Experience Design in the Age of Mass Shootings
“I’m so tired of looking for the closest exits at a show,” a friend recently wrote on social media. “Tired of being slightly anxious in public places because of what might happen.”
She was writing, of course, about the way rampant mass shootings have changed our consciousness.
“Whenever I’m in a public space, I think about what would happen if a mass shooting broke out,” author Geraldine DeRuiter similarly wrote in a now-viral tweet. “It’s a constant, low-level anxiety that follows me everywhere. I wonder if it’s just me. I don’t think it is.”
It’s not. And it’s a sentiment that we should take note of in the planning of live events.
While gun violence is an enormous issue that requires advocacy, intervention, and pleas to lawmakers, plus renewed consideration of everything from how we talk to our children to how we go about our quotidian activities, thoughtful experience designers can play a small part, too.
So how do we mitigate the risk of gun violence that now seems all-too-real at public gatherings? How do we address the psychological tension many audiences now bring with them to events? How do we keep attendees safe in a world where it’s seemingly increasingly difficult to do so?
Consider making the following elements a part of your pre-production checklist.
Develop detailed emergency plans.
Just as disaster preparedness plans help us deal with hurricanes and other natural disasters, emergency plans for active shooters can be invaluable. It’s critical that event organizers and security team members know who to communicate with and how, where to go, and what to do in a moment of crisis.
Of course, there are many tactical elements of these plans, too. Ensure multiple options for egress, for example, and ensure attendees know where they are. When the nature of the event permits, secure it perimeter by credentialing staff and closely controlling access. This list goes on.
Train as many people as possible.
Mass shooting preparedness is not about being alarmist; it’s about having the tools to maintain situational awareness and keep your wits about you.
So in addition to certifying event producers in basics like CPR and first aid, educate them on what to do in case someone opens fire. Many public and private organizations offer such training, and a review of the Department of Homeland Security’s active shooter preparedness resources is a good, accessible place to start.
In the face of fear and pumping adrenaline, we don’t always think clearly – but being well-trained improves our odds.
Have hard conversations. And hire security accordingly.
While a frightening number of shootings are wholly random, many are also targeted. Are there any disgruntled people event security needs to be aware of? Are there any controversial subjects being discussed or polarizing attendees expected? Prepping security in advance for these situations is of paramount importance.
And on that note, hire the right security and the right amount of it. Especially for a high-risk event, there is no substitute for security and law enforcement professionals, who can put themselves in the shoes of a would-be perpetrator, spot holes in a security plan, and handle any threats unflinchingly.
Less than a year after the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay Hotel — the deadliest one in modern U.S. history — The XD Agency was executing an event at the same venue. Part of the plan for guest arrivals had involved t-shirt cannons, but our head of production took one look at (and listen to) said cannons, which resembled machine guns, and advised the client it was a bad idea. “Our brand ambassador just threw the t-shirts to the crowd to avoid a mass stampede out of the arena.”
Not everyone has anxiety around mass shootings, of course, but even a cursory glance at social media, shows that many of us do. Showing thoughtful sensitivity to it — while also logistically preparing for the worst-case scenario — is appropriate.