Forrest P. Franklin, D.A.B.F.E – TAL Global’s Managing Director, Physical Security Management/Risk Assessment
Whether it be a political rally in Arizona, a house of worship in South Carolina, or a school in Colorado, the prevalence of firearms abuse in public venues raises, among other questions, the issue of the responsibility of those in charge of the gathering places.
It is undeniable that public venue owners, including movie theater owners and managers, have a duty of care to their patrons who fill their facilities for recreational enjoyment. This duty extends to providing safety from the impulsive behaviors of deranged gun-wielding assassins.
Movie theaters in particular contain many of the components to mass casualties: a crowd, a confined location and apparent unhindered access for active shooters and their equipment. Theater houses today are an array of small, dark boxes, offering free passage to anyone wishing to do harm. To make the situation even worse, there also are architectural constraints imposed on patrons’ ability to escape. Safety in most movie theatre complexes relates to fires, but not to fire-fights.
Yet, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), the professional organization that sets forth operating schemes and performance trends for theaters, is devoid of any standards relating to security and safety, thus enabling theaters to remain curiously exposed, particularly in view of the recent spate of murder and mayhem on their premises.
Granted, a criminal bent on heinous action can doubtless overcome and infiltrate physical and procedural barriers. But in the case of theater attacks, they are often not design-based threats, rather the casual acts of perpetrators taking advantage of significant shortcomings in rudimentary security measures. In fact, when examining the security of the average movie theater, it is difficult to name one other type of entertainment venue that is so bereft of a security net. By comparison, one would be hard pressed to enter an NFL, NBA, or MLB arena, or even a mass concert venue bearing arms, given the prevalence of metal detectors, wands, bag and purse searches, and, in some cases, pat-downs.
It is reasonable to assume that violent theater attacks, such as those in Aurora, Lafayette and Nashville, are harbingers of more to come if some deterrent against such activity is not implemented. Yet NATO’s reaction to the most recent incident is a statement saying, “Whether it is in churches, schools, malls, theaters or other public places, people have the right to go about their lives in peace and safety. The safety of our guests and employees is, and always will be, our industry’s highest priority.” John Bruner, an anointed active shooter security guru has opined in general, “I wouldn’t be surprised if theater owners start to add more ambient lighting.”
Another movie theater advocacy group, in an interview to NBC News, estimates that installing and maintaining metal detectors and hiring security guards could cost individual theaters as much as $1 million a year, and that the long lines they would likely create would be just as vulnerable a target as moviegoers in a theater. Instead it advocates for theaters to hire security guards to protect the lobby and parking lots at theaters.
America’s penchant for entertainment creates a very lucrative market for all type of diversions, made even more lucrative in the case of sports concessions by huge annual TV contracts. According to NATO, though, the cost of movie theater tickets are at their highest in history and it continues to climb, making it difficult to further increase the cost of going to the movies by implementing additional security measures. However, it is entirely unclear whether potential audiences might be ready to pay a premium to receive assurances of enhanced security.
It is indeed possible to increase and improve movie theater security – generally and in specific cases. Exhaustive vulnerability assessment of theater practices as to film content, admission, crowd management, structural inhibitors, breach potential, problem identification and patron profiling can be effective in designing real-time preventive measures that are cost effective.
The theater industry and its related consorts will act in their own as well as their clients’ best self-interests if they answer the need for improved security. In fact, the theater industry has been on notice since the 1991 Pinole, California shooting of Alejandro Phillips during the screening of Columbia Pictures’ “Boyz n the Hood”, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down, and resulting in a multi-million dollar litigation. Theater owners, whether under NATO auspices or though self-regulation, may want to reconsider their posture and undertake some sorely needed risk mitigation steps. The alternative almost surely will encourage government intervention with arbitrary regulation based on volumes of costly studies, subscription fees, and mandatory compliance proofs. The wakeup call has already been made.
Will theater owners and managers heed the warnings? Will they recognize and use the accumulated knowledge in the theater security mitigation field to increase their patrons’ safety and security, or will they continue to invite patrons to lightly defended facilities? The ball seems to be in their court.
To learn more about what you can do to mitigate against threats to your theater or other public venue facility, call us at: 408.993.1300, or email us at [email protected].