Heads up folks, this post contains graphic imagery of death.
This is a multi-part series on JimOnLight.com on what to do if someone comes into your gig shooting at you. This is by no means the answer, or even an answer. Every situation is different, everything that can go wrong will go wrong (as we all know in Entertainment alone), and the information and interviews here are meant solely to help you be less unprepared. Very few of us out there in the field have the kind of training that it actually takes to combat people who are hell bent on killing us. This article series is just meant to give you things to think about in order to put your head in the game. Use this information at your own risk and with steadfast understanding that if you’re attacked at a gig, it is you who will be responsible for you.
Many people in our business are asking this very question right this minute at their gigs after the Friday the 13th terror attacks in Paris:
What if I’m attacked at work??? What do we do if somebody comes into our gig shooting? What if they have a bomb?
This is what happened at last Friday’s Daesh ISIS coward rampage:
In Paris last Friday, 13 November 2015, a few jihadi cowards stormed into Le Bataclan and murdered scores of people with AK-47’s. At FOH, the house lighting tech, Nathalie Jardin, took rounds and died form her injuries. Merchandiser Nick Alexander died from his gunshots onsite. They were just at work, doing what they loved, making the almighty dollar, but mostly digging the journey that we call Entertainment.
When it really comes down to it, can you actually be prepared at work AND do your job to the extent you need to do it? Can you be banging on playbacks and running your rate master on that cool effect, or watching that the bass player doesn’t loudly hoark into his mic again, or making sure that everyone has the right monitor mix, or that the media servers are happy… all the while looking out for someone or a group of someones who look out of the ordinary and preparing yourself for what to do in the event that the shit hits the fan?
I cannot. I cannot do both of those things, admittedly, and I do not want to try. I don’t have military training. I occasionally carry a sidearm onto gigs with me when I have to do something like walk the Fort Lauderdale docks alone at night with a $12,000 console, but really that is the extent of my need to carry at the gig. I want to go to work and know that I can provide the client with the best possible creative services I can provide, as I’m being paid to do that — I chose this field because it’s fun, mostly safe fun! But what can we do to protect ourselves in the event that some crazy bastards decide that we’re all going to pay for someone else’s sins so they can placate their need to murder in the name of an ideology? What do you do at work? Where do you hide? How can you get out?
The reality is, folks… we’re dealing with people who want nothing more beyond the moment of your death to happen, and they are prepared not to live beyond the moment of your death if they have to just to make sure you don’t go on living. Imagine how much time we put in on a production, from design to prep to pack to tour, and instead of spending that time and money on the show, imagine how proficient you could become at killing human beings in the name of an ideology if that’s all you spent your time doing. That’s what these people are doing — they’re spending their time and money to learn how to kill you.
But… We live in America, right? There are certainly some states that allow us to carry guns to protect ourselves. I personally take full advantage of that constitutional right on many occasions around the country legally, as I am a concealed carry permit holder in my state with reciprocity in other states. I can also handle myself, I’m a hell of a consistently accurate shooter (at man-shaped paper, on a range) and I have some firearms training that I felt was necessary to maintain my concealed carry permit. The reason I mention those little facts about myself is that I asked myself the same question when I was writing the initial reports of our brothers and sisters being attacked that night. What would I be doing if someone came into the gig shooting? Would I be carrying my pistol? Should I be carrying my pistol at work? What the hell makes me think now that I’d try to be some kind of hero then?
The reality of 13 November 2015 at Le Bataclan was that the scene went from a full-on show with people having fun rocking to Eagles of Death Metal, the hall probably looked a lot like this below — here’s a shot of the inside of Le Bataclan, packed with people jamming:
This is the aftermath of the shooting, and I apologize but it’s gonna be hard to look at, it’s horrifying.
That is a theatre. That is one of OUR places, you’re supposed to be able to let go inside there. These poor souls were stolen there, and all they wanted to do was rock.
Let’s be realistic — can you prepare yourself for that to happen? What are the first and second things you think you would do if someone came in shooting? It is a fucking terrifying noise, gunfire — and it’s even worse when you’re not expecting it. I for one have never had the experience of being shot at, or being startled by gunfire because I have never been in an uncontrolled environment where gunfire occurred suddenly.
Listen to this footage — watch the drummer dive for cover, this is from close to the stage at Le Bataclan right as the shooting started happening:
Ok, sorry but that is terrifying. The sound of 7.62×39 rounds, which are AK-47 rounds, are distinct, powerful, and frightening. These terrorist pieces of garbage came in with fully automatic firing assault rifles, which means when they hold in the trigger, the full-metal jacketed bullets come flying out of the gun until they let go of that trigger. Here’s what they look like unfired — I have an AK, but mine is a semi-automatic WASR model made in Bulgaria, like many of these automatic variants — these are surplus military rounds:
What would you do if chunks of steel and lead were snapping into equipment and people around you while the band was playing and you were working on the show? Do you have a clue what you think you might do? I like to fool myself into thinking I have a few ideas about what I would do, but I reached out to some of our industry brothers who have combat experience in various areas of operation across the world. What they’ve done and where they’ve been is, in their words, unimportant; what is important to these three individuals is that they are Entertainment Industry people, production and lighting designers, all who have had shots fired at them in anger. I reached out to these three people because they know what it feels like to be in a scary situation, and they have the important training that it takes to survive some really bad scenarios like the one in Paris.
