Modern Day Security Measures Taken at Concerts: A Case Study

security screening

© Written by Alan CROWTHER CCTP BA(Hons) Econ, Senior Consultant MSS



I and my colleague had been at one of South East Asia’s largest performance and exhibition centers undertaking a consultancy into venue and event security for only three weeks when on the Tuesday of the fourth week being the 23rd May 2017 we were summoned to see the CEO and senior executives of the venue in the boardroom just before 10:00hrs without the reason being stated.


On the way to the boardroom I engaged in conversation with my colleague as to what he thought the reason was but he was as short on ideas as I was. It is of note that prior to leaving home that morning at 06:00hrs I had heard on the international news that something was on-going at a concert venue in Manchester and being from that area it had caught my attention together with the fact that the news station had no update on what exactly was going on only to say that a part of the city had been locked down by police.


On entering the boardroom it immediately became apparent that a bomb of some sort had been exploded at the Arena in Manchester resulting in the loss of life and we had been summoned to give our opinion on the course of actions that the CEO had already been contemplating in the wake of the Paris bombing at the Stade De France and the Bataclan Theatre committed in November 2015 and hence one of the reasons for our consultancy. We were asked in light of our experience during the last three weeks and our security careers to date and the Manchester bombing whether we thought security at concerts should be increased to which we uniformly positively agreed.


The CEO then outlined measures such as wristbands, metal detector wands, metal detector archways, airport style X-ray style walkways, bomb sniffing dogs as well as bag searches we could implement and check were workable bearing in mind door opening times may have to be extended if all measures were utilized. Up to that time the maximum door open time prior to concert start time was at the most two hours but obviously with extra security measures that might have to be adjusted and organisers instructed accordingly to comply if they still wanted to hold their events at the venue.


At the closing of the meeting the CEO stated that he had been contacted by many news channels that morning asking for his opinion and that future enquiries would be handled by the PR Department after a line to take had been drawn up stating that the venue would with immediate effect substantially increase security for all concerts and not just because of the Manchester bombing as this measure had been contemplated for some time. The CEO further stated that the venue in Hong Kong would be the last tour concert of the Dangerous Women Tour and as such would be treated as especially news worthy by news outlets if indeed the tour went ahead as the news was that the tour had been suspended until further notice.


Over the next week the venue security, we as consultants and the engaged contracted security worked flat out and went through all the measures that the CEO had outlined even holding demonstrations of such equipment in use for the CEO and senior executives to observe and comment. These demonstrations ruled out X-Ray walkways and for most concerts metal detector archways but other than that every concert would have tickets checked and colour coded wristbands issued for price zones, metal detector wand check and bag searches. The process was practiced and practiced until it became a fine art with each ticket check counter followed by wrist band issue, metal detector wand check and bag search becoming finely tuned allowing six concert patrons per minute per lane to be processed. This meant that for most concerts two hours would be sufficient however with the largest concert hall two levels of concert patron processing would have to be undertaken both simultaneously at the G/F and 1/F and then for up to two hours and thirty minutes. The concert patron processing techniques were immediately implemented at all concerts and as a result the processing became more slick and up to eight concert patrons could be checked per entrance albeit the number of security carrying out the processing had almost doubled at the expense of the venue.


At the first concert the new processing techniques were introduced there were legions of press monitoring the processing and asking questions which thankfully was handled by the PR Department and needless to say there was some very positive accounts with the bomb sniffing dogs stealing the limelight. More concerts were held and the concert patron processing techniques became second nature but all the while there was background noise about the venue being the last concert stop for the Dangerous Women Tour on the 21st September 2017 especially after the tour resumed with the Love Manchester Concert held on the 4th June 2017 after 10 concert dates had been cancelled. The tour commenced properly on the 7th June in Paris for the start of its Europe leg of the tour that would be followed by South America, Australasia and then three stops in South East Asia namely Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong.


The venue contacted and was contacted by the Hong Kong Police District which in turn led to Police Headquarter Units such as the Counter Terrorism and Response Unit (CTRU)visiting and familiarizing themselves with the venue. Police Tactical Unit undertook a round of familiarization for their platoons and the Regional Emergency Unit also undertook familiarisation visits for their platoons. The Hong Kong Terrorist Threat Level was constantly referred to as a kind of reassurance and it was good to note that nothing had changed and that it was at a level that meant Hong Kong remained stable and secure. This meant that the likelihood of a terrorist attack occurring in Hong Kong was low. In the unlikely event that one did occur, the Government had in place the well-established Emergency Response System (ERS) to handle the situation. The ERS lays down the policy, principles and operation in response to emergencies in general, including those arising from natural disasters or terrorist attacks. This in effect meant that the venue security consultants introduced Operational Orders that were in addition to tasking sheets for the holding of all concerts which were passed to the local Police District as an example of how the venue were documenting the holding of concerts. During discussions it was learnt some of the Operational Order would be incorporated into the local Police District Operational Order after Police Headquarters had agreed that police would be on duty outside the venue for the last concert. The Operational Order is a common language tool to let everyone know what everyone will be doing during an event and follows the abbreviation GSMEAC which stands for Ground (Map), Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Command and Communication.


