Evolve or Perish: Bar and Nightclub Security Tactics Must Change

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It’s beyond time to have the uncomfortable conversation our industry needs to sit down and have: hardening our targets. Innocent blood has been shed. Clubgoers and security personnel have been murdered. Make no mistake, diversity is under attack. Our soft targets are being used to further the sick agendas of evil people, to get attention so they can frighten the world. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow hospitality workers, and our guests to acknowledge that things have to change, and they must change effectively rather than simply quickly.

Reina, an exclusive and upscale nightclub located in Istanbul, was attacked on New Year’s Eve. According to news reports, a lone gunman murdered 39 revelers with an automatic rifle. The gunman used stun grenades to give himself time to reload and then fire on the already wounded. The tactic suggests an unsettling level of sophistication and planning.

The group that claimed responsibility for the attack was ISIS. It’s their standard tactic to claim their terrorist organization – or someone “inspired” by their radical, hateful and intolerant views – carried out any atrocity that gains global attention. And, as is their way, ISIS leadership stopped short of divulging whether the attack was carried out by an agent or agents within their organization.

Omer Celik, Turkey's European Union affairs minister, has said that the attack appears to have been “an extremely planned and organized act." Celik has gone on to say that the attack on Reina nightclub seemed to be carried out in a professional way. This has led him to posit that not only was a terrorist organization involved but also an intelligence organization. Turkish security captured the suspected terrorist on January 16 in a DAESH (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) terror cell in Istanbul. If the suspect is truly the one who carried out the massacre, perhaps the details will come to light.

On the same day the Reina attack suspect was captured, a shooting left four men and one woman dead at the Blue Parrot nightclub in Mexico. The club is located in Playa Del Carmen, where The BPM Festival was taking place. At this time, it doesn’t appear that the shooting was terror related. What is known is that when a lone armed man was denied entry to the venue, he pulled his weapon, opened fire, and four men – three of whom were BPM security personnel – were murdered. The female who died was reportedly trampled by fleeing clubgoers. Reports indicate that 15 other people were injured, and one was listed in serious condition.

Just this past weekend, a person barred by security from entering The Peppermint Club in West Hollywood opened fire. The man was reportedly showing security a fake ID, an argument ensued, and the suspect fired the gun he was carrying into the air. This particular situation does more than illustrate how quickly a situation can turn dangerous even outside of our venues. Fake IDs are clearly still an issue. The fact that even when security appears to have done everything correctly, seemingly innocuous situations can escalate.

Our industry is full of soft targets. People come to our venues to relax, have fun, and socialize. If even for just a few moments, hospitality industry operators and workers, be they front of house, back of house, suppliers, distributors, brand ambassadors or brand reps, are motivated to provide others with an escape from the stress and darkness of the world. But these escapes are attractive targets for terrorists. They’re being visited by those who believe they are so deserving of their way that they’re willing to kill innocent people for even the smallest slight, like being denied entry by door staff. Whether the statistics prove bar and nightlife venues are experiencing more attacks or not, the perception is there, and that’s good enough for terrorists or the sick and delusional attempting to get attention; they need to strike so much fear in the public that we’re afraid to go wherever we please and live our lives however we see fit.

Maybe these attacks didn’t happen on your doorstep. That shouldn’t matter. As if we could ever forget, the deadliest mass shooting perpetrated by a single shooter on American soil was carried out in an attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We need to consider the fact that the victims of these attacks are from all over: Arab nations, Eurasian nations, Europe, Asia, North and South America. Our industry is one of diversity. Owners, operators, workers, guests: we come from all walks of life, all economic statuses, all religions, races, and sexual orientations. Any attack on any venue in this industry serves to tell us that we’re somehow wrong for being who we are, and for serving anyone and everyone.

The fact is that we never truly know who’s coming through our doors, and that leaves us vulnerable. We can’t fully know who’s walking into our venues, so we’re susceptible to violence. We can't really know what's going on inside someone's mind or heart. We like to think people are coming to nightclubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues to have fun, but we can't always be certain.

What is certain is that we need to be proactive to keep everyone safe. Security training and tactics must evolve. Perhaps it’s time that owners and operators require specialized certifications when hiring security personnel. We need to ask ourselves whether or not security staff, door staff and select staff with roles inside our venues should be armed, be it lethally, less lethally or non-lethally. If the answer is yes, should personnel open carry their weapons as a deterrent or should they carry in a concealed manner? Metal detectors, walkthrough and handheld, are thought of by some operators as sending negative message about their venues. But how does the public perceive such security measures? Several upscale nightclubs in Las Vegas pat down and search their guests without much (if any) pushback. There are numerous factors that come into play when we talk about security, but unless we ask difficult questions we'll never start the conversation, a conversation that is desperately overdue.

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