowds actually create a safer environment than comparable festival grounds or open-air stadiums. “At a fair everyone is spread out, with vendors every 10 feet or so,” said Kramer. “There’s a lot of wide spaces and eyes watching. The carnival companies are especially good at policing their midways. We don’t get involved with the midway because the carnival operators are very aware of problems and if they see something that isn’t right.”
Nonetheless, two key measures fair organizers should take to either prevent an active shooter incident or minimize its impact are staff training and daily inspections.
While training can be taken on several levels, at the minimum an intensive briefing is necessary. “It should be two sessions, not necessarily all day,” Kramer advised. “You have to bring the staff up to speed, muster them into what is required and how to react if there is an incident. You should also give them a pep talk about security every day of the event, give them a heads up about anything that is related to security.”
Constant inspections are also are essential throughout the course of the fair. The ‘see something, say something dictum’ applies to a range of security issues, but for potential active shooter situations, “holes in the fence, unattended gates or places where people can jump the fence,” are places where armed assailants can bypass normal entrance security.
In addition, many fairs are doing daily sweeps in the morning and afternoons with police dogs and bomb techs, but when it comes to active shooters. “There is no preparation you can do if someone within five miles is attempting to assassinate people.”
Emergency readiness requires that on all issued walkie-talkies, one channel – usually the first and/or last one – is allotted exclusively for security. Training for staff should include the different procedures, for evacuations and responses to threat, said Kramer. “There should be some sort of security and safety manual to back up training so everyone knows what they should do.”
As more fairs augment current security protocols that also include staff training for active shooter preparation, security costs are increasing. For instance, according to Schulz, security costs have increased “about 25 percent for the training and for the additional staffing.”
At the Minnesota State Fair, citing “wage increases, additional staffing, equipment, and security contractors,” Leach stated that the event’s “Public Safety budget has seen a 28 percent increase over the last five years.”
While the added costs may have so far been absorbed, the impact on fairgoers has been minimal and given the current state of gun violence in the United Stated, fairgoers like most attendees to public events are willing to accept to some inconvenience. “We have found that people are used to increased security precautions at public events, and for the most part they appreciate the effort,” said Leach. “While many of our security protocols are evident to the public, others are more inconspicuous. Our goal is to provide a safe environment while having minimal impact on the guest experience. We implemented bag checks two years ago, and have worked hard to minimize the effect on the guest experience.”
Active Shooter situations require personnel training which is relatively unnoticed by the fairgoer population. “When it comes to active shooter protocols, the law enforcement training designed to react to such a situation would be behind the scenes and unknown to the public,” added Leach.