How to Learn from Las Vegas
Print Issue: February 2018
The Las Vegas massacre on October 1, 2017, surpassed the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub tragedy as the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. Fifty-eight people lost their lives and hundreds were injured when a gunman rained down automatic weapon fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel suite on concertgoers below.
Months later, investigators are still struggling to piece together a motive for the tragedy. They classify the shooter as a nondescript, wealthy retiree who spent tens of thousands of dollars gambling at casinos on the very strip he attacked. But these clues offer little insight as to why he would carry out such a deadly rampage.
In the wake of the tragedy, security professionals must grapple with the known facts surrounding the event, and investigators continue to revise the timeline of events as details emerge. However, as reported by CBS News, the assailant managed to take nearly two dozen weapons contained in luggage to his room via a freight elevator in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
A do not disturb sign hung on the door of his suite for 72 hours after he reportedly checked into the hotel on September 28. He shot out of two windows from the hotel tower after shattering them with a hammerlike device, according to The New York Times.
The assailant also shot a hotel security guard, who was responding to an open-door alarm on the same floor, around the time he began firing on the crowd.
Whether or not the hotel and Live Nation Entertainment, Inc.—the event company hosting the concert—met their legal duty of care during these circumstances has yet to be determined, and several lawsuits have been filed by victims.
Difficult questions regarding security have been raised by the shooting, including whether hotels should apply airport-style screening measures to guests as they enter the property, and whether it's possible to spot suspicious behavior in guests before an incident occurs.
As investigators continue to probe into the specifics of the massacre, hospitality, event, and gaming security experts all agree: While the circumstances in the Las Vegas shooting are unlikely to happen the exact same way again, the event underscores the importance of having strong security policies and procedures, staff training, and appropriate technological tools to combat future threats.
The October shooting ravaged a section of the Las Vegas strip called Vegas Village, which has become a popular spot for festivals and other live events. The gunman attacked concertgoers at the sold-out Route 91 Harvest Festival, which featured country music performers. The event was growing in popularity, and attracted about 25,000 people a day last year, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Steven Adelman is an attorney at Adelman Law Group, PLLC, and vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, a nonprofit he helped form after a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in 2011, killing seven people. He emphasizes that the Las Vegas shooting and the circumstances surrounding it are unlikely to repeat themselves, and calls the incident a "black swan" event.
"A black swan is a highly unusual, impactful event—and in retrospect people suddenly think it was inevitable," Adelman says. "Las Vegas fits that profile. There had never been a shooting at a live event venue from a great elevation or from an adjacent building."
While the University of Texas clocktower shooting in 1966 in Austin harkens closely to the positioning of the shooter, experts say it does not make what happened from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino foreseeable.
"If we had been talking on September 30, the day before this happened, and you had asked me what the most reasonably foreseeable threat at a live event space is, based on what's happened over the last year…it probably would have involved a truck," he says, referencing the vehicular terrorist attacks that have occurred in cities including Barcelona, New York City, and Stockholm.
While Vegas may not have been preventable, Adelman underscores the best practices that can be applied to event safety moving forward.
"When there is an adjacent building to a live event, where someone potentially has a perch over a site where people are gathered, law enforcement and security should have eyes on that building," he notes. "In fact, the smarter trend, if it's in one's control, is to just clear the building."
At a major event in Phoenix just weeks after the shooting, event organizers did exactly that. Law enforcement cleared a nearby parking structure and used the building to have a crow's nest vantage point over the event.
"That's the kind of positive learning experience that can be applied from a horrific event like the Vegas shooting," Adelman adds.
Also, having a no-weapons policy is a simple way to at least deter people carrying guns, Adelman says, but he concedes that enforcing that policy is another matter. When possible, event organizers should limit the points of ingress and egress for attendees, and deploy magnetometers at each of those points.
"Make sure that applies equally to the production people, and even the talent who are doing set-up," he adds. "Make sure the artists and their entourage all go through these magnetometers and security guard scrutiny while we're at it, because they can have weapons, too."
Adelman adds that the special event industry could spend all its time and resources focusing on trying to prevent black swan events, and he emphasizes that the key is to triage the reasonably foreseeable risks.
