The staff at MaGerk's Pub in Bel Air has a plan in place in case of an emergency in the bar on a crowded night, but they've never practiced their response, especially not the entire staff.

But they think it's a good idea, Manager Melissa Davis said after a training session Tuesday night at the Bel Air Reckord Armory on Safe Alcohol Event Management sponsored by the Harford County Liquor Control Board.

"Drills are something we could all benefit from with all the staff," Davis said.

Davis and Event Sales and Marketing Manager Jennifer Topper were MaGerk's representatives at the seminar presented by Martin Johnson, a liquor license consultant from ID Training LLC. Others among the 50 or so at the seminar, centered around examples of what to do and what not to do, included liquor licensees from Harford County, local police, three liquor board members and a handful of liquor inspectors from other counties, five alone from Montgomery County, which has 1,000 liquor licenses.

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Lou and Terri Ward, owners of The Bayou restaurant in Havre de Grace, were there together.

"We want to get some insight on how to handle some of the larger functions at the restaurant," Lou Ward said. When they add tents outside, they have twice the capacity they normally would.

"We consider this continuing education," Terri Ward said, "if there's anything new or anything we need to be aware of."

The Bayou doesn't have a lot of bar activity, the owners admitted, but it's good to be "constantly aware."

Where are the exits in the armory, Johnson asked the people attending the seminar, then pointed out one at the front of the armory and two at the rear.

"If a fireball erupts while we're in here, you know where to go," he said.

He wants the same thing to happen at any alcohol-related event.

"Our mission is to reduce the likelihood of negative outcomes at events that include alcohol service," he said.

Response plans critical

Response plans are critical, Johnson said, but they don't do any good if the entire staff hasn't practiced it, so he urged event managers to practice what they would do in an emergency situation.

He used two examples of places that failed to get all their customers out safely during an emergency: The Station nightclub in Warwick, R.I., where 100 people died after a pyrotechnics accident on Feb. 20, 2003 during a Great White concert, and E2 nightclub in Chicago, where 21 people died after two women got in a fight Feb. 17, 2003 and panic ensued when pepper spray was used.

The same night as the E2 incident, all of the guests at Fine Line Music Cafe, a two-story music venue in Minneapolis, escaped "without so much as a scratch" when pyrotechnics malfunctioned at a Lady Gaga concert. The venue was evacuated in two minutes.

"The staff previously has planned for an emergency, trained for an emergency and practiced for an emergency," Johnson said. "The owner took the time to do that. You know what that cost? Money. It doesn't matter, you have to invest."

In the first two scenarios, Johnson said, no one was in charge, there was no leadership and customers were panicking.

At The Station, 462 people were in the nightclub that had a capacity of 404.

"That's not all that many more, right?" Johnson asked. "But 58 people can make a big difference when they're all trying to get out the door."