“Go for Simon,” I answered an incoming radio call. It was always a crapshoot. Sometimes people wanted me for a trivial problem, and sometimes there were life and death issues. For years in my former role as the Chief Operating Office of Insomniac, the company that produces Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival, we worked in lockstep with Las Vegas Metro PD, Homeland Security, the FBI, and many other agencies to keep our event as safe as possible. The ER doctors and health and safety teams in Vegas, as with many other places, work wonders on a daily basis. They too were part of our team. I have a hard time imagining anyone more qualified to handle a mass casualty incident — they are world-class experts in events, public safety, health and customer service.
Ever since 9/11, the attack at the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Paris, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the Boston Marathon bombing and the bombing of Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert, the possibility of weaponized evil actors assaulting a music event is no longer a question of “if,” but “when?” and “who’s next?”
These nightmarish possibilities are coming from all directions, both within the venue walls and beyond their exterior to parking lots, buildings next door and hotels like the Mandalay Bay.
During the weeks leading up to EDC, there were things that kept us awake at night and we would often share those fears as part of the planning process, hoping to create a quicker prevention and response plan.
We collaborated and participated in imagining and confronting disaster scenarios. The feeling we all shared of building a temporary city and creating good memories for the fans made it worthwhile. Many of the Metro PD officers working the event accepted colorful plastic beaded bracelets from the fans. I remember looking at a police officer friend working the event and confirming, “We did it” as the sun rose on the third morning of the festival. Nothing sounded better than fans cheering on their way home.
Even in our best moments, the possibility of a threat on our events never wavered from our minds. Behind the scenes, each new violent act at a public gathering prompted new procedures and safety protocols. In the NFL, backpack sizes were restricted, then fans were required to use transparent ones. It is likely they will eventually be prohibited altogether. Metal detectors and security searches replaced turnstyles. Just like airport travelers, people accept the changes and comply in an effort to have a safe place to celebrate. Because the Las Vegas attacker struck from beyond the radius of the promoters’ control, I cannot imagine what new measures could have been taken by the promoters to stop this massacre. Live Nation, MGM and the Las Vegas agencies are expert operators.
The hard truth is that there is no way to prevent attacks from outside an event’s walls. The Vegas attacks show that thin illusion of safety is just that: an illusion. It does not take much imagination to consider the damage that could be inflicted by combining a weaponized drone, or worse, a fleet of armed drones. Of course, this is not limited to the confines of an event or its surroundings. An event is just the beacon that attracts the crowd. Event planning and safety will have to evolve at least as fast as the readily-available weapons technology, but that is not going to be enough.
While I have always managed my fear of an attack like this happening at an event under my watch, I realize that even though I did not have any personal involvement with the festival in Vegas, I have to extend what I consider “my watch.” It doesn’t end at the gates of a show. It doesn’t end in my chosen home of Los Angeles. As people working and participating in live music events, we have to recognize that this pattern is just beginning and take steps to stop it.
National gun policy is having a profound impact on our industry. It is time to unify, fund and empower representatives to contribute to making changes not only to protect ourselves, but to protect our communities, families, friends and associates. A lot of people have written about how every time an attack occurs, the victims’ community responds with resilience. This is necessary and powerful but it cannot undo the damage done. We have to organize to restore public safety.
Concerts and mass gatherings are vital to the American experience. I attended my first concert at the age of 10. As The Beach Boys harmonized on stage: “And wouldn’t it be nice to live together, in the kind of world where we belong?”
Joined by my dad, my mom, and older brother, I watched the Beach Boys play on the Mall in Washington DC on the 4th of July. Ronald Reagan was president and hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance. I was blown away by the scale of so many people celebrating our nation’s birthday with great fireworks and good vibrations. People came from all over the country, including East Coast country club Republicans, families of all ethnicities and even the long-haired hippy who asked me if I had a ping-pong ball for his “ping-pong-ball shooter” (later I learned I had seen my first bong). I will never forget that night and it paved the way for my career. As a child, I never worried about what could go wrong.
The show must go on and so must we. The answer is not stopping shows and festivals. Something much larger than events is broken and we have the power to work to address it. In our industry, we have loud voices, global platforms and huge audiences to make a difference. Let’s use this powerful chorus to affect change. None of us wants to see any more events added to the tragedy list.