It doesn’t take too long for discussions about nightclub security to head into lawsuit territory. With a society as litigious as ours, it makes sense: an incident occurs, security has to get physical, and the next thing you know, you’re dealing with attorneys. Of course, that wouldn’t be the norm if we changed the conversation. What if the discussion was about noticing the potential for an incident and intervening before one even starts?
I started this conversation with Mike Adams, founder of Sin City Progressive Fighting Systems. Mike is also a doorman and head of security for a small but busy bar in Las Vegas. He has provided executive protection for celebrities and high-profile clientele, worked security for Las Vegas nightclubs, and consulted with bar owners setting up security teams. He also trains security personnel, teaching locks and holds that can control a problem guest without hurting them to protect the business and owner and stay on the right side of the police. However, Mike is a firm believer in being proactive rather than reactive, an approach to self-defense he also teaches private “civilian” clients.
“Anytime you’re working a venue, your key process is situational awareness,” says Mike.
While the following advice is directed more towards nightclub venue security, Mike’s information can easily be adapted for use in bars.
Continuing with the theme of starting at the beginning, let’s look at the line and door first.
“Your foundation, the fundamentals of situational awareness, is to develop a baseline and then look for anything outside the normal behaviors of that baseline,” explains Mike.
Mike suggests establishing a baseline for “normal” guest behavior for your venue, the behavior of those not looking to start problems. From there, you’re on the lookout for deviations. Let’s use the example of a nightclub featuring pop, EDM, mainstream hip-hop and/or mashups to look at Mike’s approach to situational awareness.
Groups of friends meeting up for a fun night out behave a certain way. Their mannerisms and their interactions with one another should set your baseline for acceptable behavior. As a doorman or security team member, you’re the club’s first line of defense. Mike suggests looking for the person in line who’s eyeballing one person rather than looking at everyone. In his experience, people who intend to have a good time are checking out who’s around them rather than focusing only on their friends or one person. Of course, someone who seems hostile or makes you uncomfortable with their behavior isn’t guaranteed to cause any problems – Mike is simply advising security team members to be aware of the markers of hostile behavior.
Additionally, if you often work the line and door, you’ll likely learn the regulars and develop a rapport. Developing a relationship with regulars affords you the opportunity to create a baseline for their behavior. Just like a relationship with your friends, you’ll notice when they feel “off” to you: lack of eye contact, looking down, stooped shoulders… Interacting with regulars will help you gain more experience with behavior, making you a more effective security team member. Remember, customer service is a part of modern day security.
When working the inside of a nightclub, you’re in the mix. Understanding your venue, the theme of the night, the demographics your club attracts, and even the subcultures of these demographics is essential. It’s difficult to predict human behavior and create a behavioral baseline if you don’t understand how the venue’s guests should be behaving and interacting with one another. It doesn’t hurt to have at least a superficial understanding of psychology as it relates to the age groups that tend to frequent your venue. Additionally, you’ll need to be able to read body language when working the inside of a packed venue.
None of us needs a degree in psychology to know that ego and aggression are the hallmarks of many males aged 21 to 25. If you work security at a nightclub that attracts this demographic in large numbers, you know what can set off an incident. Something inconsequential to those in their 30s or 40s (or older) is grounds for a physical altercation to those in their 20s, as we all know. Stepping on shoes, bumping into someone, knocking a drink out of a hand accidentally… We know what to look for, and why. In Mike’s experience, a 35 year old who bumps into a 23 year old is most likely going to apologize and keep walking – it’s the 23 year old who will have to be watched for a hostile overreaction.
“You mix alcohol, ego and lust and you get a dangerous combination,” says Mike.
Working with VIP guests presents its own challenges. Security team members will work with both regular VIP clients and one-off guests. Obviously, working with a regular VIP gives you the opportunity to learn their behavior: who they want around them, how to keep them happy, what makes them unhappy, uncomfortable or hostile, how they act when they’ve been consuming alcohol, and how they act when they’re upset.
As a security team member tasked with VIP protection, it should be safe to assume that you already know what to look for in terms of keeping your clients safe from threats in the crowd. Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at something a bit different: keeping the crowd safe from VIPs.
Mike has been protecting a client for several years who, due to an incident in the past, doesn’t like to have people’s arms put around their shoulders or back of the neck. In fact, this person is a bit paranoid when it comes to that type of interaction. Because Mike has built a rapport with this client, he’s aware of this and watches people closely for that specifically. However, it isn’t just to protect his client – it’s to protect people who are interacting with them. Mike knows that if his client feels threatened and panics, they may lash out to protect themselves.
A commitment to situational awareness, an understanding of human behavior, and realizing that protection is a form of customer service can help to catch minor problems before they become legal issues.