Security In The Age Of Terror

Giant pink balloons that dropped during Ariana Grande’s concert encore were still bouncing around the bowl inside

As news of the attack unfolded, the initial reports of balloons popping or a possible transformer explosion gave way to confirmations of injuries and then fatalities, and concert facility executives and public safety experts around the globe recognized their worst fears.

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Peter Luukko, a co-chairman of Arena Alliance and an advisory board member of Prevent Advisors, both Oak View Group companies, immediately knew the blast did not happen inside the venue.

“When I first saw the early video – being an arena guy and a rink rat – I thought it was not inside the arena, because you would have seen smoke and debris and you couldn’t see any of that in the initial shots from inside,” Luukko told Pollstar.

The 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena is managed by Philadelphia-based SMG, and execs including president/CEO Wes Westley were en route to Manchester May 23 to provide support, a spokesman told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Two SMG employees were reportedly injured in the blast.

However, in a brief interview with the paper, he said that security “is obviously as tight … as anywhere in the States. Backpacks are not allowed. Drinks are taken away from people. You have to go through very strict security to enter the arena.”

What quickly became clear was that the deadly explosion occurred outside the arena doors, in a space that connects Manchester Arena’s foyer with adjacent Victoria Railway Station transit center, a space for which SMG told the New York Times it is not responsible.

Not only was the venue a so-called “soft target” but the attack outside the event perimeter is an example of what security experts refer to as “displacement.”


Both tactics are being seen more often in attacks by the so-called Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Manchester Arena bombing.

The United States has not suffered a similar attack on a concert venue, so far. For many in the security community, however, the issues are of inevitability and preventability. For those  reasons, concert security now includes advisers and specialists in not just crowd control and law enforcement but even international intelligence gathering.

Bill Bratton, a former Los Angeles Chief of Police and New York Police Department Commissioner, recently addressed an Arena Alliance conference and told those gathered what the intelligence community was learning about threats to soft targets.

“They are looking for the soft target that is a meeting place for people,” Luukko said of Bratton’s remarks. “In his opinion, it wasn’t necessarily the bowl of the arena that was going to be a target, but the outside. He gave all of our Alliance members a pretty clear warning of what could happen there.”

With tens of millions of people entering the 26 member facilities annually, Luukko explained, the Alliance maintains relationships with local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, among others.

“What we’re able to do is get national and international information about what’s going on and get that information to the facilities,” Luukko said, noting that the group was in in the midst of a series of conference calls regarding the Manchester bombing.

“Bill Bratton and (Chief Security Officer, Oak View Group and President of Prevent Advisors) Mike Downing will be getting us the latest intelligence about what they are hearing and what they are seeing through the … intelligence networks throughout the world so we can update our facilities.”


Luukko also addressed the issue of displacement – and how much real estate can reasonably be protected not just on, but near, venue property.

“What we are seeing at facilities is that you’ve got to protect all of your property. It’s not just the arena and the adjacent area. It’s the parking lot; obviously the developments you see around arenas. We are all looking at new development and things are going on all over the country,” Luukko said.

AEG’s Lee Zeidman, president of

LA Live is a “very public venue but … we are not a military installation, nor do we want to be that,” Zeidman told Pollstar. “In this day and age, just like everybody else, we’re soft targets, like movie theatres or shopping malls. We’re trying to harden that target so a potential bad guy thinks twice about doing something there.

“We believe in the ‘See Something, Say Something’ program. We’re part of [L.A. Police Department]’s iWatch, an app you can get on your phone. We believe in education and training with our part-time staff and our full-time employees.  We believe in being visible.


“Once you leave our venue, it does not mean we automatically believe you’re in a safe world. We need to be visible in and around our property. We have 19 restaurants, four performing arts venues.  We will be as visible as we can, be it with our security force or our partners, the LAPD, and our partners L.A. [Department of Transportation], who control the streets around us. And we believe strongly in the use of dogs, and that they should be visible,” Zeidman continued.

“But people say, ‘Well, you need to secure your perimeter.’  I mean, I’m not sure what that really means. How far out do you go? As we’ve seen, they don’t have to get in to create havoc, or to create fear. They just need to be where large groups of people are congregated. So we just try to be visible, wherever we have our perimeter.”

More venues are engaging in stronger collaboration with municipalities and agencies that have jurisdiction over streets, highways and transit stations that provide ingress for masses of humanity as well as potential terrorists.

“It is a collaborative effort where the venue ties into the community and we have to be cognizant of that,” Luukko said. “We’ll be looking at various areas, whether they be physical changes, certainly there are technological changes that we have to be growing with, and then the overall coordination with other property owners and law enforcement. You obviously can’t live within a vacuum.”

WME Head of Music Marc Geiger knows firsthand from the artist and representation side of the equation how devastating a terror attack is and, despite his own visceral reaction to the news from Manchester, thinks concert security efforts will improve.

“We’re all grieving for the victims and their families and everyone else who is associated with this. It’s an impossibly awful event,” Geiger told Pollstar. “Our client, Eagles of Death Metal, went through the first [major terrorist attack at a concert] at


I think that this is the one, as I said in the New York Times and others, that will … globally change the industry’s policies on security and the other things surrounding the shows. And the cost and everything else will go up and it should and it will have to,” Geiger continued.

“On Manchester, there’s no words. It’s as horrible as it gets. … [The victims are] completely innocent, as are all of the fatalities that go on for many terrorist [acts] or otherwise. We all hurt for the people in the Middle East who are disrupted by all this stuff and the fact that it travels and happens indiscriminately in our industry makes it – what can I say? There’s nothing to say. It’s horrible. You can say everybody’s hurting inside. All of us.”

Luukko noted the change in response to concert disasters in recent years.

“It tells you how sad the world is, when it used to be the first thing you thought of is maybe it was backstage, or an issue with gas, or a transformer that blew up. Just, something other [than terrorism].

“It still would have been horrific, but that’s what you would have thought 10 or 15 years ago. Now, right away, the first thing you think is terrorism. It’s so different. And that doesn’t seem like that long a period of time.”