Just a few days after the events in Brussels and in the wake of the killings at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, an incident at a London venue went largely unreported.

A recent gig at London’s Roundhouse Theatre was interrupted by what was later to be reported as a ‘false fire alarm’. A first-hand report of the crowd management offers an insight into the practical considerations now surrounding security at entertainment venues.

A long-term Underworld (and live music) fan, my friend Al had never been to the Roundhouse before. Tickets secured, he had a great vantage point standing on the balcony level of the 3,000-capacity venue (‘why would you want to sit at an Underworld gig?’). He was one of a party of four. ‘The band were great, the sound was great, the lights were great, people were dancing, the atmosphere was great,’ he reports.

The Roundhouse‘Around 40 minutes into the set, one of the people who had been checking tickets tapped me on the shoulder and said “there’s a full evacuation – we need to evacuate the building now”. My first thought was, we’re out of here – after the Bataclan, what else would you be thinking?’

The security guy walked through groups of people delivering his message, while the house lights staged down and the band played on. ‘He must have told several dozen people but we seemed to be the only ones leaving. He disappeared back the way he had come and we made out way onto the landing then downstairs… where he was now helping someone to come into the gig. I said, “what’s going on?” He said, “it’s all OK”, so we went back in. In five minutes he was back, telling us again that we had to get out.’

By now the house lights were up and the band leaving the stage. Nothing was been said directly to the audience but now people were streaming out. There was no panic, no disorder. But without a formal announcement, Al was concerned that there were no effective procedures in place, or that they had been badly implemented.

In a gig review in The Telegraph a few days later, the incident was reported as false fire alarm, with the band returning to the stage shortly afterwards.

This was confirmed by the reply to F&W about the incident. A Roundhouse spokesperson commented: ‘We had a fire alarm activated and had to evacuate the building at a recent gig. Once the building was fully evacuated and secured, it was established that this was a false alarm, and therefore patrons were informed and ushered back into the building, where the gig continued. As is always the case in an evacuation, our priority was to ensure everyone's safe and swift exit from the building, but we endeavoured to ensure it had a minimum impact on our patrons, the band and the event itself.’

The Production Services Association’s Andy Lenthall is well versed in safety procedures from the other side of the operation and points out that each venue is different: ‘There will, of course, be general evacuation procedures and all incoming workers should be briefed on these as soon as they get to site,’ he says. ‘Interestingly, larger venues don’t allow you to see these in advance, mainly because they don't want potential attackers to know muster points... great places to have an explosion.’

Andy pointed me to a document penned by Simon Garrett of X-Venture Global Risk Solutions (‘a safety chap, ex-forces, who was in security for a while’) headed The nature of the threat from global jihad to the event and exhibitions industry. Written shortly after the Bataclan attack, it says: ‘Whilst it is still statistically very unlikely that any given event will be a direct target, there is no avoiding the fact that in Paris ISIL chose to attack two events, a football match and a concert in a capital city. Any event, therefore – including trade events like exhibitions and conferences, which tend to be held in major cities – can be considered a potential target.

Festival crowd‘Traditionally our worst-case scenario planning envisages a serious fire or an explosive device causing multiple loss of life. In either case, the drill is to use the fire exits to get away from the hazard with the assumption that the emergency services would be quickly on the scene. We now face the problem that the drill of making one’s way quickly and calmly to the nearest fire exit may be the very opposite of the best course of action in the face of, for example, marauding gunmen with assault rifles.’

Speaking to F&W, the Roundhouse was extremely circumspect not only over its own procedures but of the whole issue of safety in the current socio-political climate. Conversation off the record offered considerable insight but, understandably, cannot be shared. My friend followed up: ‘Did you look into the Underworld event?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I told him… and then struggled to say anything that was particularly informative. I was getting a good insight into how the Roundhouse had spoken to me.

In the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, the US Department of Homeland Security released a Public Service video entitled Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event. Currently, UK’s Public Guidance for Firearms and Weapons Attacks issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council advises us to ‘Run, Hide, Tell’. In a Post-Bataclan world, neither course of action would seem to be in-line with how a venue currently wishes to manage a crowd.

We need to make people safe without adding drama to a bad situation and without inadvertently contributing to its danger. If this is best done without declared plans of action and bold announcements, how do we persuade people like Al that they are in good hands?

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