"You should spend your finite amount of resources addressing the risks that are most likely to happen at whatever venue or event it is that one is talking about," he says. "That's the reasonable thing to do."
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for hotels when it comes to their security programs, says Russell Kolins, chair of the ASIS International Hospitality, Entertainment, and Tourism Security Council.
"Each hotel has its own culture of management, its own corporate attitude, so each hotel is going to address its properties differently than their neighbors next door," Kolins adds.
This means that each property or hotel chain must constantly reinforce whatever safety protocols it has in place across management, staff, and guests.
Many hotel properties have policies on weapons, which vary from state to state. Nevada is an open-carry state, though most casinos don't allow patrons carrying a gun to enter the property. Hotels have typically allowed hunters with weapons permits to carry guns to their rooms or store them in lockers. Kolins says a weapons check would have to be conducted on every guest and bag to enforce these policies.
"If someone wants to get a weapon up to their room, they are going to do it, unless you're inspecting every single bag and every single piece of luggage, including clothing bags," Kolins says. "It's not going to be absolutely controlled."
Technology already plays a major role in hotels, says Stephen Barth, a professor of hospitality law at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston.
"Hotels employ a variety of technological measures to enhance security and the smooth flow of business for guests," he says. "We've got significant technology that's helped a lot—being able to track guests that go in and out, making sure a key is changed from guest to guest."
Barth, founder of hospitalitylawyer.com, argues that adding on more technology for security purposes wouldn't necessarily be rejected by guests, if it's obvious it keeps them safer.
"Technology for sure needs to be involved in these conversations," he says. "What if every hotel window had a sensor on it so that if the glass was broken, the hotel would know immediately what floor and which room it was in?"
Management may hesitate initially to go to such measures, but Barth argues that security should keep it in mind as a possible option. "There's going to be resistance, no doubt, but it does seem to me that there is potential," he says.
Security experts agree that hotel staff, including housekeeping, engineers, bellhops, and front desk workers are the most likely ones to observe unusual behavior among guests.
Therefore, training those workers thoroughly and consistently will help reinforce what they can look for as suspicious or possibly harmful behavior.
"There needs to be ongoing training, so that there is an awareness given to the employees to be the actual eyes and ears for security and management of a property," Kolins says.
While metal detectors and individual bag checks may be a far-flung approach, staff can be trained on behavioral cues to look for in guests, such as the way someone walks when they may be carrying a weapon.
"I think the trend now for all the hotels is going to be to take the See Something, Say Something campaign and make it effective," says Darrell Clifton, CPP, executive director of security at Eldorado Resorts in Reno, Nevada, and a member of the ASIS Hospitality, Entertainment, and Tourism Security Council. "Right now it's kind of a shotgun approach. If it's working right, you get 10,000 pieces of data and 9,999 of them are useless, and it's hard to comb through all that."
Instead of just repeating the See Something, Say Something mantra, he says that managers should sit down with employees and tell them exactly what to look for, and what to do with that information.
"Frankly, the housekeepers know what's suspicious better than I do because they see all the different people that come into the hotel," Clifton notes. "They know what looks right and what doesn't look right."
When it comes to room inspections, Kolins suggests hotels conduct safety checks at least every other day, even if a do not disturb sign is on the door. These check-ins give hotel staff the opportunity to verify that the various sensors in the room are operating properly, such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors.
"I think the biggest change with that will be reinforcing that policy, more than creating a new one, for most hotels," Clifton notes, adding that most hotels have policies to check rooms every other day or more often, but have not enforced them consistently.
As of January, four Disney hotel properties had done away with the do not disturb sign, The New York Times reported, swapping it out for a "room occupied" sign and alerting guests that staff may check on the room. In December, Hilton revised its policy to still allow the signs but will conduct a staff-led alert system if it stays up for more than 24 hours.
The data collected at these check-ins, as well as any other security concerns reported to management, should all be kept in a log.
"The security industry is data-driven, and it's very important to record anything that gets reported," Kolins notes. "And on a periodic basis, whether it's a weekly basis or bimonthly basis, the reports should be part of an incident log."
