For people like me who believe that few things are absolute, the law is a satisfying field in which to work. The right answer is whatever is reasonable under the circumstances, not a “rule” that someone claims has global application. Gravity is the same everywhere – most other things, not so much.
We intuitively understand this. We know that a sports event at a big city stadium has different resources, and requires different plans and skills from its staff, than an arena show in a secondary market; a nightclub is different than an outdoor shed; the crowd at a country show poses different issues than at an EDM festival.
Yet, we are flooded with “best practices” guides, whose title and premise suggest that there is a single right way to do something. That is not my experience, and I suspect it isn’t yours either.
Last week I gave a training at a convention center. In anticipation of my trip, I researched the types of events it hosted, and I reviewed the policy and procedure documents they sent me. When I arrived in town, the Safety Coordinator showed me around the entire venue. I do this seemingly aimless walking and talking everywhere I go, and invariably we find risks and challenges worth discussing. (I don’t seem like someone to stroll with no purpose, do I?)
Because I try to be reasonable under the circumstances, I always tailor my remarks to the people in the room. At the convention center, I turned my usual group deposition workshop into a one-on-one prep session for a staff person who was facing her first deposition in a high publicity wrongful death lawsuit. At a performing arts center earlier this month, I emphasized that their attendees are like sheep who need shepherds to move them, in order to motivate even their older volunteer guest services staff to appreciate their important role as crowd managers.
The fact that we know that one size does not fit all does not keep most of us from over-relying on “best practices” guides, contracts pulled off the internet or shared with a friend, or policy language copied from a listserve. Whether it is laziness, lack of self-confidence, or human nature, we routinely look for someone to tell us the Right Way. I find this scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian to be authoritative on this subject:
Brian: Please, please, please listen! I’ve got one or two things to say.
The Crowd: Tell us! Tell us both of them!
Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t NEED to follow ME, You don’t NEED to follow ANYBODY! You’ve got to think for your selves! You’re ALL individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in crowd: I’m not…
The Crowd: Sch!
I am obviously not opposed to guidance – my first meeting with many people in the live event industry was as an instructor. Any sane person would agree that it is easier to identify reasonable practices with the benefit of expertise and experience. A couple of examples are sufficient to illustrate this point: The Station nightclub fire reminds us of the importance of a licensed pyrotechnician; the Indiana State Fair roof collapse shows why we need engineers experienced with temporary outdoor structures. Even with the law that relates to live events and the venues that host them, it makes sense to learn from a lawyer who actually does this sort of work, rather than someone who reads an article or sleeps at a Holiday Inn Express.
Conversely, I (and the common law used in roughly half the nations on our planet) am opposed to slavishly following outside advice that is not tailored to your facts. Put another way, I favor people thinking through their own issues.
This brings me to the Event Safety Guide. Following a meeting between the Event Safety Alliance and then-Governor Mitch Daniels in early 2012, the Indiana legislature agreed not to pass a bevy of state-specific safety regulations in reaction to the State Fair disaster if the live event industry showed that it could effectively regulate itself. Using a consensus drafting approach and borrowing heavily from the U.K.’s Purple Guide, ESA got 35 chapters between hard covers by January, 2013. That was a great start, and we have just reduced the price to just $24.95 (which is a smoking deal even if you read no further than my Introduction’s stirring rhetorical flourishes).
I am pleased to report that the Second Edition of the Event Safety Guide will be even more user-friendly, applicable across national boundaries, and therefore even more reasonable. The good folks at ESTA (the Entertainment Services and Technology Association) have partnered with the Event Safety Alliance to establish a new Event Safety Working Group whose end-product will be a series of ANSI standards.
As with the First Edition, the writing and editing process will be collaborative and based on a consensus of volunteer contributors, although the process of formulating ANSI standards means that it will be differently organized this time. Working with others is more laborious than slinging platitudes from some ivory tower (like I’m doing here), but it has the essential advantage of allowing every idea to be challenged by another experienced subject matter expert before it sees daylight. This is why compliance with ANSI standards is strong evidence of reasonable conduct when applied to the right circumstances.
This also means that YOU can participate. If you have gotten this far, you probably care about your craft; you see this as a career, not just a job; and you are literate. If all this is true, here is an application to join the Event Safety Working Group and help create safety standards for live events and the venues that host them. Caveat: participation costs $100 per year per person. I just signed up and was invoiced a pro-rata share for 2016: $25. So blow off Starbucks for a couple of days and join us. Saving a life is an excellent morning pick-me-up.