In November 2015, three gunmen entered an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Paris and opened fire, as part of a coordinated terrorist attack on the city, killing 89 people inside the venue. In 2017, two other attacks on live music events ended in similar tragedy: a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester killed 22 people and injured 120, and a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a country music festival in Las Vegas, that killed 58 and injured 489. Although the three events took place in three different countries and types of venues, they were all equally terrifying and heartbreaking enough, perhaps, to inspire some counterterrorism preparation in advance of this year’s Grammy Awards.
Members of the U.S. State Department and the European Union will address a group of Grammy Award nominees, including Pink, rappers Run the Jewels, and Young Thug, in an all-day training session, Saturday, January 27. The briefing, according to Rolling Stone, will take place in a hotel near Times Square in New York City. A source who spoke to the magazine said the meeting will cover “situational awareness, identifying vulnerable points and times of increased risk, avoiding time and place predictability and crafting a contingency plan.”
The quotes from counter-terrorism experts in the Rolling Stone story are pretty telling—in just how much we don’t know about what we don’t know when it comes to event safety in the post-9/11 age. A former State Department official and ISIS expert under president Barack Obama, Dr. Amir Bagherpour, said:
“Behind arms, music and entertainment are the largest Western exports, and musicians and entertainers serve as ambassadors around the world. Attacks against them generate a lot of coverage, and send a powerful message. It makes sense that they would be targeted.”
However, he also stressed that the Paris, Manchester, and Las Vegas attacks do not constitute a trend. That doesn’t, however, mitigate the effect they have on the public’s sense of safety:
“Since 9/11, there have been only three major attacks on concerts, one of which wasn’t ISIS or so-called ‘Muslim terrorism’ but a lone wolf shooter. But it only takes one 9/11 to change how people respond to each other.”
The truth is that concerts and live music events like the Grammys—or any event that attracts large groups of people—could be targeted, not just at the event itself but at various points in the attendees’ nights:
Marcel Altenburg, one of the world’s leading crowd scientists and a former captain in the German military, tells Rolling Stone that it’s not enough to simply look at a venue’s immediate vicinity [...] He preaches that the potential targets for a venue begin at attendees’ front doors and follows them until they’ve gone to the event and returned home.
“We always ask, where does it begin to become apparent that this group of people is going to your event?” Altenburg says from his office at Manchester Metropolitan University. “Is it on the subway or a bus an hour away? Is it in an overflow parking lot? You have to think it all the way through. At what point will they be visible as a crowd and identified as connected to you?”
Although facing a terrorist attack at a concert is unlikely—Bagherpour says it is less likely than being struck by lightning twice—it is helpful to learn what to do should the situation arise, hence this briefing for the Grammy nominees. We’ll likely see similar efforts in the future as, across the globe, communities learn how to best navigate these situations.