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Coachella using drones, security plans enacted after 9/11 to prevent Las Vegas-type incident

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Drones and more armed security will be employed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to help to prevent the kind of horrific attack that left 58 people dead at a Las Vegas music festival in in October.

Goldenvoice president and CEO Paul Tollett says a planned increase in armed security is proportionate with the festival’s growth and changes in society.

“It’s just a part of safety,” he said in an interview last month on the music festival grounds. “There are more people at the show, so, it’s a higher profile.”

Roughly 250,000 people are expected at the festival April 13-15 and April 20-22 at two Indio polo clubs, and Indio police say they can assure those fans, and their parents, that a nationwide team of law enforcement and security personnel are planning for every contingency learned from previous catastrophes.

“Our number one priority is public safety,” said public information officer Sgt. Dan Marshall. “We want people to know that they’re safe. We want people to know that we are well planned.”

Drones have been called a “radical” new security implementation. Marshall said their use is an experiment. Goldenvoice has contracted with a licensed, certified drone service to be put at the disposal of the Indio police. The department will use it to view traffic problems and “issues that pop up." But those issues are undetermined.

“We don’t know if this is the type of event that lends itself to (drones),” said Marshall. “We have to follow all rules. We can’t over-fly cars, we can’t over-fly crowds, we can’t do any of that stuff unless we deem that it’s a public safety issue. Then we could make that happen."

Marshall, like Tollett, declined to reveal details of the Coachella security plan. But, Marshall said most health and security measures are more subtle than drones and armed guards.

The plan to move the large, electronic music-filled Sahara tent west, away from the mid-size Mojave and Gobi tents, is significant, Marshall said, because it will lighten human traffic patterns. Security people look at whether a pass-through area is too narrow, causing congestion that increases stress, or too broad, which could cause the festival to lose space on another congested field at the Empire and Eldorado polo clubs.

Security planning has been a priority since the festival’s launch in 1999, Tollett said. But more entities are now involved in the planning.

Following the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Music festival in Las Vegas, plus mass killings in the past two years at nightclubs in Miami and Manchester, England, and the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, France, more than 1,000 live event producers gathered for an industry conference at the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, where a man had fired on Route 91 festival-goers from the 32nd floor just two months earlier.

Police, fire, federal Homeland Security officials, private security officials and even the head of customer safety for the Las Vegas Conventions and Visitors Authority spoke at the XLIVE conference on issues ranging from training to detect improvised explosive devices to a federal program that encourages promoters to share proprietary information with security partners by protecting them from civil liability and Freedom of Information Act requests.

The overriding message of a seminar and workshop on safety and security was, “The importance of planning can’t be overstated.”

Ashour Ebrahim, director of health and safety for AEG Presents, Goldenvoice’s partner in Coachella and many other music festivals across the country, said in an interview at the XLIVE conference he works with multiple law enforcement and security officials to create unique security plans for each festival.

“It takes all security professionals to work together with federal, state and local partners, private sector security companies," he said. "How are we going to try to prevent these (mass shooting) events from happening? That takes a lot of proper planning in order to see what the needs are.”

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