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Opinion: should backstage gear be searched before it is allowed into music venues?

In light of the Bataclan and Manchester Arena attacks, security in and around venues has increased dramatically, with concerns regarding backstage security and movement of touring equipment starting to be raised. Simon Duff considers some issues…

We all know the scenario. It’s load-in time at a gig. Maybe a seaside venue catering for 1,500 eager music fans. Expectations are high. A major artist is on a short tour prior to an arena run. The stage door has one, maybe two staff. The local hired help is on hand for the get-in at relevant access points. Budgets are tight. Load-in starts at around 8am, depending on the overnight journey. As the day progresses, large numbers of people are coming and going on and off site, with many parties unconnected. Lighting, sound, catering, management, promoter, local crew, artists – all with very different jobs to do – and as requirements change during the course of set-up, it is not possible to have a definitive list of credited people allowed on site. Tensions are running high. Both for get-in and get-out venues, exits and entrances can so easily become compromised.

Given the current terror threat level issued by the UK Government that remains at ‘severe’, we are all having to rethink everyday activities and raise our game. The terror attacks of 2017 do follow a shocking pattern, part of which is aimed at entertainment. They would appear not at all to be random attacks of senseless violence, but rather attacks designed to appear that way.

Julius Grafton is an Australian media technology journalist who has recently been writing on issues regarding entertainment security. In particular, he has raised serious concerns about how touring equipment travels. He argues that transportation might provide loopholes for terrorists. He believes that we may soon be living in a world where security checks on all gear wheeled into a concert will have to be enforced. Grafton thinks that failure to introduce some form of screening at concerts would, in the worse case scenario, lead to claims of professional negligence, akin to the current situation around the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, and thus onto claims of involuntary manslaughter.

It might be impossible to have a full-style airport security system in place but changes are likely to have to be made. In the future, it might be that the humble flight case may become the most connected piece of IT kit on the tour.

While audiences in the future will be increasingly screened with a form of hyper security, it may be that backstage, the same might have to be the case for both staff and equipment

Most venues all work in slightly different ways when it comes to security, with the onus often on what is happening around the front of the venue where the paying public congregate, but with not enough emphasis to the rear, around the crew areas and equipment access points. A new build arena will have a fortress like approach to access, although there are current exceptions, but in the older venues, such as listed theatre buildings, this is not the case, with access possible on a much wider scale to the rear of the venue. The stage door is an area of particular concern.

All this raises the ugly spectre of the possible introduction of ID cards in the UK. It may be that in the future, along with the prized backstage pass laminate and Access All Areas trophy passes, ID cards could prove pivotal in providing promoters with at least some degree of peace of mind as to knowing who is on site that can be verified. It will be a sad day – but food for thought indeed.

While audiences in the future will be increasingly screened with a form of hyper security, it may be that backstage, the same might have to be the case for both staff and equipment.

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