The people in charge of security at the Gilroy Garlic Festival relied on the industry’s best practices, employing tall fences and metal detectors and coordinating among several law enforcement agencies.
They responded to Sunday’s assault within a minute and neutralized the shooter despite being outgunned.
And yet they couldn’t prevent a tragedy – three deaths and at least 12 people injured.
The attack illustrates the difficult of protecting an outdoor event in a large venue, especially when weapons that can kill multiple people in a matter of seconds are easily accessible.
Police in the Northern California town of Gilroy, about 80 miles southeast of San Francisco, said the gunman cut through a back fence and used an assault-type rifle legally purchased in Nevada to gun down visitors at the popular festival’s final day.
“The unique thing about a festival-type environment is the planners have to walk a very fine line,’’ said Jason Porter, vice president of operations for the security firm Pinkerton. “Obviously they’re responsible for providing a secure and safe environment, but they also have to have an open environment to draw the crowd. It’s increasingly a challenge, especially in an outdoor-type event.’’
The yearly garlic festival, which raises money for local charities and nonprofits, draws crowds of 80,000 to 100,000. Chicago’s Lollapalooza, a four-day series of concerts that this year begins Thursday, is expected to attract four times that many. In the wake of Sunday’s attack in California, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city would have a “robust security plan’’ in place for the music festival.
Still, industry experts acknowledge no plan is foolproof, and outdoor events are more difficult to secure because they lack the built-in protections of solid structures and because the crowds are harder to control. Porter said the top four security priorities, in order, are to deter, then delay, detect and finally respond to attacks.
By all accounts, the Gilroy police officers performed admirably. Three of them confronted Legan with their handguns, exchanged gunfire and killed him, thereby preventing worse carnage.
“Law enforcement, they weren’t good, they were great,’’ said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who visited some of the injured in a hospital. “Law enforcement, the brave. They deserve so much credit. They have your back.’’
And according to Mike Susong, senior vice president for global risk service at the risk-management firm WorldAware, the officers took the correct preventive steps, based on 40 previous years of such festivals.
Susong, who used to be based in San Francisco, compared security preparations to what he saw this year in Washington, D.C.
“I was in downtown for the Fourth of July in D.C., and I would say Gilroy used a lot of the best practices they had there,’’ Susong said, mentioning the 6-foot perimeter fences, bag searches and metal detectors at the entrance, along with a police command center on the premises. “Police did a lot of good things.’’
But Susong acknowledged that the suspect likely avoided metal detectors and gained access using a tool that can be easily purchased at a hardware store for $40, highlighting a vulnerability that may need to be addressed at this and other events.
“That does become an area that now maybe needs to be more vigilantly monitored,’’ Susong said. “But I’m not in any way second-guessing the job the Gilroy law enforcement did.’’
Industry insiders say there have been several advancements in security since the October 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, where a gunman positioned in a room at the Mandalay Bay hotel killed 58 concertgoers and wounded hundreds at an outdoor festival in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Coordination between law enforcement agencies is much better now, experts said, and high-tech tools like artificial intelligence and facial recognition have improved their chances of keeping crowds safe.
But the task remains challenging.
“Anything we do in the security industry is constantly changing and evolving because threats are constantly changing and evolving,’’ Porter said. “We really like to look at it as, the top threat that exists today didn’t exist two years ago. The top threat two years from now probably doesn’t exist today.’’
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise in Gilroy, California
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting: Outdoor events harder to secure