24 May 2017

Manchester bombing too close to home

While the hideous attack on the concert in Manchester was apparently from the outside of the venue, it’s time to review what we do.

What checks are done on equipment that comes into a venue?

Everyone in technical production should, and some do, adopt a heightened vigilance. The natural sense of security that we inherently enjoy in Australia and New Zealand won’t protect us. We’re sleep walking towards a catastrophe.


Think about where and what could be used against an audience?

Think about all the places equipment comes from, and all the disparate parts of a show. Until someone slips up and lets something into a show that explodes, we are mercifully free of primary screening. Can you imagine how it would slow us down if we had to submit to searches during loadin?

This problem already keeps some venue ops managers awake at night, and bothers a lot of production folk too.

If it was my show, I’d have a firm idea whose equipment SHOULD be coming in, and look really hard for stuff I can’t reconcile. That’s anything that arrives on random trucks or with random people.

I’d also want to talk to my crewing agency about how they hire and vet their crew, since those crew usually walk unimpeded into the venue with backpacks and sometimes bulky hi-vis.

The venue will or should look at their catering and cleaning staff and equipment.

If I was running a school musical event I’d be really careful about what is carried in by any adult – and check all notional ‘parents’ or ‘teachers’ carrying any musical instrument case or bag. It’s a long stretch to imagine a child could bring anything malevolent and probably well beyond reasonable to search them all.

At venue level, I’d sweep all load ins. Armed with a list of contractors, suppliers, and incoming vehicle details, I’d have a couple of well trained and detail oriented security people looking, checking, and asking questions. Not over the top, but with methodology.

While it would add a layer of cost and inconvenience, this kind of regime could now be considered reasonable risk management. Otherwise some alternative regime is required, because to do nothing based on what we now know, is to be negligence. And negligence when people get killed is punishable, sometimes as manslaughter.

What do we now know? We know that bad people target crowds, and we know that they have done that in Paris, and in Manchester. Certainly neither of these atrocities involved stage equipment, but also certain is that by the very nature of entertainment technical production, we have a lot of apparatus that could contain explosives.

Pipe bombs? We have trussing and crowd barrier systems. How do we REALLY KNOW, without weighing them, whether each and every element is clean? Boxes with sealed compartments? We have dozens if not over a hundred speaker boxes and foldback wedges on a large show.

I’d want to know where the keys were to all the forklifts at my venue, all the time.

If we do have an attack using stage technology, the result will be a big re-think on security and the probable exact weighing of everything that comes in, to find abnormalities. Building that weighbridge will not be cheap, neither will staffing it.

But this all pales into nothing if the kids and people who pay good money to come to our shows stop coming because they are frightened. That’s when the dark forces behind these attacks can register a win. I think that’s what they want; although knowing what is in any psychopath’s mind is beyond any normal person.

So lets elevate our scrutiny, turn on our inquisitive natures, and become more aware of what we see and do. Don’t think it’s irrelevant, dumb or difficult to raise a question, or lodge a suspicion. And those of us in power, don’t dismiss or belittle those concerns.

We’re all in this together. Let’s win this battle.


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