Last week a judge in Cork suggested that organisers of teenage discos should begin to use breathalyzers among other measures to curb teenagers drinking at and around the events. While the stance the judge is taking is to be commended the reality is that the judge has probably never worked at or ran a teenage event. Teenage events can be ran with an acceptable level of safety but it requires investment and planning. The days of the throwing a few hundred teenagers into the village hall and hoping for the best are long gone. The risk and liability that go along with supervising teenage events is huge and this has to reflected in the security and safety measures. There is also a balance to be struck between managing liability and doing the right thing morally. All of these subjects I would like to look at in the next few paragraphs.
The most spoken about announcement made by the judge and agreed with by a lot of people in social media was the use of random alcohol breath testing at these events. I personally don’t agree with the idea. I think its a short sighted knee jerk reaction which makes for a good newspaper headline but delivers very little return on investment.
I don’t agree with it because it isn’t needed. If a venue hires trained professional door supervisors then why do they need to breathalyse people? Only if they dredge the bottom of the barrel and find the cheapest security provider they can find or John from down the road who has a licence will they run into trouble. No door supervisor worth his/her salt needs a machine to tell when a person has been drinking.
I also fail to see what the point is in doing a breath test. If it comes back with a result that a person has been drinking then what? Any difference to a door supervisor making a decision? What do you now do with a kid who has consumed alcohol and is now on your doorstep (I’ll talk about that in a second). Some might say that if the kid has a high reading then send them straight to medics. However where does the power to compel a child to go to the medics come from? Nowhere as far as I know. Let’s say the kid refuses to go? Now what?
Liability v Morality
This is where parents and event organisers need to step up the the plate and work together to take responsibility for these children. From a liability point of view the safest thing for the venue to do is to refuse entry and not accept liability for a person who is intoxicated. Problem solved from a liability point of view and they are completely entitled to do so. Now the nurturing parents will be up in arms on this one. My little Johnny or Mary left outside in a vulnerable state after I be trusted them with their safety. So now morals kick in. Is it right morally to leave this kid outside drunk to their own devices? Most would say no, so what’s the solution. The solution is parents taking personal responsibility for the behavior of their kids and event organisers taking responsibility for an issue they have helped to create (liability or not). Parent cant just abdicate their responsibility by buying a ticket and denying any ownership of their child’s actions after that. Similarly event organisers cant just invite children to an event and then turn them away at the door and say not my problem. Don’t worry I’ll go into a little more detail further down
Another area of concern is the searching of children at these events. Of course in order to manage risk some form of searching may be appropriate. However the risk and liability here is huge. How can a child who cannot vote, drink,smoke or engage in a variety of other adult only habits give consent to a search? Put simply they cannot. They cant be expected to understand the risks or implications of this consent so they cant give it. Their parents can give their consent but this must be expressed and confirmed. In order to give that consent parent should be reassured that the people doing the searches are trained and qualified to do so. People coming into contact with children as part of their role should have safeguarding training and should be properly vetted and supervised.
Simple solution is that the terms of entry including the search procedure should be on the ticket and the parent must read and sign the ticket for the child to get past the initial check point.
Removing teenagers can be tricky. Especially where force is required. Of curse the law makes no distinction in age when it comes to reasonable force but society does. With young people the risk of injury is higher and the sense of consequence is lower. How to we manage this? The simple solution is through additional security staff. A 1:50 ratios is advised for these type of event and a general policy of no single person removals is a good start. Two person removal is preferable with the presence of the safeguarding officer as soon as possible during he vent to supervise. Every removal should be recorded and the child should be removed to the welfare area and supervised until a parent can be contacted.
Risk management costs money
This is a simple reality. To provide proper security at events requires proper investment in resources and training. The days of booking some former big name DJ and the cheapest local security company to secure an event full of vulnerable teenagers is gone. Ramming the place full with young people to maximise profit and hoping for the best is no longer good enough. To secure events successfully you have to pay for professional security, medical and safety services. It also requires proper engagement with schools and parents. It starts with a good event management pplan covering these areas and moves onto a proper risk assessment and security plan
- Parents buy the ticket and are a given a wristband and a ticket. The wristband is numbered to coincide with the ticket number.The wristband should have a space for the parents contact details and must be worn at all times by the child at the event. This includes from the time that the child boards a bus to the event.
- The ticket (which must be bought by a parent) has the terms and conditions clearly laid out on the back and the parent must sign to say that they consent to the child abiding by these terms and conditions. The back of the ticket should have written the child’s name and the mode of collection for the child to get home from the event. The child must carry the ticket to the entry point where the ticket will be taken and checked against the wristband. All tickets will be collated and stored in the control room/medical room in case they are needed.
- Every event should have a qualified safety/safeguarding officer on site to look after safety and welfare issues. There should also be proper medical cover. Not just Paul the local first aid guy or security who are also first aid trained.
- Every event should have a dedicated welfare area outside of the premises staffed by medics and supervised by security staff.
- Part of the conditions of entry should state clearly what will happen if the child is refused entry due to intoxication or behaviour. This should include that the child will be held at the welfare area (with the parents consent) until a suitable adult or a Garda can remove them.
- Having a couple of Gardaí on non public duty on site is an advantage particularly in the curtilage area where alcohol may be consumed.
- Where buses are provided as part of the event it should be made clear that this forms part of the event. No drinks should be allowed on the buses and each bus should have a security person on them. This doesn’t need to be additional security. They can easily be redeployed inside the venue once the bus arrives.
- If a school(s) or community type event then consider having some parent volunteer on site for the night bit for deterrence, transparency and reassurance.
I believe that all of the above are a much better investment of time and money than breathalysers for children. I have worked many teenage events and have written event plans and security plans for them. They can be made both safe and enjoyable for children with a little investment and planning. Event organisers who moan about the proposed costs usually see the return on investment in larger number of attendees once parents and the local community see the event running safely. Engagement and safety are the keys not knee jerk reactions and fear mongering. The majority of children who enjoy these events are tarred with the same brush as the few who grossly misbehave and attract attention. That’s not fair on them or on the event but it is a reality. A reality that organisers and parents must face and manage.