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How safe are we at a Music Festival?

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India has seen a booming trend of Music Festivals and Live Concerts revolving around different genres in different parts of the country in the last few years. The concerts feature top artists from across the globe along with the finest homegrown talents. With the increase in the number and scale of such music festivals, there is no doubt everyone is concerned about the safety and security at the venues. There should be some common protocol followed by the organisers, so that people are aware of everything and feel safe when they are outside for a public event.

Many festivals around the world have seen numerous mishaps, not only to terrorist attacks but also for the drug overdose, excessive crowd, heat and high-energy environments among others. The question is how safe are we really when we go to a music festival? How important is it to maintain the security and safety measures and avoid any fateful occurrence? What can be done when Government is in the picture too?

The idea of festival security:

When a music festival or concert is happening, it is the music promoter who brings everything on the plate. Along with the production, security and safety of the attendees should also be a major concern. Major challenges are frisking and monitoring as no one likes to wait outside. The rent of baggage scanners is quite stiff and the organisers are sometimes reluctant to use them. Meanwhile, the event organiser decides the venue, simultaneously, police department and bomb squad start the sanitisation process. After that, ideally, the organiser should set up the venue, followed by an ultimate sanitisation course by the police just before the event. Naveen Singh, Director of Trig Guardforce who have provided security services to a number of large-scale music events said, “There are loopholes and scanning is difficult as the security guards are not familiar with half of the necessary equipment that comes into the venue. As there are multiple vendors for lights, sounds, consoles and barricades, it is very important to know the people or the company who are involved in the production, so that they can maintain inward outward access for the particular vendor. Also, keeping a source of water outside the main entrance is important. If the event is not that large scale and the capacity is 2000-3000 people, we can let go people after frisking of the bags, however, we always request people if it is a large-scale event where 1000-50000 attendants are there, not to carry any bag and we restrict outside belongings.”

We caught up with OML Founder Vijay Nair, to discuss music festivals’ significant security measurements, challenges, and additional odds and ends. “No place is really safe and secure anymore. While organising a music festival, there are different kinds of pressure, not only safety and security, however, safety is definitely one big aspect. The more you do it, the better you get to deal with pressure, you learn to cope with,” said Nair. He simply refused to admit that all the music festivals happening in India are safe and sound as affirmed by the organisers. “We possibly have the worst private security systems in the whole country and don’t own a large private security management either. However, this is not music industry issue, this is a country-wise problem and that should be the government’s scout,” he summed up.

If we actually look at the people who are into private security sector, what we notice is that they just put on the uniform and do whatever they are asked to do. Do they have enough training and experience? No. Absolutely NOT. Nair also added while recruiting security people for OML’s festivals, they make sure to recruit trained people mostly. Also, he robustly said:

“You can’t do all of these alone just as an industry or as an organiser. I think we need to start working as an industry towards making the private security industry better. Putting much higher standard as a benchmark on what kind of training should be there. There is a lot more that should be done when it is about security and safety. We are maybe at the five percent preparation level at this point of time,” stated Nair.

What can be done when Government is in the picture too?

Arguably, not a single place is really safe and secure anymore. The government should come to a decision on that. If the government is asked to be specifically careful during music concerts, they will simply put a ban on all concerts on the grounds of a terrorist threat. But, the reality is, that’s not the end of the story. After paying an exorbitant amount of tax for licensing and permission, public administrations and officials are not ready to deal with any disasters, not just attacks. According to the industry experts, the country is not geared up to cope up with such things, so that needs to change. Also, the private security sector should be better prepared, by raising the standard in terms of training, equipment, manpower among others. We should be made to feel safe from any sort of criminal activity in every sphere of life and that is the bare minimum a tax paying resident can look forward to. Also, emergency medical services (EMS) and First Aid are significant aspects of safety at any music festival or concert. And then comes restrictions on carrying recording devices, camera and other gadgets.

