We were quite critical about Showsec following several complaints from fans after the Download festival back in June. Is such a high level of criticism fair? many of the comments directed at Showsec may be the responsibility of other security firms and concert organisers and yes folks, some can even be due to the behaviours of the fans themselves!! (shock/horror) , if so then it's true to say that Showsec do not have the amount of control over an event that many fans believe they hold and cannot be held responsible for every incident that occurs. Security (or Crowd Management as many prefer to be known ) are front line workers and as such they are the most accessible and visible to the public, because of this they tend to be blamed for all gripes and moans at concerts - many of which are actually out of their control.
Despite the level of criticism Showsec contacted us here at Safeconcerts and offered an interview with Mark Harding their Managing Director - so we fired off some questions and this is the result.
Safeconcerts: How long have you worked in the security industry and what drew you to it?
I first started with the company in 1989 as an Event Steward for Showsec itself, before graduating up to a Supervisor in 1991 covering venues such as Leicester City Football Club. A further seven years working for Showsec saw my promotion to Security manager for the whole Manchester region, specifically for the Nynex Arena (which is now MEN) and then Northern Regional Manager.
Safeconcerts: What is your role at Showsec?
Since 2001 I have been the Managing Director of Showsec based in their head office in Leicester, but taking me to events all over the country and across to Holland as well. My work means that I am responsible for three and a half thousand staff, nine regional offices and for every contract we take on. Luckily my role doesn't confine me to an office and I am regularly on site at events.
Safeconcerts: Could you explain to our readers what the role and function of a crowd management / security and stewarding company is?
How long do you have! Normally when people ask me what I do I tell them I collect trolley's in Asda it's easier than giving a complex answer. But here goes - The role of our company includes elements such as site control, ingress and egress (customers arriving and leaving an event) planning, event management, backstage and front of stage security, consultancy, emergency liaison, emergency planning, customer liaison, site problem solving, fraud prevention, site venue and local authority policy implementation, to name but a few aspects of Showsec's responsibilities. Our role can be simply to provide staff to carry out a function or we can be appointed to create, implement and have full responsibility for a crowd management plan. It is important to understand that sometimes we are there solely to carry out a function and have no influence on policy and on other occasions we can directly influence most processes.
Safeconcerts: Do your responsibilities overlap with other services?
Yes on most occasions. We have worked with many very professional and forward thinking organisations. Manchester, Leicester and Leeds local authorities are good examples that we work with regularly. There is nationwide inconsistency and fragmentation of organisation as with most service providers in any industry
Safeconcerts: How do you work together with other services effectively?
The most effective way to work with other organisations, companies and local authorities is through systematic procedures. Effectiveness is achieved through proven systems with the correct people and positive problem solving attitudes. Pre planning, personal relationships and effective communications really help.
Safeconcerts: Does Showsec have a customer complaints/compliments procedure in place, if so, how do people access it. If you don't have a procedure in place do you have plans to instigate one?
We do indeed have Customer Complaints Procedures in place; any concerns or feedback should be made in writing to the area office responsible for the event, who will endeavour to respond within a 14-day period.
Safeconcerts: ·There are a number of issues and complaints levied against both security and the organisers at the Download Festival - how did you think it went from Showsec's perspective and were you on site during the weekend?
Yes I was in fact at the Download festival, but in a client liaison role rather than working operationally. I have read the main 'report' letter from the person who encountered all of those problems. Whilst it appeared to be an amalgamation of alleged incidents occurring to a number of people, it is always disappointing when people have a bad time. Whilst I would rather not address this but will say that, it was clear to me that the report was largely inaccurate and hostile. From Showsec's perspective the logistics of accommodating, feeding and managing 400 staff as well as running a concert over a weekend is a phenomenal task. Staff worked 14 hours each day in some difficult conditions and, believe me, everyone on that site worked very hard, to their credit. The audience was magnificent and the bands were great. Yet the public is often unaware of technical and behind-the-scene issues. I think the attitude of the promoters is becoming more positive and more customer-focussed Improvements can be made next year. Staff wrist-banded 30,000 people on Friday night and Saturday morning which helped reduce the delays in ingress on Saturday morning a great deal - what a huge achievement to wristband 30,000 people in such a short period of time! By approximately 13.00 hours the public could approach the entrance and walk straight in, a maximum waiting time of three hours had an individual turned up at the scheduled doors opening time. On the Sunday the maximum waiting time was about 20/30 minutes from doors opening. The public were fantastic. Behaviour was generally magnificent.