What I think you will be interested, maybe even thrilled to find out, is that each of these three former professional hitters all say the same thing:
GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT OF THERE, GET OUT OF THERE. GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE — and take as many people with you as you can.
When trained fighters tell you that they would leave a situation like this as quickly as possible while trying to also get as many people around them out as fast as possible, perhaps we all need to take heed. I’m going to let you be the judge. I asked three very direct questions to Patrick Dierson, a great, popular production designer with some OGA experience early in his military career (and an even more impressive Entertainment career, frankly); Matt Hazard, a lighting designer and hell of a huge hearted (and footed) man who was in Marine Intel during the reign of Milosevic in Serbia and Croatia; Rick Reeves, a great friend and talented designer who was in Navy Security, having been a member of CENTCOM and MNF-I in his military career; and Brendon Grimes, everybody knows him as Grimey, he owns TSC Productions in Florida. Grimey, a Combat Mission Load Master for two decades, and brings a lot of those experiences to our industry.
If you were at a show at FOH in a venue like that of Le Bataclan and attackers burst in with automatic weapons, what are the first and second things that would be going through a trained mind like yours? Now imagine that question with AND without a sidearm, and how you would react differently.
Considering our environment and the various things we have to use as cover and concealment, can you recommend what to use and what not to use? Obviously a rolling dimmer rack would probably provide more protection than a wardrobe case, for example. What would you go for?
What are your thoughts generally on protection inside of venues by crew personnel? Do you think that our own protection is something that we need to take on at this point in our industry? How do you feel about arming ourselves at gigs?
I asked what I thought were pretty straightforward questions that I hoped to address safety issues in a venue if the bullets start flying… the answers I got were not what I expected, but they are what I need to be expecting, and I think they’re what you need to be expecting.
“Everyone in this business has some tales of harrowing experiences to share,” says Patrick Dierson. “Some are simply left for a good story while others tell of downright life threatening situations. Personally, I’ve encountered all sorts of potentially life threatening issues around the globe from being pistol whipped with the rifle butt of a Kalashnikov rifle in West Africa to listening to small arms fire hit the side of our aircraft in South America while landing during a rebel uprising. In its most extreme case I found myself stepping between the chest of my team’s local Nigerian driver and the muzzle of an 18 year old’s AK-47 in an attempt to keep the driver from getting shot and ultimately denying us exit from the country. For the record, I do not condone the latter course of action despite the fact that it worked. And, it stands to be noted that each of these situations happened while under the employ of the entertainment business as a lighting or production designer.”
Video of the people who escaped from the rear exit door of Le Bataclan — heads up, this is gunfire:
“Now, truth be told, what’s required here is not much more than what should normally be expected of an everyday citizen living in a major metropolitan city when we’re discussing situational awareness,” Dierson continued. “We’re just discussing it here in the sense of sensational acts of terrorism instead of what would normally be considered street crime. Your level of awareness and self-preparedness shouldn’t have been any less prior to recent events.”
“First and foremost, the average citizen should not be feeling as though they need to live in a state of fear. However, they should always be alert to their surroundings particularly in large crowds. The military term of keeping your head on swivel isn’t out of line. You don’t need to be walking around the mall in a serpentine pattern just to get yourself to the next Foot Locker but you should at least know what’s going on around you and your loved ones as well as having the basic directional ability to know where the closest exits are. In short, get you head out of your cell phone and know what the heck is going on around you.”
You have to admit, Patrick is right. Whether it’s the airport or the grocery store, we’re literally all staring down at our boobs looking at our phones in an attempt to escape boredom and pass time. But do you know what is going on around you while you’re schooling a game of Plague, Inc? We all must have some situational awareness — a good example of a lack of this would be standing in the way of a bunch of people while you’re staring down at your phone and the line you’re in has moved forward several spaces. We’re kind of all siting targets unless we pick up our heads and pay attention a little bit.
“What do you think about vigilance on the job site? How prepared do we need to make ourselves?”
“For the most part, the jobs that we do in the live entertainment industry do not come with the inherent dangers that one would normally find within a combat zone but every once in a while a very unfortunate situation can present itself. You could easily be forgiven for considering any talk of this nature to be that of an alarmist prepper but the basic fact of the matter is that the world that we live in has changed dramatically over the past decade and, regardless of your political or philosophical views as to why things are the way they are, global citizens that could once consider themselves extremely safe need to err on the side of caution and be much more aware of their surroundings.”
“Let’s talk about the second question… can you give me some examples of how your thought processes would be, armed and unarmed, at a gig?”
