The Lafayette, Louisiana, shooting on Thursday that left three dead and several more wounded won’t change movie theater security dramatically, experts say.
However, many agree that simple changes such as hand-held metal detectors, night-vision cameras, and installing sensors on employee-only doors and back exits inside theaters, could help prevent another massacre of this caliber.
“There are just as many ways to get in without a ticket as there are to get in with a gun,” security expert and retired New Orleans Police Department SWAT commander Mike Cahn told TheWrap. “So, no matter what you do, unless you make it a military state, you’ll always be able to find a way around.”
After the 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado, the National Association of Theater Owners worked with Homeland Security to try and fix some of the security problems. But for the most part, not much has changed.
“It’s not that easy to secure a theater,” security expert Howard Levinson told TheWrap. “The most secure places we have right now are airports, and people still manage to get through security.”
Levinson, who consulted with a large New England-based theater chain for years, says the first thing theaters should do is hire and train more people, especially considering many theater employees are teenagers who get minimal training, if any.
“Training is really important,” Levinson said. “It’s not anywhere near to the extent where people could spot or recognize unusual activity.”
Another problem is that modern movie theaters don’t have projectionists, who, aside from dealing with the projectors, were charged with looking through their window to make sure everything was running smoothly.
“Now everything is digital. It’s all automatic and there’s a lot less staffing,” Levinson said.
Movie theaters have been slow to respond to the shooting. Many are still freewheeling places, where moviegoers can wander in and out. Metal detectors and bag scanning, a staple in countries like Israel where security is paramount, are not a common sight on this side of the globe.
Multiple lawsuits against the Aurora movie theater owner Cinemark are now winding through the courts that claim Cinemark had inadequate security. But security experts say there is not a lot that can be done to stop the problem.
“How many tens of thousands of movie theaters do we have in this country?” asked former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. “There are about 315 million people in this country, and we have about 300 million guns. If you want to get a gun in America, you can get a gun.”
Still there are some things that experts say can be done — if the movie theaters are inclined.
Levinson, who has designed security for more than 100 theaters, says installing night-vision cameras and building a control room where one person can monitor what’s going on at any given time, is a good start.
Other simple changes include installing sensors on employee-only doors and back exits inside theaters, which might have helped avoid the Aurora massacre.
Hand-held metal detectors are also an option, but, experts say, they can often be unreliable.
“Metal detectors are only as good as the people who use them,” Cahn said. “You have to find the right balance. Having too much control and putting up huge metal detectors is just not appropriate.”
Watch reactions to the Lafayette shooting in the video above.