Music Festivals and Managing an Influx of Town Visitors

During the warm summer months, people from across the country flock to new towns and cities to take part in local activities such as music festivals. Managing this influx of visitors brings new challenges for local public safety officials. 

In April, Coachella brings visitors from all over the world to Indio, California. The desert musical event draws musicians and crowds by the tens of thousands, becoming one of the most recognizable names in festival season. There are smaller outdoor musical events across the country - the Newport Folk Festival draws a modest crowd by comparison, but in the tiny New England seaside town and at Fort Adams, a few thousand visitors is significant. 

Out of town visitors can be a huge boon for a local economy, but managing security for an event of this scale and residents of surrounding areas must be a major consideration. Planning the logistical arrangements for a large event, such as stage set-up or booking acts, is only half of the struggle many event planners face. Managing the safety of an open area with hundreds, or even thousands, of people is the greatest challenge.

In recent years, the threats and risks around these outdoor events have increased exponentially. The devastating tragedy around the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada and the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester, Arena have forced security managers to rethink safety protocol for large scale music events. The festival season ramps up through the late summer and early fall, and there steps being taken to proactively approach safety during these events. 

How Coachella Manages Visitors & Large Crowds 

Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival was held in mid-April, and with about 125,000 people in attendance in a wide, open area, event planners realized security needed to be tight. The desert environment the festival is held in poses a unique challenge for safety management. It's both an advantage, in managers don't need to worry about high-rise buildings or threats from the surrounding city, and a disadvantage in that the rural location means security personnel and resources are less readily available. 

The usual security protocol is in place at Coachella. No guests are allowed to drive onto the grounds without a wristband, bags are searched, surveillance posts sit atop the gates, and security cameras, positioned on top of stands and in palm trees, help police keep an eye on the festival and watch for suspicious activity. The police force from the town of Indio and surrounding communities start planning for the festival a year in advance, accourding to OC Weekly. "We connect with local law enforcement to help make this all come together,” Police Chief Daniel Marshall of the Indio Police Department told the publication. “We meet right after the festival and go over what went well and what could’ve gone better. It’s also not only Indio PD out there. There’s Palm Springs PD, Cathedral City PD, Desert Hot Springs, RSO, CHP, Banning PD, Beaumont PD, and the FBI."

The festival is also investing in new, more technologically advanced security strategies. Drones have been a much discussed security implementation over the years as various police forces started to use them to oversee large crowds. It was a new idea to try and use them at a music festival in the desert. Security teams used the drones to quickly get to a scene and see what was happening so responders were ready to face whatever came at them, whether it was a medical emergency or a rowdy patron. However, drones remain highly regulated in commercial airspace and have a lot of flying restrictions. Unless there was an immediate public safety concern, drones couldn’t fly over crowds or cars.

In addition to having a birds eye view of any potential emergencies, Coachella upped their armed security officers. An increase in guards provides a more secure feeling to many of the festival-goers, but it also means more money for the festival hosts.Following the Manchester bombing attack at an Ariana Grande event, a Bloomberg report stated that it could cost a festival an average of $15,000 more per day for a larger security presence. The music publication Billboard expects there to be an increase of $100,000 to $250,000 in security spending in 2018. For a 50,000 person festival, that could mean an increase of $2-$5 per ticket.

More Music Festival Security Strategies 

The Ultra Music Festival, an electronic music event that Miami, Florida will host in 2019, already has plans for the incoming festival-goers.There will be a strict clear bag policy to expedite the entry process and allow for security to spot anything suspicious coming into the event. The Miami Police Department will have a stronger presence than normal at the festival with a lot of officers mingling in and around the crowds. Collison resistant racing fences will be used to barricade the festival site, restricting vehicle threats.

Miami law enforcement must take the surrounding city into consideration when planning major musical events. Surrounding skyscrapers have been assigned numbers so police can easily pinpoint a hypothetical gunman. Police snipers will be positioned in some of the high rises to allow for a clear vantage point of the festival. This has become especially crucial following the attack on an outdoor country music festival held in Las Vegas .

On October 1, 2017, the last night of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, Stephen Paddock opened fire out of the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino into a crowd of 22,000 people. 58 people lost their lives that night, and it was not just because of a small oversight in security. Since the beginning of May that year, Paddock was supposedly making plans around large scale venues in significant cities, such as Boston and Chicago. Paddock had reserved a room in August 2017 overlooking Chicago’s Lollapalooza but never used it according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

After the major security breach by Paddock, a lot of music festival sponsors and hosts are looking to prevent another Las Vegas Shooting and address other safety concerns. Since that October night, many hotels have reevaluated their internal policies, especially their ‘do not disturb’ policy. Wynn, Hilton, and Disney resorts have all reconsidered ‘do not disturb’ sign policies.For instance, at Wynn hotels, a sign in place for more than 12 hours is to be investigated by employees. Mandalay Bay’s ‘do not disturb’ policy was cited in 1,400 lawsuits following the concert attacks.

MGM confirmed it was forming a SWAT team-style security to be led by a Marine Corps Sargent and positions filled by Las Vegas SWAT and other military officers. Their team would be used around the grounds and for various events. Mandalay Bay has since instated 24/7 guards by their elevators and renumbered the hotel floors to erase the 32nd. The room Stephen Paddock secluded himself in has been closed to the public forever.

Leveraging Technology For Music Festival Safety

Technology has started to play an increasingly large role in safety and security for large-scale events. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) are helping provide an overhead view of croweds, like those used during Coachella. The drone industry is still regulating the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, but they've been a promising addition to protocol for managing major music festivals in both rural and urban environments. 

Monitoring suspicious activity on social media has become necessary for event managers. Ahead of the festival, law enforcement and the FBI are likely keeping track of activity online. Event pages also offer a good metric for security managers, as it allows the team to know what scale on the ground security should be and if there is appropriate personnel on site for medical emergencies. 

Mobile phone technology can also play a major role in festival safety and security. SMS Opt-In can allow guests or visitors of a town to opt to receive emergency notifications from local law enforcement or security personnel on site. You can use a keyword for multiple events, and an event can have multiple keywords

Safety is every hosts’ first concern. Even if the event is just a small cookout, or a large music festival, people should feel safe outdoors. There are many options when it comes to contemporary mobile phone technology, and many of these solutions can help empower visitors to take safety into their own hands.

A 2-way anonymous tip texting tool allows concert goers to report any suspicious activity on the festival grounds to emergency personnel. In a space with a large crowd, this can be essential for managing security.  See if any alert options best fit your next outing for the most up-to-date notifications, and create a safe festival environment this season. 

SMS Opt-In Alerts for K-12

Mary Kate McGrath
Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.

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