In the wake of this week’s Orlando nightclub shooting, there has been much discussion about what could have been done to prevent a large-scale massacre. We must first recognize that shootings on this scale (over 10 people) in nightclub/bar environments have never occurred within the United States. To state that mass casualty incidents such as this one are the norm or increasing in entertainment venues is not only counterproductive, it is patently false. However, the stark reality is that there are incidents involving guns in and around nightclubs on a regular basis. At least every few days, there is a report about a shooting or altercation involving some type of firearm in a bar or nightclub. And while some would try to guide the discussion towards preventing these specific large-scale events from occurring, the more measured approach should be to examine how bar, nightclub, lounge, and nightlife venue security can be improved on the whole.
The ultimate goal for any owner is to provide a comfortable environment for people to enjoy themselves. But at the same time, they must reduce liability and deter or dissuade those with criminal or potentially violent intentions. No discussion about nightclub security can begin without first talking about the role of the security staffer. It is these employees whose part in the overall scope of security is critical to the function of any bar, nightclub, or nightlife venue. Security staffers act as the front line when it comes to reducing liability, providing protection (for both patrons and the physical venue), and dispensing solid customer service. They are usually the first – and last – individuals that patrons will encounter in an establishment, and the staff’s attitude and approach can mean the difference between a customer’s great night on the town or a ruined evening.
Security staffers will spot trouble before the CCTV system, respond to any issues before law enforcement, and take care of any number of problems before the manager can arrive to help out. But no matter how well trained the staff may be, their ability to provide a safe, secure venue for patrons is dependent on the steps that management takes to assist them in the performance of their duties. Every establishment’s security program needs to be built on the idea of “concentric rings of security”, of which the security staff is only one.
Your First Ring of Defense – The Exterior
The first ring of protection begins with the physical security measures in place outside of an establishment: CCTV cameras, secured places of ingress and egress, and visible security staff. People with questionable intentions – whether petty thieves, underage drinkers, or armed attackers – are often deterred by the mere fact that there is security in place. In the majority of cases, criminals do not want to be seen, heard, noticed, or remembered. CCTV cameras limit the criminal’s ability to access a location unseen or enact their plans without being captured on video. Externally locked and clearly marked exit doors not only limit access but can force troublemakers to travel in a direction that will place them in contact with a posted staff member or within line of sight of a camera. Dedicated entry areas force interaction with security staff providing an excellent opportunity for them to ask for ID, remember a face, or potentially bar access to the venue – again limiting options for the would-be criminal.
The physical design of an entry and layout of a rope line can also help to direct people to specific areas, forcing the criminal to figure a way around perceived obstacles. Separate staging areas (i.e. entry line, cover charge area, and coat check) provide additional opportunities for observation of potentially violent or illegal behavior. The more time a potential troublemaker is exposed in an open area or under the watchful eye of an individual or series of cameras, the less likely they are to take any chances. If a target is too difficult or time-consuming to get to, the criminal will choose another target.
Additional steps that can be taken at the front door include the addition of metal detectors (static or handheld), bag checks, and physical pat downs. Besides the potential discovery of weapons before they can be introduced into the venue, these stepped-up measures can reveal everything from illegal drugs to banned items. The obvious downside is that people want to go out for a night on the town, NOT take a trip through the TSA line in order to grab a drink! What some clientele may view as a necessary annoyance others might view as an unwelcome intrusion. Remember, what patrons experience at the front door is going to set the tone for the evening and as such, establishments should have in-depth discussions regarding the implementation of what might be interpreted by some as “extreme” measures.
The Interior Staff – Your Second Line of Defense
While front door staffers are keepers of the gate, interior staffers will be the ones holding the line once the patrons enter. Interior staffers are the eyes and ears of a venue and will more often than not be the first to respond to issues within the establishment. A visible, easily identifiable – whether by uniform, dress code, or name tag – security staff member acts not only as a deterrent but as a potential helping hand to patrons in need of assistance. Knowing that they can easily find and communicate with a security staffer adds to patrons’ comfort levels and thereby their enjoyment of the evening. They know that should a problem occur, there is a staff member there to help. Security staffers should always make it a point to interact with patrons. Extended conversations about the general state of world affairs aren’t necessary, but greetings and questions about how patrons’ evenings are going are a must. The smallest conversations can oftentimes help reveal trouble or brewing problems.
To that end, observation and communication are among the most important factors to successful security coverage. Too many times a potential issue is noticed or handled by staffers within the establishment and there is no communication of the incident to those working the front door, to management, or even to others working within the venue. Nightlife venues MUST have radios – and have staffers trained in their use – in order to rapidly and effectively relay important information. But keep in mind that no amount of communication will be of use if there is not a set of protocols, policies, and procedures in place should trouble of any sort arise.
From responses to altercations to dealing with dress code issues, venue security staff should be able to follow a set of steps to get them from Point A to Point Z. Ideally, these policies and procedures should be contained within a manual and used as the basis of training for both new and old employees. Constant training and reiteration of policies help to build the foundation of a security staff’s base of knowledge. Along those lines, staffers should know the location of basic emergency equipment: fire extinguishers, first aid kits, breaker boxes, and emergency lighting controls. Scenario training – everything from dealing with minor injuries to handling large scale fights – and evacuation drills will help to further reinforce any security staff’s knowledge base.
Finally, developing a good working relationship with local law enforcement is of the utmost importance. All establishments should already have the local police department or state liquor agencies training their employees in ID checks and how to spot intoxicated individuals. Management should also work in tandem with local law enforcement to develop a plan and train staff in what to do during an active shooter situation. Whether meeting regularly with the local Night Life team, speaking to beat officers about recent incidents, or hiring off-duty police officers to work within a venue, frequent contact with LEOs helps to extend an establishment’s rings of security.
Nightclub incidents like the mass shooting in Orlando are still an anomaly. But one would be foolish not to try and prepare for them. Designing a security program for any venue begins with an honest discussion. Owners and managers should take a careful look at their existing security framework: do they have “concentric rings” of security, set policies and procedures, and a viable relationship with local Law Enforcement? Studying what is already in place, discussing what can be improved, and figuring how to make those improvements while still providing customers with an enjoyable night out will only help in the long run. Flaws are only a problem if they remain unfixed. At the very least, enhancing a security program will protect a venue from potential liability and keep patrons safe and happy. In a worst-case scenario, it could save many lives.
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Nightclub Security Fundamentals