When the pyrotechnics malfunctioned during the concert, he said, people just assumed it was all part of the show. No one told the audience there was a fire, that they needed to get out and how to do it.

"The only comment was from the lead singer, 'Wow, that's not good,'" he said.

There was no PA announcement, no sprinkler system, no evacuation plan, no one in charge.

"It was just kind of running itself," Johnson said.


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Of the 100 who died, 31 of them were at the main entrance, because they were trying to get out the way they came in.

"They don't know where else to leave from," he said.

No one pointed out the exit door next to the stage, and when a few people who did see it tried to leave through it, a bouncer told them it was a band exit only.

"Really? A band exit only when there's a fire?" Johnson said.

"There were four functioning exits, but 31 died at the entrance because they didn't know where to go," he said.

At E2, a bar above a high-end restaurant, two girls got in a fight that ultimately grew to about 15 people. Trained security used pepper spray and the girl who started the fight was escorted out of the bar.

Though the fight was over, the pepper spray was moving through the air-conditioning system and people started to get sick, some fainted.

"Panic sets in. No one knows why everyone is choking and said 'I'm getting the hell out,'" Johnson said.

The exits weren't lit, and the crowd estimated at 1,150 to 1,500 people (in a place with a capacity of 240 that before the event had been ordered to shut down) were all trying to funnel out one door, the one they came in.

After the incident, 11 building code violations were found, including entrance and exit doors that opened inward instead of outward.

The 21 people who died were crushed to death.

Successful evacuation

Compare that to Fine Line in Minneapolis, he said.

"They had immediate response, someone in charge, leadership ordered everyone to evacuate. Everyone knew what to do because they had practiced," Johnson said. "No one was dead, no one was injured, and they were evacuated in 120 seconds. Two minutes."

He urged bars, clubs and restaurants, anyone who plans to have a large event where liquor is served, to have an emergency plan, and to have a Maryland State-certified Crowd Manager, who is assigned responsibility of maintaining safety of occupants and implementing evacuation in case of an emergency.

"It's not just being there, it's doing something when something happens," he said.

The person's name who is on the liquor license is the person who is ultimately responsible in case of an emergency, he said. It's important to have written policies for employees to follow, on all sorts of subjects.

"We expect employees to rise to a standard, but we don't give them the skills to get there," he said.

Written policies are needed on how to address customer ages, dress codes, searches, when to intervene when someone's being disorderly, how to eject someone or ban someone from a site.

Problem customers

Johnson pointed out Bel Air Police Department's procedure to ban problem customers, those who routinely cause trouble in any of the downtown establishments.

"You have trouble people? You want to get rid of them? They're a continuing problem? Ban them," he said. "Bel Air Police Department has a procedure to do that."

Overall, he said, it's important not to just have a plan, but to work on it and have everyone involved, because if everyone knows what the others are doing, things are going to go much smoother in an emergency.