Anon, thanks for taking the brunt of this. There are a few things I'd like to add, trunks_lover, so you have the whole story. If nothing else, though, I hope that this response helps convince you that we are listening to the attendees and working on fixing the things that are wrong with IRT. It's a continual process, though; last year was a big step up, and hopefully this year will be too. From what I've seen, we're already on the right track.
trunks_lover29, on Sep 11 2009, 11:43 AM, said:
1.) Volunteers in a security force. Does the insurance company that covers ACEN know this? Because I can't begin to imagine how much extra it must cost you to be using untrained and unlicensed individuals for a security force. Aren't they a liability?
All convention staff are volunteers. As Anon says, we aren't security - we're incident response. If IRT didn't exist, it would have to be staffers from other departments that took over those duties - holding lines, coordinating with emergency response, watching for shoplifting - and, while those other staffers should be helping to a certain extent, our department's primary job is to do all those things that would be secondary to other departments.
a.) Authority. I have a hard time respecting the authority of an IRT member who looks like he's gonna stumble back to his room to smoke a joint as soon as his shift it over, or a girl who I'm terribly afraid is anorexic. I made this complaint about appearances before and had someone say to me "Do you think all security guards have to look big and muscular." The answer is, no. I don't think they have to be big and muscular bouncer-types, but they do have to look like authority figures, and yes, they do have to look like they could forcibly remove someone if they had to. How am I supposed to feel safe from the threat of a fan-girl stampede (oh yes, I've seen them come close to happening) when the security guard is a 5'2" 90 lb girl (not kidding, there was one 2008) who looks like a stiff breeze would knock her over. Women can appear every bit as authoritative as men without as much muscle, but you have to have the look/attitude. Running around in a IRT vest with a lost-puppy expression doesn't cut it.
I'm actually a bit taken aback by this. We've spent years having people tell us we're trying to imitate SWAT and that our ops are condescending, but now people are telling us we don't look enough like authority figures. Our attitude is one of helpfulness and courtesy, until it becomes time to be tough and strict, and even when that happens, verbal and not physical authority is called for. Please don't judge based on looks. We don't discriminate for size or build - it should be noted that one of our most experienced supervisors is also one of the smallest people on the team - and I've seen her single-handedly hold back a few thousand people who wanted in on the Pillows concert right that minute.
b.) Training. Of course it goes without saying that if your volunteers are a one-time deal they probably won't get the training they need, but that hardly seems like a good excuse in light of the important position that a security guard maintains at a convention. None of the IRT member ever know what's going on, and I realize things change abruptly, but they have walkie-talkies for a reason. And cluttering the lines with simple questions can't be a problem either, because you just set up a frequency for technical questions.
As Anon pointed out, we do have training. This year is the first year we were able to do anything really comprehensive, and we've noted what seems to stick and what doesn't. Please rest assured that this is an issue we care about and are working on.
As for communications: we're aware that sometimes we have the wrong information (though I think it's a misstatement to say that none of the ops ever know what's going on). However, usually this is a result of us not having been notified by the appropriate department in the first place, and we're working on bridging that communications gap. (In fact, I'm about to head off to a meeting that will address some of those exact concerns.) Your suggestion about setting up an extra channel is impractical, however: our dispatching resources are limited and the overhead of switching off of the main channel and the chance of missing something important is too great. I will, however, put some thought towards how we can ensure that information gets disseminated better in the coming year.
c.) Selection. I've never been able to pinpoint a selection focus for the IRT volunteers, it seems arbitrary and random. It seems strange that I have to fill out an application to become a volunteer at my local animal shelter, but so far as I know I wouldn't have to for ACEN. Of all the volunteers there must be a few people that you find that have customer service skills. Some of those IRT people should know better than to through their attitude at a bunch anime fans. You never know which ones are going to be aggressive. This gets back to the authority bit; those with authority know how to use it without blowing their lids. They also know when a situation calls for force and act accordingly in a manner in which no one can get hurt. It seems like a lot of the IRT that blow up on people at the drop of a pin simply don't know how to convince someone to follow their orders without raising their voices and using their poor intimidation skills.
As Anon mentioned, there is an application process for IRT. But what I'm surprised at is the duality of your perception of us - above we're all waifish stoners, and here we're all rude shouting hulks. I could write something about how conventions are very stressful - they are - and how it's hard to stay calm sometimes with all the stuff congoers throw at us - it is - but I think I'll just say that we know we're not perfect yet, and we're working on it.
Please use an example from 2009. A lot of things changed from 2008 to 2009 - IRT got new leadership, many new people, new organization, and new training, to name a few. Also please note that the Fire Marshall does inspect the premises beforehand, but he also walks around the con the whole weekend and can at times be quite unreasonable (in my own humble opinion which in no way expresses the opinion of ACen or MAPS).
3.) Other Staff: I find the other staff members defending IRT on the forums with messages like the one above. Once again, no offense, because the moderators on the forums have been very helpful from what I've seen, but you can't defend IRT with excuses like "this isn't a perfect world." People pay to go to ACEN, and when someone pays you for a service you should feel obligated to do everything in your power to make them happy and comfortable. Now when people get out of hand and start making claims to things that are well beyond your duties and obligations you can tell them that there is nothing you can do for them (we can't please all the people all the time after all). But for complaints like "I had an IRT member curse at me several times" or "An IRT member ignored my broken toe and wouldn't even leave the IRT room to help me find an EMT or someone to take me to the hospital" or "The negligence of an IRT member caused an injury of mine" those kind of complaints can't be pushed under the rug. Those are problems that shouldn't be happening year after year after year. I fell like, if there weren't so many volunteer IRT, no one would be defending the security force when things like this happen. If all of IRT were a private company and these issues were still present year after year, you'd just fire the company and hire a new security force. That's it.
Here's the issue: it's not a perfect world. And sometimes, it's impossible to know if someone's not right for IRT until after they've worked a con. What's important is whether or not we step up to the plate, take these incidents and feedback seriously, and act on it. We will never be able to reduce the number of incidents to zero, especially when there are two of us for every 1300 or so of you. (We're also working on hiring more people, since you asked.)
In sum, no, we're not perfect. But we're a lot better than we were in 2008, and much better than we were in years before that. Please try to see and acknowledge our growth. Please give us the benefit of the doubt as we say we're working on it, because we are.