Hospitality Venue Protection: How to Become a Harder Target

Image Source: The Telegraph

Editor’s note: The following article focuses on the topic of the recent terror attacks on Paris and other cities, along with active shooter incidents. The strategies discussed by the author are his and his alone – they have not been vetted by any member of the Nightclub & Bar Media Group staff. However, this is an incredibly important topic and we feel this conversation needs to take place. Our thoughts are with all of the victims of the recent despicable, cowardly terror attacks that have taken place in France, Israel, Iraq, the West Bank, Mali, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and elsewhere, along with their friends and family.


The recent terrorist attacks perpetrated in Paris, Baghdad, Yola and several other locations around the word were terrible, disgusting acts of cowardice. Experts on every television station providing news coverage have called these craven attacks a “game changer” in terms of the way governments approach terrorist planning and actual attacks. Unfortunately, because of the nature of this type of violence, the hospitality security industry must also view these attacks as a game changer.

Before I delve into the subject of this article, please understand that I am fully aware this will not be a pleasant topic, just as you must be. Sometimes our industry isn’t about fun. There are times when we have to force ourselves to have these types of conversations. The fact is that we have to stop thinking these sorts of attacks can’t happen to us.

To give you a clearer picture of what will be discussed in this article, these were the exact terror targets in Paris:

  1. The first target was the Stade de France (a stadium) where a soccer game was taking place. All three terrorists were patted down at the entry gates and denied entry. Two detonated themselves at the entry gate while the final terrorist walked across the street to a McDonald’s and immediately detonated himself.
  2. The second target was Le Carillon (a bar). Twelve people died when terrorists opened fire on the sidewalk bar.
  3. The third target was La Petit Cambodge (a restaurant), located near Le Carillon (target two). Terrorists opened fire again, killing people in the sidewalk café area.
  4. The fourth target was Cosa Nostra (a pizza restaurant). Five people in the restaurant when gunmen opened fire on guests.
  5. The fifth target was La Belle Equipe (a restaurant) at which 19 innocent victims were killed.
  6. The sixth target was Comptoir Voltaire Café (a café). A terrorist entered and detonated himself.
  7. The seventh target was Le Bataclan (a concert hall). Three attackers opened fire as they entered the venue. They continued to walk into and around the venue, shooting anyone they saw. 89 victims were killed.

As you looked at that list, you should have noticed all the venues were in the hospitality industry – our industry. I must point out that here in the United States of America, we probably have more of these types of compact community locations than they do in Paris.

Why were these locations selected? The answer is simple and awful: these types of venues afford easy access to victims. Think about it: there is little, if any, resistance at the door or inside. Public gathering locations present a greater chance for mass casualties. Without intending to seem insensitive, I have to ask the following: Do you think the operators of any of the Paris targets ever considered their operation would be a target of a terrorist? I seriously doubt it. Have you ever considered it for your location? Going forward, you had better do so.

In an effort to better help you understand the concept of becoming a harder target, you can’t think of terrorists as only foreign-born Islamic extremists. Consider our own radical citizens who have been radicalized via the Internet or by other means. It’s unpleasant to consider but these people could be your neighbor. They could be other community members looking for a target which will present an opportunity for maximum casualties and a loud, horrible statement. The first thing you must do to become a harder target is consider these possibilities.

There are strategies you can implement, whether you operate a small sidewalk café, restaurant, bar or live music venue, to keep terrorists from striking at your location successfully. In my mind, you, your team, and all operators can do a lot to help make your location safer from the sort of terror attacks we saw in Paris and other cities.

The following is a list of some unique hospitality industry-specific tactics I strongly suggest you try, teach and practice:

Talk to your team about the potential of an attack at your location. You need to prepare the minds of employees so that they change the way they think and consider what they would do should an attack occur.

Talk to your competitors. Whether they’re next door or down the block, open a dialogue. When it comes to the topic of safety, you should never be in competition with your fellow owners and operators. Again, getting that discussion going may spark an idea should an attack be imminent.

Create an evacuation plan for employees and guests, and actually practice it. This will cost you some money. Effective safety procedures are a part of doing business, now more than ever.

Fully understand – and make certain all your employees understand – that a terror attack like the one in Paris can and may happen on our soil. The City of New York coined the phrase “See Something – Say Something®” a few years ago. It’s a great phrase to remember and use. I’ve found that many people will see something suspicious but often times will talk themselves out of thinking the worst. It’s imperative that you remember emergency responders of all kinds would rather have an emergency call and a false alarm then no call and a terror attack.

All employees should understand that in nearly every terrorist attack, the terrorists have practiced their assault. This means they have visited the location, eaten or had drinks there, and conducted intelligence gathering. They may have taken photos or asked guards, hosts or wait staff about hours or entertainment schedules.

It is crucial to truly understand the importance of being active in talking to everyone you can at the door, or as they appear to be studying other entry points of your venue. A strong, interactive door or wait staff sends the message to potential terrorists that they have a better chance of being discovered and should move on to another location.

As employees interact with guests or sidewalk passers-by, they should also understand the importance of recognizing questions or actions that are suspicious on any level. If employees feel or sense something suspicious with a guest, they should ask more questions and, in some cases, be overly attentive with their customer service. Again, this may convince the suspect to find a softer, less involved operation.

