How Security Experts Are Adapting to the Ever-Present Threat of Mass Shootings

Are we heading toward a future in which all live entertainment requires layers of intense security?
September 3, 2018, 1:31pm
Security outside a screening of Hamilton attended by President Obama in 2015. Photo by Brendan Smialowski via Getty

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the sponsor of the Madden tournament as well as the owners of the venue in Jacksonville, Florida, where two people were killed in a shooting on August 26. The attorney for one of the gamers caught in the crossfire accused the people running Chicago Pizza and Sports Grille II of negligence, saying they failed to provide adequate "perimeter control" or measures to identify weapons.


The complaint suggests that beyond the obvious incentive of not wanting people to die in your restaurant, the owners of small venues should take on both the logistical and financial costs of beefing up their security protocols, lest they be liable for a tragedy. But what does an America look like in which pizza places need armed security to host fewer than 150 patrons? And what will these ever-increasing security measures do to the cost of events like concerts? Are we approaching a point at which live entertainment will only be available to the wealthy?

To get a sense of the current security landscape, I caught up with Justin Kelley, the former commanding officer of the Connecticut State Police Emergency Services Unit, who now works as as the vice president of operations for the consulting firm MSA Security. He talked to me about how the professional security community is changing its protocols to account for a world where mass shootings seem like an ever-present threat, and how venues both large and small are dealing with that reality.

VICE: Was there a specific event that caused the security community to re-evaluate its approach to event planning?
Justin Kelley, MSA Security: I think we've definitely seen a change. When you have an incident like the Ariana Grande concert in the UK, it just ripples throughout the security community. So I think when you're building any good security plan, you look at layers of security. So what we've seen is more of an overt level of security, where a normal attendee to an event can see members of security, and also covert layers of security as well, where you have people who look like regular attendees to an event but who are actually carrying out a security mission. And that doesn't need to be as expansive—they just need to be sprinkled in.

Depending on what's showing, whether its a sporting event or a concert, and who the attendees will be, that will have some influence on the plan. So when you look at a venue in its totality, you really want to see how people are getting into the venue. Because when you get inside a venue, for the most part, that's pretty much the safest place you can be. It's the walk-up, it's the lead-up, to a venue, as we saw with Ariana Grande in the UK. They had no intention of going to the concert, but knew they were going to get a large crowd [outside of] a stadium and a pooling of people they would consider relatively soft targets. So you want to get in that area where people start to queue up. How did the events in Vegas change security protocol for outdoor events and concerts? Will we start to see snipers at these kinds of things going forward?
I don't think that's the avenue we're going to be going, with snipers. But it's those people who are pretending to be part of the crowd and are making observations. One of the issues with Vegas was that you need elevation to assist you in getting a good control of a crowd. That is something where law enforcement needs to have eyes and ears not only on the ground. If you're seeing someone who is not a typical country music follower and they're alone—there's a whole bunch of criteria for behavior analytics and making a decision. This all sounds really expensive. What about places like movie theaters, which are obviously targets these days but lack the resources of a bigger venue?
You're definitely right that it would be extremely cost prohibitive to do this at every movie theater. But what you've seen since Aurora is an enhanced screening process internal to the theater. All it takes is someone walking around the theater, maybe from management, or cameras. A lot of movie theaters are attached to malls, and that could be a shared resource that someone could monitor from the inside. You have eyes already into the parking lot to prevent stolen cars or theft, but you could also have a screening measure going into the theater as well. You aren't going to prevent every incident. You're not going to. But you could make it more difficult to get in, so that person goes somewhere else.

What about a medium-sized event space, like a club? Do these places have undercover security now?
I think the venue in some respects is obligated to provide some level of security that the general public is accustomed to. Take any sporting event today and you're going to see things that you didn't see 15 years ago. You wouldn't have seen bomb dogs, or heavily armed security. Now if you take that away, people would say, 'Wow, something's missing here.' So at a club with several hundred people, there should be some level of screening. Now that could be as easy as you divest of what's in your pockets, you open your purse, you put your cell phone on a tray. It doesn't have to be wands and pat downs. But there should be something. The first lawsuit was just filed against the venue owners who hosted the gaming tournament in Jacksonville, Florida. I don't think that it makes sense for a restaurant to hire armed guards for a tournament where the purse is $5,000. Is the solution to just not have low-budget events?
In cases like those, there might not have even been a call to the local law enforcement to let them know something is going on because it's such a low-volume event. So do I recommend the restaurant have security measures in place? No, except for CCTV. They're not going to be wanding people to go in. That's prohibitive to their business. It's a restaurant. It would be very difficult to stop something like that. But, the tournament was [a lot of people who knew each other.] One of the things you can do is glean very important facts from social media. We've seen it multiple times for clients, where the scrub, if you will, is very important to our approach to certain venues. I don't want to sound like we should have security at every public place, because we cannot afford to do that, but that is something people can pay attention to.

Part of me assumes that we'll eventually reach a tipping point at which popular mass entertainment is only available to the 1 percent, but the thought that people will just be afraid to go out at all because we can't afford security is equally disturbing.
I think the cost is a lot less than folks think. If you take like, Pulse, and the people in security there, if those folks were trained to look for people who are dressed in a certain manner and put them through a screening process—it's just about getting people aware of the signs and, if you will, symptoms of what to look for. And 20 years ago, you'd just have a bouncer to take out unruly subjects, but now you have to look at people coming in. Most of the people who work at clubs or restaurants are not trained in Krav Maga or anything like that. What can someone reasonably do once they've identified a threat in their space?
I think it comes down to isolation of that subject and going up and approaching them. You're not going to get anything with a non-approach. Whether it's the manager of the club or the owner of a restaurant, someone's gonna have to approach and ask a couple of questions in a business-like manner and see what kind of response they get.

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