Friday, April 17, 2009

Poor security at SLU event a problem

Two thousand people descended upon St. Lawrence University on Saturday, April 11 for an event that promised to be memorable. The concert, featuring performer Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis), turned out to be memorable for different reasons than the norm. The Association for Campus Entertainment of SLU was underprepared for the 2,000 people and security was unable to control the crowd. The show, which started an hour late, was shut down after 25 minutes. Luckily for paying ticketholders, Gillis returned to the stage and fulfilled his contracted hour of performance. Gillis did his best to make up for the night's many setbacks with his high-energy performance.

The sheer number of people who attended the event was clearly more than the organization had ever dealt with before. Security checks at the main entrance were abysmal. SUNY Potsdam student Jon Wendt had a pen confiscated, while others entered with contraband that was seen throughout the evening, including beer bottles, cans, lighters, cigarettes and marijuana-the scent of which wafted noticeably through the Leithead Fieldhouse on several occasions. Bathroom facilities (port-a-potties) and water jugs were inadequate and unguarded.

Although doors opened an hour early, according to ACE, approximately 800-1,000 attendees arrived ten minutes before the event was set to begin. This mob caused event planners to make the decision to change start time to 10:30 p.m. Although they claimed (in their message to event attendees) that the event began at 10:30 p.m., in actuality, Gregg Gillis did not enter until 11 p.m. Amber Schmidt, sophomore theater major, was affected by the crowd outside. She recounted events that prevented her entry into the building: "I bought a ticket, I was really excited, but I went all the way there for nothing…just to stand around in the cold getting pushed around by drunk people and watching security do nothing." Twenty minutes after 10 p.m., she said the door was shut. After 20 minutes of waiting around with around 300 drunken people and no progress made, she and alumnus BJ LaBrake gave up on the event, both forfeiting their $15 tickets.

ACE concert chairs Sam Tyler and Casey O'Brien enumerated that there were "8 SLU security, 6 student safety employees, 14 uniformed ACE affiliates and exec members working enforcement, 4 school administrators [and] 6 EMTs and 1st responders on scene." It was arranged before the event, through contract stipulation, that 15 audience members would be allowed on stage at a time from designated stage right stairs. This plan quickly disintegrated when people jumped the front boundary (where there was no active security) and got on the stage. Dancers on the stage crowded Gillis, stood on his equipment table and climbed the speaker stacks. The few security members were unable to hold back the crowd, and the rush caused the show to be shut down because of danger to the performers and attendees.

The behavior of the majority of the crowd was nauseating. Clearly intoxicated (whether with alcohol or drugs) attendees tripped, behaved obnoxiously and made sober attendees uncomfortable. The crowd was, at best, outrageous. The manner in which our peers chose to conduct themselves in public is concerning. Event planners removed only a few over-intoxicated attendees (at least eight people had been transported to Canton-Potsdam Hospital before the event even began).

It is unfair to blame the conduct of the crowd and ACE's lack of preparation on the performer. It was clear after the break that Girl Talk was enthusiastic about continuing the event. He made an effort to compensate for the lack of action on stage by moving around and dancing.

Soon after healthy dialogue between attendees about their grievances began on the Facebook event, someone from the organization with administrator privileges deleted the event, and thus all of the content.

One final side-note was the unnecessary mass of toiler paper waste produced by two blowers on the stage. Approximately 20 rolls of toilet paper were blown into the crowd and turned to a soggy mess on the floor. The piles made it difficult to find lost possessions after the concert and was atrocious in the face of Earth week's approach.

ACE concert chair Casy O'Brien gave insight into future planning considerations: they would "request that the setup company bring extra barricades for outside the doors" and "gve people some incentive to arrive more than 20 minutes before the show starts." One way to draw students into such a big event sooner would be to have an opening act.

Hopefully ACE and other similar student organizations learn from the shortcomings of planning for the Girl Talk event. If any student organization chooses to hold such a major event again, perhaps they should take a more detailed look at the things that could go wrong.

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