Music festivals are a big part of the music industry. But where are they going in the future? We’ll be exploring that in our series The Music Festival of the Future.

With the events of the past year in our recent memory and the current volatile social climate in the U.S., the concept of safety at music festivals, now and in the future, is a multi-faceted issue we can’t seem to ignore anymore. With the future of music festivals in jeopardy, we need to lower the perceived risk of attending a festival to investors and music lovers. The only question is, how do you improve safety at music festivals going forward?

3 ways festivals are using to improve security and safety at music festivals

Providing health education and resources for drug use

This one is a pretty controversial topic. Considering there’s pretty solid proof that abstinence-only education isn’t exactly working, let’s look at some alternatives that help decrease general harm for the population that do end up deciding to participate in drug use.

drug amnesty sign safety at music festivalsNon-profits are popping up in the United Kingdom that offer free drug testing kits at clubs and festivals. Instead of taking substances of unknown quality blindly, these non-profits help inform the general population what exactly is in the drug they are taking.

Contamination can lead to a greater risk of death. For one popular festival drug, MDMA, also known as ecstasy,  toxicity-related deaths have seen “an eightfold increase in deaths … in five years, rising to 63 in 2016 from an all-time low of eight in 2010.” The hope is that knowing how much and of what you are taking will help you make educated decisions regarding consumption.

Another way to decrease overdosing by rash drug ingestion is to reduce or eliminate the use of bomb dogs.

What? How do bomb dogs affect drug use? That makes no sense!

A common misconception is that working police dogs at festivals are narcotics dogs when, in fact, they are simply bomb dogs. The presence of dogs tends to make people anxious. A lot of individuals think dogs are “sniffer dogs” who are trained to find narcotics on your person. This anxiety results in individuals sometimes overdosing due to in order to not get caught with the drug, instead of simply taking the amount they wanted to once inside the festival. That means people are dropping way more drugs than they would otherwise, simply because they saw a dog and assumed it was trained to find drugs.

If the dog actually is a sniffer dog, you’re likely not even at that high of a risk. They only catch drug users about 26% of the time, which is wildly ineffective. The $6,000 an hour wage it costs to have only one sniffer dog could be reallocated towards more tried-and-true (and more effective) methods to prevent drug use.

Improving target hardening and attack prevention

With the tragedy of Las Vegas in the last year, terrorist attacks seem to be on everyone’s mind when they’re in a large crowd, especially a music festival. With little progress on gun control, there are methods that not only music festival planners can take, but also what attendees can prepare for. This is referred to as “target hardening” in the police world, and it simply covers all bases of preparing and preventing an attack.

beach cops safety at music festivalsThere are already metal detectors at most music festivals, which can help with detecting concealed weapons. There are many different opinions by professionals on what is the most important part in planning for the safety at music festivals in the future, but many of them can agree it is important to have strict entrance screening, a perimeter looking outward, and high-alert, security-trained teams watching for potential threats.

As an attendee, it’s always good to have spatial awareness, and use the motto made famous in the New York City Subway, “If you see something, say something.” You won’t get in trouble for reporting someone’s suspicious-looking bag, even if it’s only filled with kandi. It is important for people to realize the police and security teams are there to help and keep you safe, not to get you in trouble.

Say tragedy does strike, and there is an active threat on site: the next step to increasing the safety at music festivals in the future is to have what is called a lockdown area, which is a secure area within the festival grounds that offers cover and concealment to festival goers; a place to essentially run to for safety.

Ending harassment with the community’s help

If those measures are taken to keep your physical body safe, the next step is to make sure music festivals are a safe space for attendees emotionally as well. Many festival attendees embrace PLUR culture, which means “peace, love, unity, and respect.” You would assume with such core values that there would be little to no harassment occurring at festivals. You would be mistaken.

PLUR safety at music festivalsWe’ve seen videos of famous stars calling out sexual harassment, but we can’t rely on or expect an artist to stop an entire show because of an individual’s actions. We’ve also seen the suggestion of female-only festivals put into action. Don’t get me wrong, that sounds amazing and an easy short-term solution, but separating people by gender for the rest of eternity.

It’s also not just females who experience harassment—it’s the LGTBQ community, POC, the disabled—the list goes on. How do we fix it?

I wish I had a broad solution that solves the issue in its entirety, but it’s inherently woven into the music industry. It’s generally a male-dominated industry with high-paid execs and top-billed artists consistently being heterosexual males.

There is one solution that’s being proposed in Australia. On a high level, flip the script. Support festivals that have top billed acts that are females, LGTBQ, or POC.

On a more engaged level, the festivals should focus resources on training employees to understand and recognize harassment and assault, and work towards creating a safe environment for all music lovers alike. Your Choice, a non-profit “music industry supported initiative, created to address the growing cultural issues and harmful behavior within our landscape” has garnered support from huge artists such as Flume and Dune Rats, and it is a step in the right direction.

Overall, safety at music festivals a tough subject to address. There are so many valid concerns for safety that should be addressed extensively. The first step in moving in the right direction is engaging in conversation and finding where the industry needs improvement.

What do you think? Are there more ways to help attendees feel safe at music festivals? Let us know on Twitter.

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