As hospitality and entertainment venues reopen for business, today’s episode guest says as much attention needs to be paid to security as cleanliness. Listen in as Collins & Lacy Retail and Hospitality practice chair attorney, Christian Stegmaier, speaks with security expert, William Flynn. Listen Here.
Michael Burney: Welcome to The Legal Bench. I’m Michael Burney, Director of Business Development at Collins and Lacy Law Firm in Columbia, South Carolina. As hospitality and entertainment venues become active again, security in addition to cleanliness strategies should be in place. Collins and Lacy attorney, Chair of our Retail and Hospitality Practice Group, Christian Stegmaier speaks to an industry security expert today.
Christian Stegmaier: William Flynn is a domestic and international security expert and President of Garda Risk Management. He’s also the co-founder and chief strategy officer for the Power of Preparedness, LLC. Bill has more than 30 years of domestic and international counterterrorism, military, and public safety experience.
When I was perusing Linked-In this week I saw a pop-up from a hospitality lawyer, which is probably one of the leading sources of information about all things legal concerning hospitality, and I saw that Mr. Flynn had recently presented at the Hospitality Lawyer Conference, which is brought to us by Stephen Barth down in Houston and probably the leading expert in hospitality law in the entire country, and what I saw Bill was participating in was a presentation involving exhibition and venue security protecting mass gatherings. That is certainly something that anybody that is open for business is thinking about as far as security goes, so I wanted to get Bill on our podcast and talk a little bit about his recent talk and recent presentations on exhibition and venue security and protecting mass gatherings. So, Bill why don’t you tell us a little bit more about that.
William (Bill) Flynn: Well thank you Christian. I very much enjoy the opportunity to speak with you and to your audience. I’ve been doing venue security for most of my law enforcement and career at the Department of Homeland Security. The issue that I’ve got some concerns about and we were stressing during this recent engagement was the fact that we’ve been focused so much on safety this past year, that’s clearly a reasonable objective and something we’re all concerned about with COVID and making sure that facilities are safe for the public and patrons and there’s been a fair amount of expense devoted to that and my concern is we can’t take our eye off of security. While safety is extremely important, it shouldn’t be at the expense of dropping our attention to the security concerns that were there pre-COVID and the security concerns that are there as we get out of this COVID timeframe, and I would argue that we’re really dynamic threatened environment right now and that those threats that we saw pre-COVID are there and maybe even greater in this evolving post-COVID era. What I mean by that is we’re still dealing to a degree with the threat of transnational terrorists. We degraded the ability for organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda to plan attacks in the Homeland, so we degraded them because of the success of our military overseas and the success of our law enforcement and intelligence capabilities here within the United States, but you know, there’s still a threat there and threat is driven by people that become radicalized over the internet that might have aliening and then they start to visit worksites to become radicalized, they enter into chatrooms, they learn how to acquire precursing materials and firearms, and so forth. And it’s very simple in many cases for them to carry out an attack. In fact, when we talk about mass gatherings and public assembly venues, it was only a year ago-May of last year, where there was a plot against a facility in Tampa, Florida. It was a very serious one because the individual had undertaken online research, onsite preoperational visa, so he looked at potential targets, he then homed in on a particular target at Honeymoon Park in the Tampa Bay area. He visited that site to do his on-site preoperational surveillance. He then went about acquiring firearms training and associated things that he could then carry out the attack. Well fortunately, the FBI was able to infiltrate that plot, courted it, and arrested this individual on charges of trying to provide and support to ISIS, an international terrorists organization, so that threat has not diminished or gone away entirely. The other thing we’re dealing with here is just a home grown and a domestic violent extremist. This past year we’ve seen rioting and situations across the United States in major cities, so that domestic violent extremism groups are there. They’re something that we need to be concerned about. Law Enforcement is paying a lot of attention. The FBI is paying a lot of attention. The FBI about a week ago put out a notification to law enforcement agencies across the United States and in essence what they were saying was be ready for a long hot summer. What they felt is that with the warmer weather approaching, with the COVID restrictions diminishing, locality should be preparing themselves for a strong potential for increase crime and increased violence, and even during COVID and certainly into this calendar year of 2021, while most crime categories have gone down during that COVID period, the one thing that has not gone down is mass shootings. Mass shootings set a record last year in 2020 and this year we are outpacing what we did last year. There were 10 mass shootings this past weekend across the United States. So, it’s a very very dynamic environment and because we’ve been so focused on safety, I’m concerned that venues might take their eye off the ball and maybe spending resources ensuring that facilities are clean and that’s important but at the same time we’ve got to make sure that those security measures are still in place in preparation for real things.
CS: So as an outside expert, where do you come in as far as all this goes?
BF: I work with associations like the International Association of Venue Managers, the International Association of Events and Exhibitions. I work with individual venues. We are doing training for these associations so that they can provide their members with workplace violence, active shooter, preparedness and response, verbal de-escalation. An element of the environment that we’re in is that people are stressed out. There are a lot of things that have gone on dynamically whether it’s healthcare concerns, economic uncertainty, people being out of work, societal unrest, causes stress and stress leads to violence and so teaching your frontline employees how to deescalate in a personal situation that may be getting elevated is very very important. So, the venues are taking it very seriously and I applaud the associations like IAVM AND IAEE that are taking steps to give this kind of training to their members.
CS: I think it’s fair to say just in light of what you’ve related that at one point when an event like this happened, and this is probably years ago at this point, when something like this happened, a defense in that case and if there was a civil matter that arose thereafter was, this is completely anticipated, we would have never contemplated this ever happened. Kind of analgias to some of the defenses you saw in the 9/11 litigation where folks had never anticipated airline jets crashing into buildings but when you reference things like the incidence and the prevalence of shootings that happen in public areas almost on a weekly basis, that whole defense of unanticipated event has seemingly gone out the window. I think that’s fair to say, isn’t it?