Safeconcerts: People are telling Safeconcerts that they had to park about a mile away from the campsite and then walk to the site carrying all their camping equipment in the heat - is this accurate and why was camping so far from the car parking facilities?
Unfortunately I can't answer that; Showsec were not involved in the organisation and planning of the Campsite or Car Parking. There were two other companies that were responsible for those areas. Whilst I don't know about Download, the calculation below can applied to any event with those numbers of people and may go some way to explain logistical problems. 30,000 campers = 2.5 people per vehicle approx = 12/15,000 vehicles to be parked up close to the main roads for egress and other practical reasons, camping is then located at the nearest practical location. A further 10,000 vehicles arrive and leave for day ticket holders. Suitable ground, facilities and power lines all need to be considered. I hope this goes some way to an explanation how the two are rarely next to each other
Safeconcerts: Once people got to the site they say that they had to queue up in the heat for almost 4 hours with no facilities such as toilets or water to get into the campsite - why was this, is this something which can be avoided and do you think this was safe?
Again I can't really comment on the accuracy of these claims. But with regards to any ingress there are peak arrival times and delays are probably inevitable. It's similar to travelling to and from work at peak times. 30,000 campers arriving over a 12-hour period, is approximately 2,500 per hour or 40 campers per minute. Naturally arrival times of the campers are not evenly spread, hence there can be delays caused by peak arrivals. Every venue has physical limitations and these situations are far from ideal. I think expectations are higher these days and rightly so and I am sure there will be a full review to try to minimise delays. I do believe, however, that is very much worth the site providers making available water and toilets near the entrances.
Safeconcerts: How many staff were on duty at any one time, and in total over the weekend?
We had approximately 400 Showsec staff working per day with all of our offices being represented; London, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Peterborough, Cardiff, Leicester and Birmingham. In addition to Showsec staff there were also technical staff, first aid, police, stage crew, cleaners, local authority,concession staff, ground staff and management to name but a few.
Safeconcerts: What level of training is given to staff at all levels, but particularly those undertaking face-to-face work with the public?
Showsec provides a number of various courses for its staff with a dedicated Training and Development department. Our staff start with the NCFE Event Stewarding course, to which we offer addition modules to further and broaden their training, these include customer service, radio, pit (front of stage barrier) and first aid courses. Some of our staff have be licensed and undertake Door supervisor Course, particularly with the new SIA Door Supervisor License we are currently going through a rigorous training programme. Others also progress to higher levels, with Static Guarding, Supervisor, Trainer and Management courses being offered. We are always developing internal courses and six of our staff have just passed their IOSH Event Management (Health and Safety Course).
Safeconcerts: ·People have said that searches were very cursory at best - one punter said that a member of staff hardly touched his bag and commented that they were fed up with doing it - what criteria are there for whether a fan is searched or not?
Much is determined by the licensing conditions and the risk assessment for the event. Searching is a deterrent, as well as method of uncovering concealed prohibited items, and is carried out for mainly for health and safety reasons. The policy on whom and how many are made vary according to the circumstances of the event, there is not one overall policy. The policy can change from hour to hour as the profile of the incoming audience changes. Searches can be intrusive and personal; it is always pleasing to hear that people have not been offended by what is a difficult but essential duty. Getting the balance right is always difficult and we do often achieve it. Any staff that are ' fed up' have the opportunity to tell their line manager in preference to a member of the public - we could then do something positive about it! Perception of searching varies from individual to individual.
Safeconcerts: If only some people are searched then what are the benefits of doing them at all?
After 911, some American artist(e)s visiting Britain insisted on extraordinary measures. Each event is risk assessed and the search policy is based on the outcome of this. It depends on the event. In the past, at dance events there have been extreme measures in searching for drugs and at the Commonwealth Games there were remote vehicle searches. We take security very seriously. I do think that society in general has become 'over cautious'. There is inconsistency in our society about searching. A very simplistic argument is that despite terrorism affecting major town centres in the past people are quite content to go into major shopping centres without any search policy being implemented.