Safety and security measures of a music festival:

Apart from the basics, the major safety measures also include refinement before setting up and the sanitisation process also helps to check the area minutely, including the vendors. Any act of terror comes without prior warning and therefore every organiser needs to pre-empt and ensure that appropriate checks and measures are maintained to avoid any on-ground incident. Multi-layered security checks, trained security personnel, body screeners, metal detectors, security cameras, sniffer dogs, police and emergency booths and a thorough hygiene scan across the venue pre, during and post-event ensure maximum security is must for festival goers. The disaster management protocols should be in place, from doctors to ambulances to fire marshals in every conceivable way. Simultaneously, organisers should apply all security measures, create emergency evacuation pathways, ensure there are team drills along with the security personnel, and respond to the intuition if something seems fishy! Furthermore, the CCTV footages post gig must be documented and preserved for future. We are not sure how equipped our police forces are to safeguard the audiences in case of an untoward incident. That’s what Music Plus understood.

We got Tuhin Mehta Co-founder of GO: MADras Festival who hopes that all the music festivals no matter how large or small should be safe and sound as claimed by the organisers. “Regardless of where you are, everything should be on high alert nowadays; security is number one priority. Go: MADras happens in a five-star resort. It is not only Go: MADras festival’s crew that comes into play; it is also the resorts separate set of rules. When it is lesser numbers of people, it is easier to do, but when it is about large-scale events like these, then it is almost impossible to be 100 percent sure that everything is okay. Also, CCTV should be there 24 hours and can’t be turned off. For GO: MADras, we had one vendor for sound, but for larger scale festivals, they need to have multiple vendors. So the precautions have to be strong no matter what. Again, larger the festival, more complicated it gets.”

“Apart from basic security things, we also pay attention to profiling people, and we know what the sensitive areas are,” stated Mehta.

Tuhin also mentioned about prohibited items that include fireworks or explosives of any kind, weapons, illicit drugs or drug paraphernalia, which should be monitored particularly. A music concert is in no way different from any other event or venue that witnesses a large gathering of people. Be it sports, education, art, entertainment, shopping, or just daily commute. Organisers should work very closely with all the Governments, and non-government bodies to ensure that everyone is aligned with the proposed security measures and the best security cover is provided. Citizens too need to become equally responsible for following rules and also stay vigilant on reporting unclaimed bags, items lying around or any suspicious behaviour observed.

On the other hand, Kinjal Bhattacharya, who is the man behind Kolkata-based THE Festival and E365 Entertainment Everyday , has organised concerts for bands such as MLTR, Poets of the Fall, Skyharbor (Kolkata debut in 2016), Infected Mushroom, Karnivool, and The Aristocrats among others said, “We should be made to feel safe from any sort of criminal activity in every sphere of life. That is the bare minimum a tax paying citizen can expect. As a festival organiser, the first safety precaution that had probably come to our mind was of ticket counterfeiting. Honestly, Kolkata has never seen any sort of terrorist attacks in the recent past, so the basic infrastructure of security detection, safety drills and evacuations in events have come in pretty late. We are in talks with a large brand to get us covered with insurance for our future editions, something which is still rare in Kolkata, but at the same time must be made compulsory for public gigs.”

No one is sure how equipped our police forces are to safeguard the audiences in case of an untoward incident, but we can hope that it becomes a compulsory ruling that in every public gathering of more than 5000, there should be an adequate force given to the public. This includes stricter guidelines imposed on every event attendee on items carried into the venue. Tougher pre-emptive methods must be implemented and communicated with an aim to inform attendees that the procedures being followed are for their own security and wellbeing.

Devraj Sanyal (Universal Music India CEO) and Shoven Shah (Founder of Enchanted Valley Carnival), the forces behind EVC (Enchanted Valley Carnival) shared their challenges while organising a large-scale music festival and they also revealed that the pressure is enormous as safety has been one of the main concern. They also mentioned, safety comes from various factors that need consideration and safety against narcotics is something that needs to be taken very seriously.

“I’m very sure that safety is still of paramount priority to us. Being bound by global mandates and standard operating procedures, we take this very seriously and we follow all global protocols to ensure that we are the safest festival that one can go to,” stated Sanyal.

As security and safety of the fans are very important, EVC crew make sure that they work with the leading security agencies only. “We also ensure that disaster management protocols are in place. EVC has the best systems in place with the local and state law enforcement officials to ensure that, the festival is a 100 percent compliant festival.” Sanyal signed off.

What we figured:

Music Plus believes, as organisers, they can only take sufficient measures to keep miscreants away, but they can’t ever take the responsibility of protecting the mass. Conversely, as this is not only music industry issue, this is a country-wise problem; the government should take the matter up closely. Additionally, we need to educate people more; we need to prepare ourselves to make the country cope with such situations.

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