29 October 2014

Security and the Dalai Lama

I happened to be in the right place at the right time to learn a few interesting things about security surrounding one stop on the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Birmingham, Alabama. Now that the visit is over, I thought I'd post them as matters of curiosity.

The 14th Dalai Lama visited Birmingham for Human Rights Week in October 2014. On the morning of the final day of his visit, Sunday, October 26, he was the featured guest at a moderated panel discussion entitled "Beyond Belief" at the Alabama Theatre. You might wonder why, when the city owns venues like Boutwell Auditorium, the event was hosted at the Alabama? The reason is exactly because the city owns Boutwell. The Alabama is a private venue, therefore anyone causing problems could be ejected without some of the messy legal issues of ejecting someone from a public venue. They did, in fact, escort one disruptive person out during the event.

Prior to the panel, everyone who would be working backstage at the Alabama Theatre had to pass a somewhat thorough background check. This was only a handful of people and I'm not aware of anyone who failed to pass.

Early on Sunday morning, the Secret Service -- or perhaps it was the Department of State security force, I'm unclear on that -- took control of access to the Alabama Theatre. They were followed a half our later by the FBI. Then, another half hour later, the Birmingham Police Department came in and swept the building using their K-9 units. If anything serious occurred, the route to get the Dalai Lama out using a back door was pre-determined.

Perhaps the most interesting effect, and one you wouldn't have thought of, was that on concessions. Only small drinks could be served, not large ones. This was so that a filled, thrown cup would not incur much damage. Also, bottled water could only be served if the concession stand workers removed and kept the bottle lids as they were served. Once again, this was so that a thrown bottle would lose most of its contents during flight and not be a serious risk.

And there you have it. Things the average person probably wouldn't think about when the Dalai Lama comes to visit. Remember this the next time you take possession of the dangerous weapon known as bottled water.

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