As with the prior point, any sort of door staff, door host or bouncer should take full control of their door or entry area. This employee must be outgoing, possess excellent communication skills, and be totally involved with their door, the guests, and their surroundings. They must possess outstanding situational awareness, looking for any suspicious activity or approaching threats, be it on foot, by car, or otherwise.

Owners and managers should consider a policy and practice of conducting full-body pat downs or “frisks” of guests in line or before they enter the venue. I’m aware that this isn’t a practice that is common in our country for the majority of venues. Consider, however, that at the first target of the recent Paris attacks, Stade de France (a stadium), full-body pat downs stopped three of the terror suspects from entering. Imagine how much higher the death toll would have been if the stadium security workers didn’t that policy and practice in place.

Perhaps one point that’s never discussed or taught to door staff is what to do should an approaching threat be seen. This is so very important to help save lives. If the door staff or even a restaurant hostess behind a podium knows what they should do, lives can be saved and, in some cases, an attack can be prevented.

While it isn’t pleasant to consider that intercepting a threat may put the door host at terrible risk, doing nothing will absolutely put the door host, other employees, and all guests at risk. First, should a violent threat be seen approaching the door, the employee has to make a split-second decision to prevent panic and massive tunnel vision. This split-second decision might involve any of the following:

  • Running away completely. This isn’t the most heroic idea but may be the gut instinct for the employee if the terror discussion is never had.
  • Running back into the venue and yelling “Gun!” or “Evacuate!” or whatever other words or phrases may help get everyone moving towards the rear exit doors. This may also include some sort of locking or barricading of the front door. This may not totally stop the attacker but it may delay them and allow more people to safely escape. Seconds count.
  • Running back in and jumping into a quick hiding place near the door or a position of cover to essentially ambush the attacker as they enter the building. Yes, this is a dangerous proposition. Remember, I’m trying to present as many possible actions to take when the door host sees a threat coming towards their door. This is certainly one thing to do.
  • Standing your ground in a position of submission to the attacker. Perhaps putting hands up or lying on the ground in a cowering position may be enough for the attacker to ignore you as a threat and walk past you. This may then allow the door host to ambush the terrorist from behind and stop them. Yes, this is also a dangerous proposition. Keep in mind that there are no winning answers in this sort of deadly attack.
  • Depending on the distance of the approaching attacker, one reaction may be to proactively attack the terrorist before they get to the door or open fire. This is another dangerous scenario. However, it is, in many cases, the best course of action. I understand that a restaurant may not have a bouncer at their door; there may only be a hostess at the door and certainly that hostess may not consider bringing the fight to the terrorist before they enter.

Once the terrorist is inside the building there are, again, many things that must be considered to help guests and employees remain as safe as possible. However, there have already been many discussions on what should or shouldn’t be done based on the appalling Columbine High School active shooter murders in 1999.

Prior to the Columbine tragedy, there was little discussion on what to do during an active shooter event. Immediately after Columbine, law enforcement and school officials began implementing a course of action. The first training point was to simply shelter in place. This is nothing more than getting to a safe room, locking the doors, turning off the lights, and creating the appearance that the room is empty of potential victims. For seven years this was the standard practice. Then, as active shooter incidents increased around the country, a new idea emerged and has proven to be far more effective.
This new concept is simple: 1. Run, 2. Hide, or 3. Fight. There are pro and con arguments on both sides. However, if we just admit that for restaurants or bars these three points are an option, we’re better prepared to react instead of freezing in fear.

The concept of Run, Hide or Fight is just as simple as it sounds. For this conversation, should the active shooter terrorist enter the bar or restaurant, number 1 and 2 are fairly simple to understand. For the final option – Fight – employees should be taught what their options are when it comes to fighting off a terrorist who intends to shoot and kill employees or guests.

The “fight” response isn’t difficult to understand: fight back to stop the terrorist from killing innocent people. In fighting back, employees may be placing themselves in a position of grave danger but should three or four employees rush and grab a terrorist, this action may immediately stop the killing of others. Standard use of force options and rules should be thrown out the window should employees find themselves in the terrible position of having to fight against an active shooting terrorist.

Finally, in the Paris terror attacks, many of the terrorists – if not all – were also equipped with body-wrap explosive devices. In each of my above scenarios, if the terror suspects feel they are compromised they may decide to simply detonate in hopes of killing as many people as possible. It is important to remember that at the Stade de France in Paris, gate security workers turned three terror suspects away at the stadium entry gates after their hands-on pat down. Each suspect chose to detonate their body explosives. In those three combined terror explosions, only three civilian lives were lost.

As I stated in the beginning of this article, this isn’t a pleasant topic but I can’t stress enough how important it is to discuss. Besides being a retired 20-year veteran police officer, I’ve been teaching security guards, security hosts, bouncers, managers, and owners of bars, clubs, and other alcohol licensed establishments for nearly 18 years. My experiences have taught me that if employees are better prepared for an emergency, including a terrorist attack, those employees will be better prepared to deal with an emergency.

Should you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]. Robert will also be speaking at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show. Register today to attend his sessions. 

Good Luck and Be Safe.

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