The main benefit must be public safety. The search will prevent glass bottles and tin cans becoming missiles in the audience and towards the stage. A search should be considered a deterrent as well to the more unscrupulous characters who may wish to bring items in. A quick, effective and professional search should deter them. It also depends on the weather and peoples clothing as we could be looking for bulky items which a quick scan would be sufficient of a search.
Safeconcerts: Were security confiscating bottles of aftershave? We were told that one person had a £30 bottle of Armani aftershave confiscated and that staff laughed as they took it away. Granted, their choice of cologne may have been flawed, but if this was true then did they get it back?
Armani at Download, what is rock and roll coming to! Glass is prohibited on site. If this happened on the campsite search I can't comment, it was not Showsec's domain. I can't see anyone wanting to bring aftershave into the venue itself, but if they did the policy is to refuse any glass being brought onto site. Staff are trained never to take ownership of public items for Health and Safety and commercial reasons. Items found at other venues on search lanes include two ducks, a Viking boat six metres long and an anaconda.
Safeconcerts: Security staff were seen loading the alcohol that had been confiscated into the back of vans and we were told of fans witnessing security staff sat off duty drinking confiscated alcohol. Were you aware of this as an issue and what can be done to combat it? What does happen to the confiscated alcohol? I would be happy to see a sign above the entrance along the lines of "Please bring more alcohol with you, as we always confiscate it and drink it - thanks!" - I think it would be a great deterrent.
I am not sure as to the accuracy of this. There is vehicle prohibition on site, except for a small number of vehicles. The green refuse cleaners vans removed all items and debris including alcohol, which has been left. Some of our staff are t-total so not sure about the idea of the sign - though if it would work then why not! Reasonable efforts about Conditions of Entry are made by the promoter and venue on, for example, the backs of tickets. The Company policy is that staff do not take possession of any items that are not allowed on site. Some members of the public are very generous and donate it to staff - these are more common most people believe. Staff implement policies, they do not make them. Any items left at the point of entry into site are collected by the appointed refuse collector. Staff may be dismissed for breaking this code of conduct. Items that have been left at the point of entry at other events in the past include; miserable partners where a 'domestic' has occurred, a kitchen sink, a lawn mower and a pig.
Safeconcerts: One punter said that they witnessed a crowd of about 12 Showsec staff walking next to the tents at 6am in the morning and hitting each one with sticks to wake the occupants, they appeared to find it funny as they were observed laughing and joking. What would you say to customers who were subjected to this and have you heard similar reports?
There is no reason why Showsec staff would have been on site at 6am in the morning over a mile away from their sleeping quarters and it was another company that ran the campsite. Our staff slept inside the venue near the paddock entrance at the furthest point away from the campsite. I am sure that the other security company would have made an issue of my staff being on their site. If you have details let me have them. It is not funny and not big or clever.
Safeconcerts: One punter has told Safeconcerts that they understand that Showsec were not responsible for the camping conditions they were met with, but they say that the Showsec staff treated them with contempt. The attitude toward punters by Showsec staff has been a recurrent theme in the complaints we have received, can you comment on that?
Yes, I have seen some of the letters. I have also seen letters that state that they were treated exceptionally well. Let me try to put things in perspective, a reserved estimate of the number of interactions staff have with the public at Download could be measured as follows. 400 staff x 14 hour shift x 60 minutes x 3 interactions per member of staff per minute = a million interactions per day at Download. We endeavour to train our staff to be courteous and problem solving and our management systems work to minimise negative actions. Our training continuously addresses customer care. I am sure there some genuine grievances and I am sure there are other motives for complaints. We do try to instil a problem solving idealism and I think that our overall success is undermined by individual instances. Greater personal accountability can help deter negative behaviour, whilst more praise and recognition, and continuous training can help improvements. It may be interesting to note that two Showsec staff were taken on a European holiday for their services to a customer. In the real world people will let you down, but others will also provide an excellent service. Ask any Human Resources person - people are extraordinary creatures.
Safeconcerts: People who tried to complain say that they were treated with derision - there was no one on site to complain to, is there a customer liaison officer? If not why not?
Supervisors normally deal with complaints. Though your suggestion is not a bad idea. We trialed a similar system at the Commonwealth Games. We are continually trying to resolve any problems or issues that are raised. Could you please send me the letters detailing the derision mentioned above?
