When most people think of Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney World Resort comes to mind. The world-renowned theme park makes Orlando the second most popular travel destination in the United States. But there is much more to the city than Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Beyond the complex infrastructure that supports Orlando’s 2.3 million citizens, the city is filled with parks and wildlife, the largest university in the country, and a vast hospitality industry that includes more than 118,000 hotel rooms. And International Drive, an 11-mile thoroughfare through the city, is home to attractions such as Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, and the Orange County Convention Center, the site of ASIS International’s 62nd Annual Seminar and Exhibits this month.
Hospitality goes hand-in-hand with security in Orlando, where local businesses and attractions see a constant flow of tourists from all over the world. And at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts events ranging from Broadway shows to concerts to community education and events, a new security director is changing the culture of theater to keep performers, staff, and visitors safe.
The Living Room of the City
Open since November 2014, the Dr. Phillips Center spans two blocks and is home to a 2,700-seat main stage, a 300-seat theater, and the Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts. The building’s striking architecture, which includes a canopy roof, vast overhang, and a façade made almost entirely of glass, stretches across two blocks and is complemented by a front lawn and plaza.
After the June 11 shooting at Pulse nightclub less than two miles south of the theater, that lawn became the city’s memorial. Days after the shooting, the Dr. Phillips Center plaza, normally used for small concerts or events, hosted Orlando’s first public vigil. A makeshift memorial was established on the lawn, and dozens of mourners visited for weeks after the attack.
Chris Savard, a retired member of the Orlando Police Department, started as the center’s director of security in December, shortly after terrorists killed dozens and injured hundreds in attacks on soft targets in Paris. Prior to Savard, the center had no security director. Coming from a law enforcement background to the theater industry was a challenging transition, he says.
“Before I came here, I was with an FBI terrorism task force,” Savard says. “Bringing those ideologies here to the performing arts world, it’s just a different culture. Saying ‘you will do security, this is the way it is’ doesn’t work. You have to ease into it.”
The Dr. Phillips Center was up and running for a year before Savard started, so he had to focus on strategic changes to improve security: “The building is already built, so we need to figure out what else we can do,” he says. One point of concern was an overhang above the valet line right at the main entrance. Situated above the overhang is a glass-walled private donor lounge, and Savard notes that anyone could have driven up to the main entrance under the overhang and set off a bomb, causing maximum damage. “It was a serious chokepoint,” he explains, “and the building was designed before ISIS took off, so there wasn’t much we could do about the overhang.”
Instead, he shifted the valet drop-off point, manned by off-duty police officers, further away from the building. “We’ve got some people saying, ‘Hey, I’m a donor and I don’t want to walk half a block to come to the building, I want to park my vehicle here, get out, and be in the air conditioning.’ It’s a tough process, but it’s a work in progress. Most people have not had an issue whatsoever in regards to what we’ve implemented.”
Savard also switched up the use of off-duty police officers in front of the Dr. Phillips Center. He notes that it can be costly to hire off-duty police officers, who were used for traffic control before he became the security director, so he reduced the number of officers used and stationed them closer to the building. He also uses a K-9 officer, who can quickly assess a stopped or abandoned vehicle on the spot.
“When you pull into the facility, you see an Orlando Police Department K-9 officer SUV,” Savard explains. “We brought two other valet officers closer to the building, so in any given area you have at least four police cars or motorcycles that are readily available. We wanted to get them closer so it was more of a presence, a deterrent.” The exact drop-off location is constantly changing to keep people on their toes, he adds.
The Dr. Phillips Center was already using Andy Frain Services, which provides uniformed officers to patrol the center around the clock. Annette DuBose manages the contracted officers.
When he started in December, Savard says he was surprised that no bag checks were conducted. When he brought up the possibility of doing bag checks, there was some initial pushback—it’s uncommon for theater centers to perform any type of bag check. “In the performing arts world, this was a big deal,” Savard says. “You have some high-dollar clientele coming in, and not a lot of people want to be inconvenienced like that.”