The Venue Operational Order Plan for the last concert of the Dangerous Women Tour started to be complied some two months before the date that it would be held as most details were known however about two weeks before the last concert date the touring security sent their requirements for holding the concert with two requests that had not previously been made known and these included the necessity to have archway metal detectors incorporated into concert patron processing which would be an all ticket zone only and that the only bags allowed into the concert would be A4 sized transparent plastic bags. This caused the whole plan to be changed as it was not known how many of the Hong Kong audience would hear of the restriction before they turned up for the concert plus the need to acquire 10000 A4 sized plastic bags. The PR Department immediately commenced a publicity campaign about the A4 sized transparent plastic bags and the venue website was also updated so that the first thing patrons would see on entering the website was the requirement in respect of the A4 sized plastic bags. It was estimated that half of the concert patrons would require concierge services and as some of the tour merchandise was bigger than A4 it could only be sold after the concert and this caused quite a commotion with the retailer not to mention the venue who would have to accommodate such purchases at the same time that concert patrons picked up their bags and others left the venue. A spot for each activity would have to be carefully chosen so that crowd flows for each purpose were evidently clear. Eventually as the concert was all standing one hall was chosen both for the processing of concert patrons and the concierge services. The A4 sized plastic bag would be picked up from another hall prior to entering the ticket processing and concierge hall which would also be used to hold fans prior to entering the concert venue and the processing hall would be a tickets only zone. 


During the intervening four months before the last concert it became apparent that at nearly all concerts and especially K-Pop concerts many illegal hawkers would attend the venue to sell their near perfect contraband merchandise outside the venue and those hawkers that were daring enough would try to sell their merchandise in the venue until they were spotted and cleared out. This problem was brought to the attention of senior management both by staff and the sellers of official merchandise however the venue would not provide security to stop such practice unless official merchandisers paid for the service which invariably they didn’t as they considered it to be an issue for the venue. This in turn meant that crowd control guards were also asked to direct illegal hawkers to leave. This was on top of their crowd control duties which was not ideal however venue security staff were asked to form anti-illegal hawking teams albeit they only had a head count of six. It was of note that nearly all official tour merchandise was manufactured in the Mainland because of the quality and it was suspected that the illegal hawker contraband tour merchandise was also obtained from the Mainland. The illegal hawkers would either buy or photograph  official merchandise at the first tour concert venue and then have it reproduced cheaply. The venue security always notified the official government departments ahead of concerts where illegal merchandise might be sold such as the Food and Environmental Hygiene department (FEHD anti hawking) and the Customs and Excise Department in respect of intellectual property rights not to mention the Immigration Department in respect of none Hong Kong residents carrying on a business selling contraband concert merchandise.   


The day of the concert arrived and everybody were back early for the event in order to walk the venue well before fans arrived. Some illegal hawkers were spotted but not many at that time. Relevant government departments were notified and then attention turned back to the concert as the venue had six dedicated staff who would carry out illegal hawking action and coordination with outside agencies. Once fans started to arrive at the venue they were reassured by the level of police presence and that of venue security which were all in place. In fact the Regional Police had Regional Units at the venue as well as nearby housing centers should reserves be needed. Even the railway had extra police on duty. It soon became evident that many fans had not brought bags albeit about 50% had and would need to use the concierge service and advice about where they could obtain the A4 sized plastic bags was verbally given and sign posted.  The entrance to the concierge and ticket processing hall was enforced as ticket only and the fans once entering the processing hall all walked passed the concierge entrance lane before proceeding to the archway metal detectors, metal detecting wand checks, bag checks, ticket checks, and wristband issue points. The fans were held according to their ticket number and then led into the concert hall. The concert went very smoothly and when fans exited the concert hall they were directed to the concierge counter queuing entrance and also the official tour merchandise counters as well as other routes for departure. The collection of bags from the concierge was a mini operation in itself!


During the wash up everyone was complimentary about the smooth running of the concert and were relieved that it had passed off without incident however some others mentioned the problem of hawkers. It was later found out that because of the increase in security for the 29 gigs after the Manchester bombing illegally produced goods had poor sales and with the last gig being in Hong Kong many more hawkers than normal had turned out as it was their last chance to sell their illegal merchandise at the last concert stop on the tour. The point that the last concert had been held safely and professionally by all concerned including the tour security who expressed their pleasure with the arrangements made by the venue security as it was very reassuring to the concert artiste. This praise was immensely satisfying and the problem of illegal hawkers paled into insignificance in comparison which was a point lost on some dissenting voices.


All rights reserved.  December 2020.  English version only.

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