Event organizers at this year’s XLive did not shy away from confronting the safety concerns that face the industry including the Route 91 Harvest Festival attack Oct 1. where a shooter from the Mandalay Bay Hotel fired on attendees, killing 58 and injuring up to 500.
Booked before the mass shooting took place, organizers pushed forward with the conference, this year at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. XLive staff, panelists, and attendees addressed the mounting need for events to ensure the safety of their guests and staff during the Dec. 10-13 event.
“I think the XLive producers did a good job of articulating that it was something everyone was thinking about,” said Chris Donahue, VP of Business Strategy & Partnerships at See Tickets, a sponsor of XLive. “It has forced everyone to consider the security issue and the ramifications of all the actions that we take and everything that we need to do to prepare better in the future.”
While attendees and sponsors spent the majority of their conference time absorbing best practices for a successful live event and networking with fellow industry executives, when the conversation of having the festival conference at the Mandalay Bay came up, it was often accompanied by the term “eerie.” For the first two nights of the event, opening parties were hosted at House of Blues at the Mandalay Bay’s Foundation Room. The VIP space has a mesmerizing panorama of Las Vegas, but also includes a clear view of the Route 91 event space.
— Scott Vitale (@svvitale) December 12, 2017
“I didn’t hear any chatter about it whatsoever, except for people being aware of the view overlooking the festival site,” Lawrence Stuart of Screenz told Amplify. “Other than that I felt that the focus was on the actual sessions and content.”
“I haven’t felt a sense of fear from anybody who has been present,” said Sugeily Fernandez of National Cannabis Festival. “I think it is present in that people are discussing the protocols and what kinds of things we can do to prevent these incidents from happening, but it hasn’t put a negative spin on the conference.”
For many XLive attendees, being at the Mandalay Bay only made it seem more imperative to have conversations about how to protect concertgoers, their co-workers, and loved ones.
“I can’t think of a more important topic to cover at a conference like this. When the events in Vegas transpired, my company Intellitix had been a part of almost every festival at that lot since it opened up,” Eric Janssen, Chief Revenue Officer at Intellitix said at the conference.
Janssen began the Security and Safety workshop on Wednesday (Dec. 13) morning by discussing how the attack was close to him like many members of the audience. He explained that his wife had been in Las Vegas at the time and her favorite artist was Jason Aldean, but he forgot to ask Route 91 organizers for a pass for her.
“Thank god I didn’t (get my wife a pass) because she would have been there. I got the calls and texts from her in the early morning,” Janssen explained. “I started immediately calling and texting all of my friends who I knew were there: people from Live Nation, country music, MGM, all sorts of people in the business. I was freaked out and I immediately thought, I’ve got two things that I have to take care of. The first one is making sure that everyone I know is okay. Secondly, I run a company of 115 people and I needed to somehow tell them that it was okay to go back out and deploy the next weekend’s events.”
Timothy Karunaratne, Head of Business Development for Upgraded, agreed that the industry’s presence at the Mandalay Bay showed its trust in the venue’s new safety protocols and a commitment to the live event industry.
Karunaratne told Amplify “I think it says a lot that the Mandalay Bay was quick to implement real security measures. They’ve had stricter security measures and I’ve felt safe the entire time knowing that people who were going upstairs were guests of the hotel.”
“As event producers, it is obviously something that everyone has thought about in the past couple of months. We’re thinking about how if an incident like that happens how it impacts your attendees, how it impacts your staff, how it impacts the surrounding community,” said XLive attendee and Founder and Executive Producer of National Cannabis Festival, Caroline Phillips. “While I think it is on everyone’s mind, if anything it has drawn more people out to talk about these issues and to talk about safety and to talk about how we can coordinate with local law enforcement and venue enforcement to ensure safety for our attendees.”
On XLive’s first day of programming, the conference featured a panel titled Safety First: Building Out the Best Health and Safety Team where panelists described their involvement in the Oct. 1 shooting and how they worked together on the response. The panel featured Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Officer Rick Nogues, Clark County Fire Department Chief Fire Officer and Emergency Manager John Steinbeck, U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Protective Security Advisor Gonzalo Cordova and was moderated by Executive Director of Customer Safety for Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Ray Suppe.
Cordova stressed the importance of communication before, during, and after events between all stakeholders in live events. He explained that the Department of Homeland Security works closely with the public and private sector to make sure that all parties are privy to the best security practices and that safety plans shared with the DHS are confidential to outsiders, even protected from the Freedom of Information Act.
During the panel, Chief Steinbeck stated how vital it is for organizers and first responders to know exactly who is at these events and underscored the need to control disinformation during and after emergency situations.
“Response is always the shortest portion,” Chief Steinbeck said at the panel. “Planning and recovery span years of time.”
Being at the Mandalay Bay “hasn’t affected the conference at all, but it has helped keep safety at the forefront of our minds,” said Adam Cook, Executive Director of Operations for Seafair. “We all need to adapt and grow with it. We need to make sure we’re providing safe environments for everybody.”
“The reality is, there is no amount of planning that is going to prepare you for a mad man with a weapon across the street,” said Bob Caldwell, Founding Partner of Sciensio. “The only thing you might be able to do is say ‘Shelter in place’ or ‘Go to this location.’ But even before then, there was a communication chain that needed to happen before the concert was even going on. It is imperative that we look at all of the things that could happen at an event, what happened in Vegas is at the end of the spectrum of things that could happen.”
“This is a win to me, if we just start this conversation,” Jansen said. “We’re not going to get to all the right answers, but at least we can start asking the right questions.”