BF: Yeah, I would agree. Kind of what we’re seeing now and the ____________ scenes and loads of attack are dynamic. Organizations really need to evaluate their risk, to conduct an assessment, see where their potential gaps are and address those gaps either through training, technology, additional security forces. I can tell you that a game changer in this whole world of public assembly, mass gatherings was 2015 Paris. The attack that took place there really changed the paragon, especially for sports venues in the United States. Major league baseball, the NFL, most of the leagues looked at what happened there in Paris. 130 people killed. The primary target was the soccer stadium. That’s where the president of France was attending the game. 3 individuals would be improvising explosive devices attempted to get into that facility. Fortunately, they were thwarted because security knew that their behavior was suspicious. There was an ominous element to what they were doing. Security stopped questioning them, so while people were killed it prevented this attack against the stadium and probably several hundred people being killed. But there was a complex attack, so it was not only the target of the stadium. Then hit cafes, they then hit a performing arts center. 90 people were killed in that performing arts center. So, the sports league said look this is a gamechanger. If this happens in one of our facilities, it’s going to impact all our facilities, and this is the way we have to look at these things. It’s a collective responsibility. It’s a responsibility for everybody to say we want to make sure our facilities are secure. And that means taking an evaluation of what the event is going to be taking place. Some events taking place are going to be at a higher risk just by the nature of the venue itself. You have to evaluate that and it’s a shared responsibility from that brick and mortar facility and the event organizers to make sure that there’s enhanced security for that. The sports leagues have done a great job in doing that. I can’t say the same across the board. I think there is still a need for improvement in many other areas of security for public assembly kind of venues. There’s one _______________________ that’s very good but by enlarge in my opinion, more needs to be done in certain areas that can raise the bar of security so people can get back and feel very safe.
CS: I want to wrap up and ask you a question just outlining kind of what the standard is in South Carolina. We at one point from a venue standpoint, the standard was unless you had knowledge of a hemming and thread or operated a place of such a character where you knew or should anticipate violence, there wasn’t really any sort of liability. But, the caselaw has changed in South Carolina within the last ten years by the Supreme Court and probably the most important case is Bass v. Gopal, which is a hotel case involving third-party assault. In that matter, the Supreme Court said forget about the old standard. The new standard was way into the equation the realities of today’s society that if you’re open to the public, you owe a minimum standard or a minimum level of security to the folks that come onto your property and the Supreme Court went further to say we’re not necessarily going to define that standard that if there’s a litigated matter about third-party assault, it is expert driven. So, I guess my question is, I know you’re operating in all sorts of different states and all different states and all sorts of different states have different standards. But as far as being able to come on to a property prospectively when you talk about preparation, I’m assuming that one of the things in your wheelhouse is being able to come onto a property and work with that owner and operator and say from a minimum security standpoint, this is what you need to be having in place.
BF: Yeah that’s exactly right. And I’m not surprised that the caselaw changes in South Carolina. I think that’s indicative of what we’re seeing in other parts of the country as well. Every facility has a responsibility to conduct and assess, whether that’s inhouse or a third-party, to really look at people and have expertise in this area that can evaluate what are the threats. When we look at risk, we look at risk from three components. What is the probability of an incident or an event taking place, and that’s quote to threat, what are the vulnerabilities of that facility, and third what are the consequences? And, so, let’s take an active shooter as an example. So, someone might say the probability or likelihood of an active shooter in my facility is rather limited. Now I would argue that that trend is going in the direction where the likelihood is increasing, although go along with the fact that it maybe not in meaning to be a high likely threat. But let’s take a look at the vulnerabilities. How open is your facility? How secure is it? What procedures and practices and training do you have in place? In most cases, public assembly, mass gathering, hospitality venues are open, they’re welcoming, and security is minimal. Unless you step it up and start looking at the sports leagues, and years ago when we went to baseball games, you never went through a metal detector. You never saw explosive detection K9 teams around there. Nowadays, that’s common practice. There are bag searches, there’s metal detectors, there’s explosive detection K9. I’m not saying that needs to be the case in every hospitality venue, but my point is you look at risk from the probability perspective, from a vulnerability perspective, and then what are the consequences. And the consequences of an event are severe. Not only lives are lost, but the financial impacts. We live in a litigious society. There are lawsuits. There are damages. There are counseling, medical bills, and then there’s brand. The brand, the franchise involved takes a hit. That can be devastating. Walmart closed down their El Paso facility because of an active shooter event that took place there in 2019, because it becomes a crime scene. That crime scene can last so many days, often times weeks, and sometimes months. So, venues being able to deal with that kind of a consequence is very difficult. If you haven’t done some baseline things by at least training your people, you’re not likely to be able to defend yourself when an incident happens and loses start.
CS: William Flynn, domestic and international security expert. President of Garda Risk Management and co-founder and chief strategy officer for the Power of Preparedness. Bill, how do we find you on the internet?
BF: You can go to PowerofPreparedness.com. That’s our website. I can do my security consulting from there. You can see the training and services that we provide. We have a LinkedIn workplace security form. You can find me on LinkedIn williamflynn@gardariskmanagement or the Power of Preparedness. Join our workplace security form. We put out lots of tips and best practices on a regular basis. My phone number is 910-233-0045 and it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And thank you Christian and thanks everybody for listening in on this important topic.
CS: And thank you very much.
MB: For more legal news and information of interest to South Carolina businesses join us right here for the next episode of The Legal Bench.