When Savard worked with DuBose and her officers to implement bag checks, he said everyone was astonished at what the officers were finding. “I was actually shocked at what people want to bring in,” Savard says. “Guns, knives, bullets. I’ve got 25-plus years of being in law enforcement, and seeing what people bring in…it’s a Carole King musical! Why are you bringing your pepper spray?”
Savard acknowledges that the fact that Florida allows concealed carry makes bag checks mandatory—and tricky. As a private entity, the Dr. Phillips Center can prohibit guns, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to bring them in, he notes. The Andy Frain officers have done a great job at kindly but firmly asking patrons to take their guns back to their cars, Savard says—and having a police officer nearby helps when it comes to argumentative visitors.
Culture, Community, and Customer Service
There have been more than 300 performances since the Dr. Phillips Center opened, and with two stages, the plaza, classrooms, and event spaces, there can be five or six events going on at once.
“This is definitely a soft target here in Orlando,” Savard notes. “With our planned expansion, we can have 5,000 people in here at one time. What a target—doing something in downtown Orlando to a performing arts center.”
The contract officers and off-duty police carry out the core of the security- related responsibilities, but Savard has also brought in volunteers to augment the security presence. As a nonprofit theater, the Dr. Phillips Center has a large number of “very passionate” volunteers—there are around 50 at each show, he says.
The volunteers primarily provide customer service, but Savard says he wants them to have a security mindset, as well—“the more eyes, the better.” He teaches them basic behavioral assessment techniques and trends they should look for.
“You know the guy touching his lower back, does he have a back brace on or is he trying to keep the gun in his waistband from showing?” Savard says. “Why is that person out there videotaping where people are being dropped off and parking their cars? Is it a bad guy who wants to do something?”
All 85 staffers at the Dr. Phillips Center have taken active shooter training classes, and self-defense classes are offered as well. Savard tries to stress situational awareness to all staff, whether they work in security or not.
“One of the things I really want to do is get that active shooter mindset into this environment, because this is the type of environment where it’s going to happen,” Savard explains. “It’s all over the news.”
Once a month, Savard and six other theater security directors talk on the phone about the trends and threats they are seeing, as well as the challenges with integrating security into the performing arts world.
“Nobody wanted the cops inside the building at all, because it looked too militant,” Savard says. “And then we had Paris, and things changed. With my background coming in, I said ‘Listen, people want to see the cops.’”
Beyond the challenge of changing the culture at the Dr. Phillips Center, Savard says he hopes security can become a higher priority at performing arts centers across the country. The Dr. Phillips Center is one of more than two dozen theaters that host Broadway Across America shows, and Savard invited the organization’s leaders to attend an active shooter training at the facility last month.
“There’s a culture in the performing arts that everything’s fine, and unfortunately we know there are bad people out there that want to do bad things to soft targets right now,” Savard says. “The whole idea is to be a little more vigilant in regards to protecting these soft targets.”
Savard says he hopes to make wanding another new norm at performing arts centers. There have already been a number of instances where a guest gets past security officers with a gun hidden under a baggy Cuban-style shirt. “I’ll hear that report of a gun in the building, and the hair stands up on the back of my neck,” Savard says. “It’s a never- ending goal to continue to get better and better every time. We’re not going to get it right every time, but hopefully the majority of the time.”
The Dr. Phillips Center is also moving forward with the construction of a new 1,700-seat acoustic theater, which will be completed within the next few years. The expansion allows the center to host three shows at one time—not including events in private rooms or on the plaza. Savard is already making plans for better video surveillance and increasing security staff once the new theater is built.
“We really try to make sure that everybody who comes into the building, whether or not they’re employed here, is a guest at the building, and we want to make sure that it’s a great experience, not only from the performance but their safety,” according to Savard. “It’s about keeping the bad guys out, but it’s also that you feel really safe once you’re in here.”