Safeconcerts: ·Why was no action taken about bottle throwing? Fans are saying that bottles were filled with stones (amongst other unpleasant things) yet no visible attempt were made to halt the throwing. This seems to be getting worse recently, are there any plans or strategies to deal with this growing problem?
Action was taken in individual occurrences; with warnings being the first form of action. I do think that to a certain degree people should be responsible for their own actions. If several hundred people decide to embark in a bottle throwing exercise there is very little that a small group of security personnel can do. Remember that although there are 400 staff on site many positions are static or venue specific positions so the amount of flexibility in responding to large scale plastic bottle throwing is limited. I also have to consider the Health and Safety of my own staff. There are many issues that can be directly improved, audience behaviour, boredom, audience litter, recycling, refuse collection and education. There were several hundred people voluntarily involved in this pattern behaviour at its peak. This is not a minority issue. There needs to be a combined review of policies, but this example does illustrate one of the reasons why glass is prohibited on site. Thankfully there were very few injuries and most of the action was good humoured but undesirable. This is also something that your website could influence audience behaviour on. What about a Campaign to treat each other with respect?
Safeconcerts: ·People were setting off fireworks and lighting large campfires in overcrowded camping areas? Is this safe and what can you do about these things?
I can't speak for this campsite. Fireworks near an airport and also close to people are always dangerous. Education is the best process, extra searches can help but this possibly brings further delays and searching can never eliminate all undesired items on site. There is a deterrent factor that minimises risk, unfortunately in society there are members of the audience who will put others at risk. We can deter and respond like any other criminal activity. We can also remove the risk from site if other campers help identify problematic individuals.
Safeconcerts: Why were disposable barbecues confiscated from fans when they were on sale in the arena?
I can honestly say that I don't know, first I have heard of this. There is a bigger issue at hand than this. I think that events should move on and be made into much more of a festival atmosphere, much more of a celebration and a social event combined with fantastic music, which there certainly was this year. Authorities and emergency services are by nature very cautious about safety and behaviour patterns. Understandably so with litigation, insurance and local political pressures at every event. Incidents such as the bottle-throwing incident do not help the cause. It is time for a radical re-think, but then you could be asking me next year why we let so many barbecues on site as there was an obvious risk of burns to people and fire could you not? Policies need to be practical and consistent for all concerned.
Safeconcerts: Why were there excessive queues to get into the arena?
Doors were scheduled from 10.00 hrs. By 13.15 hrs the gates were completely clear. Wrist banding 30,000 people is a process which takes time. There were no delays on the Sunday because almost everyone had been wrist banded on the Saturday. Improvements can always be made by increasing wrist banding the night before the event, which was undertaken this year to increase those being able to go through.
Safeconcerts: Did you run out of wristbands? If so why?
No. Wristbands were distributed to each gate. We cannot (for security reasons) have all the wristband at every gate. We estimated the numbers going through each gate based on historical/previous knowledge, arrival times, band times, weather conditions, campsite layout, travel conditions, and road lay out. We were so efficient on one gate that they used up their allocation and we weren't able re-allocate from the other gates in time. There was only a delay of about ten minutes until this happened. This didn't prevent those with wristbands getting into the venue. Though admittedly it was the distribution of wristbands, which caused the short delay.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss any concerns that readers have. Please, try not to read into the answer's specifics, but instead hopefully I have been able to convey the ethos of what we are trying to achieve. We are in a people's industry, there will always be bad eggs, let's try and educate and improve. That applies to the audience as well I would love to invite a selection of people to a forum one night so we can show you what we have to do in preparation for a concert. Happy concert going everyone.
Safeconcerts is grateful to Mark Harding for taking the time to address some of the issues that concern fans. We're really impressed with Showsec for being one of the very few organisations that care enough about their image, reputation and profession to be are willing to answer questions that matter to the fans and to put their side of things across in a public arena, and we all know how tough the public arena can be.
This has to inspire confidence because Showsec have shown that they are willing to stand up and be counted - we can all feel a little more confident because of that - confident because this is a group of people willing to listen, to learn and to share - they might not always get it right but they are working toward continuous improvement - we rate them highly because of their professionalism, their approachability and their attitude - and because they cared enough to talk to us - that has to make them one of the best
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