Down the road, these data points can be connected and lead to an impending threat or other incident, he says.
Duty of Care
The Las Vegas shooting raises the question of duty of care—the reasonable level of protection a venue is legally obligated to provide its guests—and whether or not Mandalay Bay and Live Nation met that standard.
A victim who survived the shooting has already filed a lawsuit, and there is the potential for more litigation. In the suit filed against MGM, which owns Mandalay Bay, the plaintiff argues that the hotel failed to "maintain the Mandalay Bay premises in a reasonably safe condition," according to court documents.
From a legal standpoint, Adelman says the hotel property or venue hosting an event has an obligation to provide a reasonably safe environment for its guests under the circumstances.
Experts say a number of factors come into play in the legal process, including whether the hotel followed its own security policies and procedures.
"I think most juries and most judges would argue, at least until now, that the event was not foreseeable in the United States," Barth says.
Given the fact that the shooter brought in a cache of weapons and fired from a hotel suite, Barth says the property's policies and procedures will come into question.
"Responding to a particular incident is a part of the duty of care in places of public accommodation like hotels," Barth notes. "So, you would want to consider, what was their protocol for an active shooter situation? Did they have training, what was their communication system setup, what was supposed to happen, and did they in fact follow their training?"
He adds that the facts surrounding the Vegas shooting as investigators understand them are not necessarily unusual.
"This fellow in Vegas specifically requested a particular room. In and of itself, that happens all the time in a hotel," Barth says. He adds that people travel to Las Vegas to gamble or party, and often stay up all night and sleep during the day. "This fellow also had a do not disturb sign on his door for 72 hours. Again, that in and of itself is not a big deal, particularly in Vegas."
The large containers the weapons and other items were stored in wouldn't necessarily sound the alarm bells, he notes. In a city like Las Vegas, convention exhibitors frequently bring large containers to their rooms, and guests who gamble may be protecting valuables such as cash.
The duty of care applies equally to event venues as it does to hotels, Adelman says. "The main duty for providing a safe and secure environment generally falls on the shoulders of the venue," he points out, noting that the venue should know what its biggest risks are, and what resources are available to address those risks.
He adds that, when necessary, the location can contract with a private security company or with law enforcement to take on some of the security responsibilities.
All properties should take an all-hazards approach to security, paying just as much attention to the threat of a natural disaster as an active shooter. "The threat you prepare for probably isn't going to be the precise threat that actually appears on your doorstep," Barth says.
Gaming Community Reacts to Vegas Tragedy
Casinos are no strangers to security. With swaths of surveillance cameras, guards, and cash-protection measures, these venues are used to large volumes of people toting valuables. Most gaming properties have no-guns policies, and uniformed and plainclothes security officers keep careful eyes on the property.
Guests at casinos are looking for privacy and comfort, so hospitality professionals must strike a balance between providing security and making sure their clients feel at ease.
"Most security has to be unobtrusive, yet effective," says Dave Shepherd with the Readiness Resource Group and a member of the ASIS International Gaming and Wagering Protection Council. "We're not trying to prevent people from crossing a border or boarding an airplane. We have to be very cognizant of the rights of people as they are coming onto the properties."
In the wake of high-profile incidents, an opportunity arises to engage the C-suite, says Alan Zajic, CPP, with AWZ Consulting and chair of the Gaming and Wagering Protection Council.
"Any security director knows that when an event like what happened in Las Vegas occurs, your bosses are going to be asking you what you intend to do," he says. "That's the greatest opportunity to say, 'I need a commitment out of you to be able to put some of these programs into place and help protect our employees and our guests.'"
He explains that gaming properties should prioritize training employees on situational awareness, and proposes a technique.
"You observe something and investigate it until you understand it," he notes. "If you observe something unusual about a person, you should watch for a while until you understand whether it's legitimate. And if it's not, you investigate."
These types of training programs are going to become more prevalent in the industry, Zajic says, adding that airport level screening would be too burdensome for hotels and guests alike.
"Should there be screening or metal detectors inside bell rooms?" he asks. "Those are all kneejerk reactions that I'm not sure are going to float. People are going to be resistant to the invasion of their privacy."