I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night (Safely)

The level of elaborate production elements for live entertainment events such as concerts and festivals has reached an all-time high. Event promoters and performers have evolved to meet the demands of eventgoers to create an immersive experience in order to contend with the ease of access to new technologies right at home such as virtual and augmented reality on smartphones, near-cinema sized home televisions, and video games so advanced that they blur the line between play and participation. It is now uncommon to attend a concert that doesn’t include bright, moving, strobing lights, smoke, and sound amplified to around 120dB, rivaling that of a jet engine.

Given that NFPA 72, paragraph states that ambient sound pressure levels with all audible notification appliances operating shall not exceed 110 dB at the minimum hearing distance, there is a clear gap between current safety standards and current production elements at entertainment events. If a concert utilizes large digital screens, strobe/laser lights, audio tracks that include unconventional sounds such as sirens, and sounds reaching 130dB, how can we be certain that attendees would notice the strobing emergency lights or hear the 110dB alarm and emergency notification alerts in an actual emergency?

As made even more evident by the recent tragedy at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire on the crowd of 22,000 concertgoers from his hotel room across the street, killing 58 people and wounding more than 500, the question of safety and emergency notification at entertainment events is of the utmost importance. We must find ways to increase and ensure safety at live entertainment events while allowing the entertainment industry to evolve and grow with technology and the demands of eventgoers.

The ability for attendees to hear and see emergency notification is one of the largest hurdle to overcome regarding event safety. Not only is a concert often too loud to hear an alarm notification, but elaborate concert productions such as that of the band Starset integrate audio from famous scientists such as Carl Sagan and text written on digital screens during the show, which could easily be confused with an emergency notification alert giving instructions over a loudspeaker or screen, and thus the emergency instructions disregarded as merely part of the show.

Additionally, the use of lighting at shows like that of Starset’s, which includes a screen encasing the drum riser that displays moving/flashing designs, flashing/color changing facemasks for band members, and moving strobe/laser lights, dull the ability for attendees to discern production from emergency lighting or alarm strobes. Because some production lighting is part of equipment and stage sets, this confusion can occur even when stage lights turn off and house lights turn on.

In order to ensure that concertgoers receive emergency notifications when they are sent out, NFPA 101 mandates that lighting and sound be reduced during an emergency situation and that a Life Safety Evaluation (LSE) be in place at applicable venues to ensure a safety plan for various emergency situations is in place. But without vigilant enforcement of the LSE during an emergency, there is no guarantee that an LSE will adequately handle an emergency or that production technicians will decrease lighting and sound in time during an emergency.

One remedy for the variables during an emergency situation at these entertainment venues is a centralized control system for emergency notifications that overrides lighting and sound systems when an alarm or alert is activated. This system would activate when a fire or safety alarm is activated and automatically adjust lighting and sound to allow for attendees to receive the necessary emergency notifications.

Another such remedy could be new NFPA requirements for a safety officer to oversee all live productions and coordinate during an emergency situation. Because some production technicians may not be from the venue but rather are touring with performers, they may or may not be aware of a venue’s LSE and won’t know how to determine that an emergency is taking place or how to respond properly. Therefore, having a safety officer would create clear lines of communication between production, security, performers, and attendees in order to ensure the LSE is executed properly.

Additionally, one remedy that has been discussed is certification for venues, production technicians, and operators to ensure they are adequately trained to manage emergency situations in entertainment venues. In exchange for certification, venues could receive reduced fees for various permits throughout the year.

The innovation and forward thinking of the entertainment industry necessitates innovation and forward thinking in the life safety industry in order to help them meet their goals and ensure the safety of the general public. There is no expense too high to protect innocent people simply trying to enjoy a concert with friends. We may not be able to prevent every emergency situation that may arise, but it is our responsibility to learn from history’s lessons to prevent tragedy when and where we can.

To discuss how to ensure that your venue meets the highest standards in fire and life safety, contact the Life Safety Professionals and Integrated Fire Protection today at 770-458-8828 or [email protected].