Onstage Murder Could’ve Been Prevented, Security Experts Say

Concert venues need trained staff and metal detectors, they insist.

The onstage murder of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott leaves not just Damageplan fans, but concertgoers everywhere, with many troubling concerns. Chief among them was that the tragedy might have been prevented for less than $50, the price of a handheld metal detector.

“It should have been a common practice. It should have been something they had,” said Paul Wertheimer of Crowd Management Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in concert safety. “If it was used right, it would have caught the gun and you would have never heard about it. It would have been an item in the police blotter of the Columbus Dispatch.

Wertheimer, who’s made a career out of studying concert safety, has been called on to supply his expertise in the wakes of such disasters as Denmark’s 2000 Roskilde festival, where nine fans were crushed to death, and last year’s nightclub fires in Rhode Island and Chicago, which killed more than 120 people combined.

Though Wertheimer’s seen his share of security failures, Wednesday’s incident in Columbus, Ohio, adds a horrifying new twist to the dangers of going to a show: guns (see “Dimebag Darrell, Four Others Killed In Ohio Concert Shooting” ). That the shootings come less than two months after R. Kelly claimed people flashed guns at him while he was onstage (see “Jay-Z, R. Kelly Part Ways as Best Of Both Worlds Tour Collapses” ) may mark the beginning of a frightening trend. The days when security guards’ biggest concerns were drunken fistfights and smuggled-in recording devices are over.

“In any crowd, there’s going to be a certain percentage who are going to be troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells,” Wertheimer explained. “You have to plan for those, and now they may have weapons. That doesn’t mean you don’t have the concerts. It just means you have to take the necessary precautions to protect the public.”

The first step in doing that is insisting that everyone submit to a search with a metal detector, either the large walk-through kind or the simple handheld device such as the one Wertheimer found online and posted on his Web site, www.crowdsafe.com. And no genre should be considered immune to violence, either.

“I recently saw [pop-punkers] Mest at the House of Blues, and everybody went through metal detectors,” Wertheimer said. “Not because Mest fans are known to be violent, but just because it was a prudent thing to do. You just do it, and you do it as routine.”

According to witnesses, the Alrosa Villa club didn’t use metal detectors, though all House of Blues venues (18 in North America) use handheld detectors, according to HOB’s Jack Gannon, senior vice president of marketing. Clear Channel Concerts, the country’s largest promoter in North America, wouldn’t comment on whether it uses metal detectors at its venues.

But having metal detectors won’t do much if they’re not used properly.

“I’ve been to shows where the security was waving the wand around like a maestro conducting an orchestra,” Wertheimer said. “They’re going everywhere but where they should go.”

“Security management is not rocket science,” admits Filippo Marino, managing director of Entertainment Security Professional Network, an offshoot of the larger corporate security firm Security Director LLC. “It does require a degree of common sense and commitment, which unfortunately some club owners are not willing to pursue.”

Marino said cost may not be the only determining factor when it comes to clubs using metal detectors. Instead, some club owners are more worried about their image than the safety of their patrons.

“Most club owners will tell you that the moment you start having personnel at the door [with metal detectors], you’re sending a message that you’re dealing with a crowd that may be bringing in weapons, and therefore you’re lowering the quality of your image.”

The Entertainment Security Professional Network was founded last year when executives at the parent company noticed “a particular lack of training and professional education” in concert venues and nightclubs, Marino said. So they started holding training seminars to ensure that security personnel are properly trained. In London, nightclub security guards are required to be certified, but there’s no such mandate in the U.S., where all too often a pair of menacing biceps are the only qualifications needed.

“The biggest concern is a lack of standards in the concert industry,” Wertheimer said. “There is no national standard that addresses the safety of concertgoers. That’s why there seems to be so many safety lapses where common-sense solutions are obvious.”

“The average bouncer or person working security, in terms of training, can probably claim to have a good workout schedule,” Marino said half-jokingly. “It’s a sad state of affairs.”

Wertheimer said safety-conscious concertgoers should take note of not just the emergency exit locations, but also the preparedness of a venue’s security personnel.

“Look for metal detectors,” he advised. “Look over the security. Ask yourself, ‘Are they professional? Do they treat you professionally and with respect? Are they watching the crowd or are they watching the band and looking at the pretty girls?’ … A black T-shirt and a flashlight does not a security guard make. Just because they’re there doesn’t mean you’re safe.”

For fan reaction to the Alrosa Villa slayings, check out “Hundreds Of Fans Gather At Club Honor Dimebag Darrell” and You Tell Us.

For artists’ reactions, check out “Ozzy, Dave Mustaine, Jonathan Davis Remember Dimebag” .

Click here for more on the tragic death of Dimebag Darrell and the Ohio club shooting.