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As summer concert season starts, Tampa Bay venues remain vigilant after Manchester attack

Fans cross Himes Avenue in Tampa toward Raymond James Stadium before the start of Beyonce's Formation World Tour in Tampa on April 29, 2016. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published May 24, 2017

In the aftermath of the Monday night explosion that killed at least 22 people — including children — moments after a pop concert ended in England, local venues assured the public that security will remain tight for the Tampa Bay area's upcoming big-ticket shows.

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this horrible tragedy at the Manchester Arena," said Raymond James Stadium officials in a statement issued Tuesday.

The Tampa stadium is slated to host the Sunset Music Festival this weekend, which drew 30,000 people last year. It's just one of many concerts this summer that will require extensive security to manage large crowds. U2 will play there in June, and Paul McCartney performs at Amalie Arena in July.

The youngest victim identified in the Manchester attack was 8-years-old, and according to news reports 12 of the 59 injured victims were under the age of 16. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.

RELATED STORY: Manchester police hunt for accomplices; Islamic State group claims responsibility for blast

Investigators said a man detonated an "improvised explosive device" outside Manchester Arena as the crowd was leaving a concert by American pop star Ariana Grande. The arena is the largest indoor venue in Britain and can hold up to 18,000 people for concerts.

As is common in American venues, that night's concertgoers were not allowed to bring in backpacks or drinks, the head of the security company that manges the arena told the New York Times. But the bomb went off outside of the concert in a foyer.

After word of the bombing spread, St. Petersburg concert promoter Tony Rifugiato found himself on the phone with another local promoter. They talked about what could be done to step up security at smaller venues such as Jannus Live and the State Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg and the Ritz Ybor in Tampa.

"You can't do very much," said Rifugiato, whose No Clubs Productions books shows at clubs across Tampa Bay. "You can be as diligent as you can."

RELATED STORY: World reacts in horror, disbelief to deadly Manchester arena bombing

Some artists have already been beefing up their own personal security. When rapper Big Sean, Grande's ex-boyfriend, played the Ritz in April, his team installed extra security cameras at every entrance, Rifugiato said.

But keeping fans safe inside the venue is one thing. Keeping them safe outside is another.

"It's like confusion when people are leaving," Rifugiato said. "There's so many people, you just can't keep track of every single person in that crowd as they leave — or anybody close."

He wondered if the latest attack will lead venues to create "no-go" areas just outside the exits. That would keep people who haven't been through security out of the immediate area.

But it's hard to know if those kinds of measures will make a difference.

"They're so clever now, all of the bombers, and there are so many non-detectable kinds of explosives that these people carry," Rifugiato said.

There's typically no security measures for searching people outside venues. But former Tampa police chief Jane Castor said officers have long been trained to be alert to what's happening inside and outside venues with large crowds.

"Law enforcement officers are trained to observe individuals for any type of suspicious activity (or) suspicious packages," she said, "but what law enforcement needs is public assistance."

She encouraged people to pay attention to their instincts and report anything that seems even slightly off to law enforcement. Amalie Arena has a similar policy, encouraging patrons to report anything they deem suspicious.

Law enforcement and concert venues don't discuss the specifics of security plans, said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty. But he said the city has years of experience organizing security for major events such as Gasparilla, Super Bowls, the Stanley Cup Finals, the 2012 Republican National Convention and last year's College Football Playoff National Championship.

"We always take note and see what we can learn from incidents on the national and international level," he said in a statement, "and this latest attack in Manchester is no different."

He added that police have "robust plans" to manage this summer's events. A spokesman for Amalie Arena said they constantly work with law enforcement to update their security plans.

"We regularly monitor current events and best practices, adjusting our policies and procedures as recommended by those authorities and agencies when necessary," said a statement from Bill Wickett of Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment, which operates Amalie.

What happened in Manchester, Castor said, should not dissuade people from taking part in large-scale events.

"Don't let these types of individuals win by curtailing your personal freedoms," Tampa's former police chief said. "Go about your life how you would each and every day, but just be cognizant of your surroundings."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale. Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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