In his storied career, MEHDI RABII has been the director of security for bands such as Twenty One Pilots, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Paramore and many others. In light of the savage attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas earlier this month, we asked him to give our readers advice on the best ways to be safe at shows. Here he breaks down the common situations concertgoers can face, while suggesting how music fans can prepare themselves for emergency scenarios.
I’m 43, and I have been working events since I was 18 years old. That’s the age you are allowed to apply for a security guard license, and I have been doing security, medical and logistics since then. Even through college and all, as my mom called them, “real jobs,” I’ve maintained a client list that I advise and protect.
There is no single set plan one can memorize and use in all situations: There are too many types of threats and too much evil in the world. Because situations are so fluid, you as the aware patron, must also be fluid. Don’t count on someone to come save you; hope for it, but don’t count on it. Don’t rely on your cellphone, it could be lost or damaged in the chaos. Rely and count on your most powerful weapon: your brain. Your brain will focus your attention, release chemicals to help you react faster, be stronger and in the process, save your life.
We can break down all incidents into five categories, and we will touch on each one separately, but let’s start with this: To get out safe, first you gotta get in! This past month, I have been lucky to attend (as a patron) a handful of shows and festivals in the late summer. I’ve been to the box office, searched, told my pass was no good and corralled into general admission areas. This recent experience allowed me an insight I have not had in awhile.
Coming in, you arrive at a venue, big or small it will have a main entrance and a service or “load-in” entrance, as well. Most will have multiple, but even the smallest club will have two. Before you walk in, take a snapshot in your mind of what things look like at your entrance. A snapshot is a conscious effort to tell your brain “remember this.” Remember this parking stall, this drop-off point, this box office or this cross street. You will need all this input later to get home, incident or not. Take note of how thorough the search is. Could you have slipped past security without a search? Maybe someone else could, as well. This information will later help you decide where to watch the show.
You’ve cleared the front entrance and are now looking to kill some time before the show starts. You check out the merch tables, hit the restroom, grab a refreshment and settle into your spot for the night. While you’re doing these normal things, again take some snapshots of resources that can help you later. Memories of where the first-aid station is located, security office, access points, bottlenecks and backstage entrances will guide you later. These all have resources available to you, but you need to know where they are if the lights change and the crowd is moving. Once you have an idea of where everything is, take a deep breath, tell your brain again to remember all this and move on. Your brain will recall all of it when needed—for now enjoy the show.
Now, let’s go over the five basic incidents:
Before someone announces it, you should see or smell a fire. Move to the closest external access point and away from the event. If fire and smoke are around you, stay low, cover your mouth and nose with a wet T-shirt (remember that merch and refreshment run?), and, again, make your way to the nearest external exit.
This will happen instantly without any time for anyone to react. Once the blast happens, there will be a shock wave and shrapnel that can injure you. If you hear the blast, get as low as you can, cover your head and ears and protect your vital organs. There may be more than one explosion, so move quickly and find the exit that is moving the fastest and closest to you. Don’t be afraid to run, but focus your attention on how you are moving through the crowd safely. You do not want to fall in this environment.
The power goes out. The lights go out. Maybe there’s a storm approaching. Venues are routinely evacuated and there is a process they go through for this. Typically, the show is stopped and either the artist or the venue will make a public announcement explaining what they want you to do. Stick to the exits you memorized.
This is about the only time you want to stay in the venue. This could be as simple as a big traffic backup that blocked the street or as evil as the Manchester attack. Whatever is happening out there, it is safer to be inside. Get close to those resources you spotted earlier (security, medical, unused exits). Listen in on the conversations happening and gather data to help understand what is happening outside.
Armed gunmen, perpetrators in suicide vests, snipers from elevated positions and coordinated attacks have all found their way into our venues. This violence is in almost every major country. Regardless of the laws people pass, evil will look to harm good people. Rather than focus on why evil exists, I focus on how to deal with it. This pragmatic approach has served me well. But this type of incident will be the most difficult, because the scene is constantly changing.
We can discuss where the shooters are, where they are moving, where they are firing, at great length. Make yourself the smallest target and look for cover. It is important here to talk about cover vs. concealment. Cover is something that will both block you from view and protect you from the bullets, shrapnel and other dangerous projectiles coming at you. Concealment will only block you from view. This is where you use the weapon you have been arming all night. You have to decide, based on the input you gave your brain and the options in front of you, a plan of action based on this single question: Where am I the most safe? Move as far away from the threat as fast as you safely can.
In tense situations, I have a saying when people ask me how safe they are: “Oh, you’re as safe as in your mama’s arms.” My team has two decades of medical, security and incident experience. We travel with our own armament, ALS medical equipment, vehicles and logistics as a response to the incidents of years past. We are as complete a package as I have ever seen on Earth. We exceed standards of government and local agencies, because we routinely operate with them and are proud to do so. They offer the local intel we cannot and enjoy the partnership with agencies worldwide.
Regarding the attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas: The grim reality is that there is no security plan for a sniper on a rooftop. Government agencies with high-level security need have counter-sniper contingencies in place. The private sector can and does employ the same tactics and resources the government does. (I'm working a plan now for an outdoor festival that is using vapor dogs, counter-snipers and a QRT (quick response team)). I would argue the private sector does it better, but public gets carte blanche where we fight for every recourse we deploy. How you deal with the response is key, and admittedly, it can be an apocalyptic scenario. Rely on the snapshots you took all night and the information you fed your brain—and enjoy your night out.