How the Drummer of KANSAS and a Former CIA Officer Teamed Up to Make Concerts Safer
Ray Powers and Phil Ehart have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to venue security. Ray has served as a security consultant to some of the biggest-selling music artists in the world. As the founding member, drummer, and acting manager of the rock band KANSAS, Phil has performed at thousands of venues worldwide.
Today, venue staff, volunteers, and contract employees need to prepare for any number of threats and scenarios. The world has changed, and everyone working an event, not just the security professionals, realizes that venue security is critical to the success and safety of an event.
Ray and Phil’s experience made them the perfect individuals to tackle this issue. It’s why they developed Prep4, a venue safety and mobile security platform, in partnership with Learn to Win. Together, Prep4 and Learn to Win provides expert security training for venues of all types and sizes.
We sat down with Ray and Phil to understand how they plan to address the most pressing issues of venue security training.
Ray, you have over 20 years of experience working as a security consultant for world-famous artists. Can you tell us a bit about what your job entails?
When I come into a venue, I’m running 100 miles an hour because I have to worry about a ton of things. My first job is doing advances with the venues before arrival. This means I look at their floor plans, emergency plans, staffing levels, screening procedures, ensuring the backstage areas are secure, etc.
The work starts before the bus even pulls in. As the show gets closer, we go over security protocols. I’m checking each of the security positions because, if those staff members aren’t there, we’ve got a problem. Everyone is more relaxed when we see that the key positions are staffed with competent people. If the venue staff is trained, it makes my job easier and allows the crew and artists to have a smooth show.
Phil, in recent years we've heard about how artists have started to take security into their own hands. Tell us more about that.
As an artist, we’re often the last ones to know in these emergency situations. Given what’s happened over the last few years due to security issues, we just haven’t been able to count on venue security. So our band decided to take an active role in managing our own security.
After every soundcheck that we have, we put ourselves through an active shooter drill. Even if it’s a medium-sized venue that holds 5,000 people, we know that it’s going to be filled with people and somebody coming in might be an active shooter. In that scenario, where do we go? What do we do?
Another band that I know had an experience where there was a shooting in the audience during their show. But they had no idea it was going on. The only way they knew something was wrong was by seeing people drop in front of them. They came to our show a few days later and were still in shock from the horrible things they had seen.
These venues have security people in the audience trying to fix the situation. But what about the band? It was a total overlook because they weren’t organized. An organized response to these emergency situations is an obvious need, but they don’t always happen.
If a band doesn’t take care of themselves, then who will? Bands don’t have 50 to 60 security people. We have road managers, tour managers, and other people, but they have tons of jobs to do and they’re not looking into the audience. That isn’t their job.
Tell us about an example of "what good looks like" when it comes to venue security preparedness.
Phil: A few years ago, we played at a large Air Force Base with another national band. During the show, we were notified that a tornado was headed our way.
Those Airmen were on it in two seconds. They took all the lights down, got the band off-stage, got the gear covered, and put people back in their cars to ensure every safety precaution was taken.
And that storm went over us with no deaths, no injuries, and no gear destroyed. And it was because these people were trained to know what to do
Ray: I’ll build off Phil’s story by sharing my experience with a venue that was completely unprepared.
I was in a 70,000-person capacity stadium this past year with a big artist. Right before the show started, we had to deal with an inclement weather issue. But the stadium was already at about quarter-capacity.
I had been up in the sky boxes talking to emergency management teams. I knew what they were supposed to do because the storm had been tracking in our direction. I knew the workers on the ground were supposed to move the audience from the open field to a predetermined shelter-in-place location. However, when the storm approached, that didn’t happen.
Their own crew had no idea what to do. You had supervisors there that didn’t know where to direct people or what steps their staff were supposed to take.
They actually pushed thousands of people back into the interior of the stadium, where the artists were, and then funneled them throughout the interior of the stadium with open rooms everywhere. It caused a real mess, for the stadium and us.
But it was a good indicator to me that it doesn’t matter if it’s a 2000-seat hall or if it’s a 70,000-person stadium. If the staff doesn’t know what to do, it’s a nightmare. It can ruin the concert experience for the audience and make our jobs more difficult.
What are some of the challenges that venues face when it comes to security?
Ray: From a security manager’s perspective, the biggest problem they face is finding qualified people. This, coupled with the high turnover, leaves these venues constantly short-staffed, and difficult to set up any formal security training
Imagine trying to train new hires in an industry with a high turnover rate and all of your people have other jobs and other responsibilities on their schedules. If you’re a venue manager, how are you going to schedule enough training sessions to cover everybody and keep up with the new hires.
How have venues coped with these challenges?
Ray: Quite frankly, I’d say most haven’t.
Earlier this year, I was at a major football stadium. I spoke with the venue manager and asked him how he felt about their training program. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’ll tell you right now, our T-shirt people suck.”
‘T-shirt person’ is a term we use to describe the people venues hire to work an event. One show could require 6 t-shirt people, while the same show next week could require 12, depending on the crowd size.
Most of the time, they’re just given a t-shirt with the word ‘security’ on the back – and that’s the problem. Oftentimes, these T-shirt people are given absolutely no training and no equipment. They lack knowledge. No one has told them what to do in an active threat scenario or a host of security incidents that could happen.
Many venues don’t have a real training program for their T-shirt people in these scenarios.
What are the types of "active threats" that venues need to be ready to respond to?
Ray: When most people hear the term ‘active threat’ they probably think of an active shooter scenario. But a venue has to be prepared for many different dangerous scenarios.
Depending on the venue, you have to be prepared for:
- Active Shooter/Active Threats
- Crowd Crush/Crowd Surges
- Medical Emergencies
- Inclement Weather
- Missing Persons
- Smoke and Fire Evacuations
- Suspicious packages/Bomb Threats
What advice do you have for venues to improve their emergency preparedness?
Ray: I couldn’t give a one-size fits all solution to all venue security issues. But I do think that any venue, regardless of size, can take three steps to make their space safer and more secure.
- Build a formal training program that works in a high-turnover environment. We partnered with Learn to Win, a mobile-first learning platform, to make it easy for a venue to formalize their training. With Prep4, you don’t need to attempt the impossible task of scheduling enough training for your constant wave of new hires. Instead, these new hires can access the training from their phones, whether it’s 11 pm or 7 am. And you’ll have the added benefit of knowing exactly who has completed what training, with insights into what they do and don’t understand.
- Customize training for your specific venue. There are universal threats that every venue should prepare for. However, every venue also has procedures and dangers that are uniquely specific to them. That’s why having the ability to customize training is essential. With Learn to Win, a venue can customize the generic training we provide them or create their own lessons for their own specific needs.
- Train ushers and other staff. A venue’s security training isn’t just for the people with ‘security’ on their shirts. You need to train all of your venue staff, from the ushers to the maintenance personnel because if they know what to look for the venue response is faster. You might not expect these people to need security training, but they could be your first contact or see something out of place.