“I’ll clearly state that my actions in the past, whether I’m carrying a firearm or not, have always been the same. The second you hear weapons being fired in ANY situation your immediate reaction should be to get to cover. You are not active duty military in a uniform tasked with being offensive protection of the public and therefore you have no legal duty to act otherwise. Get to cover immediately so that you can ascertain what your next course of action should be.”
“What about cover and concealment and all of those terms that not many people understand — can you make sense of that for the readers?”
“Understand that there is a huge difference between what is considered ‘cover’ versus what is considered ‘concealment.’ Cover offers some level of protection from foreign objects while concealment merely hides you as a target. You want to move to cover immediately and then start assessing what your exit options are. You are not concerned with combating an attacker unless the threat is imminently upon your physical being and threatening lethal force. Your primary concern is to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.”
“There are a million and one variables that come into this scenario and I am not about to suggest that anyone, armed or not, should entertain inserting themselves deeper into an active shooter situation particularly if you have never had appropriate training in how to handle that type of situation. Remember that holding a guitar does not make you a guitarist. The same goes for firearms. Even if you have undergone extensive training in how to utilize a weapon offensively you still stand a chance of making a bad situation worse by trying to intervene. The best course of action is to always move yourself and anyone else you can safely assist along to cover followed by a safe exit and then only count on utilizing a weapon as a last attempt to protect your life or that of someone in your immediate vicinity.”
“There is also a very real issue that must be discussed here and that is one of potentially mistaken identity. If you brandish a weapon in a public situation with the most heroic of possible intentions you may unwittingly make yourself out to be a target for the next ‘hero’ that’s going to try and save the day. Don’t be that guy.”
“Considering our environment and the various things we have to use as cover and concealment, can you recommend what to use and what not to use? Obviously a rolling dimmer rack would probably provide more protection than a wardrobe case, for example. What would you go for?“
“I’m going for the exit and taking as many innocent people as I can with me. Any other talk to this simply opens up a ton of speculation on ballistics and what can stop what. Common sense rules the day. You’re going to leap frog from the largest and heaviest object that you can find to the next so that you can make your way to an exit and remove yourself from the threat. Sure a dimmer rack is a great start. I don’t specify very many conventionals these days so if we’re talking about what my personal situation may be then I’ve probably already put us in jeopardy by the nature of my design style. The audio boys still like to use heavy stuff so maybe get behind their kit. In all seriousness, in an arena venue situation, the concrete walls are most likely your safest object to get behind and those walls tend to lead to exits. There’s not an object on stage that I can rightly imagine being what I would want to seek cover behind to be perfectly honest. When you know what a 7.62 round can go through you quickly start reassessing what you previously thought could offer you safe haven. So, once again, get the hell out of the area.”
The sound of an AK-47 firing full-auto:
“What are your thoughts generally on protection inside of venues by crew personnel? Do you think that our own protection is something that we need to take on at this point in our industry? How do you feel about arming ourselves at gigs?“
“Personally, I am very much against crew being armed at gigs. I’ve got at least one guy on every show that can’t seem to climb a truss without dropping a wrench. I sure as hell don’t believe that him carrying a firearm is going to help matters on a daily basis. I would much rather see crew properly trained in CPR, basic first aid, & advanced situational awareness before seeing any of them onsite with a firearm. If you want to run around a job site with the authority and responsibility that comes along with carrying a firearm then simply shift career paths and go into the security sector. There’s nothing wrong with that decision in the entertainment industry. Otherwise, arm yourself with a wrench or console and get back to doing some good, fun work in this fantastic business that we’re in.”
“In any adverse situation, your best defense is your mind. I’ve existed for many years in what military jargon calls NPEs or Non-Permissive Environments. These are areas where you are not permitted to have a weapon and being caught with one would hold various levels of both mission failure and punishment from local authorities. You’re trained to utilized improvised weapons if one is actually needed but 99% of the time all you really need is your mind. Keep your wits about you, learn how to handle unexpectedly chaotic situations, and keep yourself focused on staying safe. Be alert to your surroundings. If you see something suspicious then absolutely say something to the appropriate people in charge and let them handle it. You’re a specialist in what you do and you’re trusted to do that job. Trust in those that are trained to handle the other stuff and concentrate on removing yourself from harms way.”
Patrick, thanks brother. I seriously appreciate you, we all do here at JimOnLight.com. Keep making that good light.
Situational Awareness — we’re going to close Part 1 of this primer and move onto Part 2, with Matt Hazard and Rick Reeves… I bet you won’t believe that they’re going to have similar themes for us to follow.
Before you head on to part two, just read this little PDF from the Coast Guard about situational awareness. Do you know where your head is in the game when the game is on? This isn’t about being at some ready state of war and battle and all of that stuff most of us have no idea about but think you do because you play Call of Duty, this is just about keeping your head out of your phone and up a little bit to make sure you know what’s going on around you. Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission. More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you.
Situational Awareness… we’ll talk more about this in Part 2.