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Casino Resort Tactical Response Teams

For years, casino resorts have faced the challenge of maintaining a strong security posture while simultaneously keeping the posture friendly and affable in the interest of guest services. One solution many casinos have implemented is to issue colored blazers for their officers to wear over their uniforms, thus softening their tactical appearance to a professional one. Under the blazer, there is still a well-trained security officer, skilled in not only customer service but in human and asset protection as well.

In the current environment of rapid threat evolution, how does a casino keep up the balancing act of maintaining both security and an approachable guest service experience? Although casino security executives must protect their solutions, tactics, and response plans to maintain their organization’s security, several spoke anonymously on the increasing development and implementation of special tactical response teams.

Threat Evolution

The 1 October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas shook the casino hospitality industry to its core. No one had anticipated such an attack. And the tragic fact is that this incident could have happened in almost any city. In fact, while investigating the events leading up to the shooting, federal and local law enforcement officials discovered that the shooter, Stephen Paddock, scouted several other similar locations and possibly even performed a “dry run” at one of the other sites.

Since the shooting, many people have mistakenly thought that this event was a domestic terrorist attack at a Las Vegas casino; however, it is important to note that it was an attack on a concert from an elevated shooting position—a hotel room attached to a casino. The gaming floor itself was not involved.

Before that attack, casinos and law enforcement prepared for terrorist attacks, with training based on events such as the 2008 Mumbai coordinated shootings and bombings; the 2016 vehicle attack in Nice, France; or even the 2017 active shooter in a casino in Manila, Philippines. One of the reasons 1 October so greatly impacted the security community was because it was committed by one individual with limited resources and done mostly in private. Also, the “tells” that would normally tip off law enforcement to the perpetrator’s intentions were largely absent. Security professionals and law enforcement rely on these tells to detect and stop a crime before it happens.

In recent years, the general public has perceived that public attacks—both foreign and domestic—are on the rise. While the number of these attacks has only increased slightly over the past 10 years, the number of fatalities from such events has risen dramatically, according to a February 2018 study by the Cato Institute.

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An FBI infographic, Quick Look: 277 Active Shooter Incidents in the United States From 2000 to 2018, illustrated how from 2000 to 2006, the number of casualties per year from active shooter incidents only went as high as 51 people per year, with the lowest number of casualties occurring in 2000, when seven people were killed from the sole attack that year. Recent years have seen higher numbers, with casualties highest in 2017, when 729 casualties were the result of 30 different active shooter events.

In addition, shopping malls, nightclubs, churches, and other public venues as targets of domestic active shooter events also seem to be on the rise. These incidents are still rare, but security departments must train and raise their security posture to meet these new threats.

One thing we have learned from these events is that the faster an appropriate response is delivered, the greater the opportunity to reduce causalities. Most casinos now have a robust active shooter program to train not only security staff but every employee in the company.

Some casinos have taken an additional step and created tactical response teams. Response teams themselves are nothing new to casino resorts; previously, many casinos would deploy these teams for large concerts or special events. The new enhancement, triggered by the evolving threat environment, introduces a tactical component. There are many variations of the team’s composition and function, dependent upon on an individual property’s threat assessment, size, and available resources.

These teams are typically comprised of select individuals that have undergone a battery of testing, including, but not limited to, criminal history checks, psychological examinations, and physical agility. Additionally, they may receive training in areas such as building clearing, creating and maintaining a perimeter active threat response, close quarters battle (CQB), room entry, ballistics shield, and combat casualty care. The team members are either armed full-time or can become armed at a moment’s notice.

Some properties have even elected to hire local law enforcement. These additional personnel are secured either by contracting with a municipality or by directly hiring the police officers to moonlight for part-time work. This is especially common during special events, where having local law enforcement can mitigate the property’s liability. Police officers on site can quickly intervene if a disturbance arises, eliminating the wait time for a patrolling officer to respond.

Collective Intelligence

There are several things to consider when building such response teams, but perhaps the most fundamental aspects are coordination with first responders, effective communication, diversity, continuing education or training, and proper use of technology.

Every casino security executive interviewed for this article said that the most important element of a special team was a high degree of coordination with local law enforcement. A close relationship between law enforcement and the casino team can benefit in many ways.

For example, first responders are rarely familiar with the property where an incident occurs. Having the in-house response team guide responding law enforcement quickly to a location is critical. In such an event, it is crucial that law enforcement be able to both easily identify these team members and not be hindered in the field. Casino team members should have some type of uniquely identifiable uniformed features so emergency responders can instantly recognize that they are not offenders. Regular joint training with local law enforcement and the tactical response team familiarizes each side with how the other responds to different situations, avoiding operational confusion in the presence of an attacker.

Communication confusion is the single biggest cause of delay in response to an armed offender. Notably, during the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the offender moved away from his first shooting location to a second building. Police dispatch mistakenly thought people were reporting the first shooting, which delayed an effective response. A decade later, effective communication can still evade us. During the 1 October Las Vegas incident, police dispatch received active shooter calls from up to a mile away from the shooter’s actual location.

Correctly ascertaining where the incident is and quickly relaying that to law enforcement is critical. Tactical response members are trained to clearly communicate situational data to others, reducing the response time. Simply and clearly saying “I have eyes on the shooter” will bump the caller to the top of the queue. Some security leaders have even gone as far as having police academy instructors train casino team candidates, putting them through a police recruit screening process to qualify for the team.

Those candidates who make the cut are not separate from the larger body of casino resort security. Rather, most teams are integrated into the normal duty schedule, with five to 10 members on each shift. They perform their regular officer duties but also have additional training days each month to maintain their tactical proficiency.

While it is common for those with a background in military or law enforcement to find a second career in security, in these special tactical response teams, diversity is an asset. Some directors have purposely integrated persons lacking military or law enforcement experience into the teams to “soften the edges” when faced with guest service demands.

Normally, casino security departments have one or two certified EMTs on staff to respond to medical calls. Because of the risks assumed by the response team members, teams often, if not always, receive Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) instruction.

TCCC is an additional training methodology that provides critical care for responders during a mass casualty event. Beyond the immediate value, such training can also reveal how teams can improve other aspects of their methods and materials. One casino security director discovered during his coordination with a local EMS provider that each ambulance and paramedic unit carried only one tourniquet in their response kits. As a result, he tripled the number of trauma bags the casino maintained on its property and included multiple tourniquets and other trauma supplies in each bag.

Improving a facility’s technology in coordination with its security department can also improve its security posture. This might sound obvious, but this coordination and inclusion of technology in a training plan is often overlooked. Surveillance can have direct observation on an incident as it unfolds and can be used to directly relay information to responding officers and police dispatch in real time.

Having adequate camera coverage in all areas of the property—not just regulated locations—is also very important. Some modern surveillance cameras have onboard gunshot, aggression, and glass break audio detection. Some properties are adding this type of detection to parking lots and hotel hallways to be more proactive in their response.

Other departments, like surveillance, must be included in a response plan and must participate in coordinated regular trainings. When Prairie Meadows Casino in Iowa recently conducted a full-scale active shooter exercise in conjunction with state, county, and city law enforcement. With the aid of their surveillance departments, Prairie Meadows’ rapid response team engaged and neutralized the target prior to the arrival of law enforcement responders in two training scenarios.

With carefully guided integration, the improvements mentioned above should be embraced by casino guests and staff, and they are often welcomed by local law enforcement. It speeds up the response time, fosters healthy public–private relationships, and augments law enforcement departments’ resources. If executed properly, it could also reduce insurance premiums, adding to the bottom line, which in turn adds value to the security program. The preparation and planning for a major incident will pay dividends for all smaller routine incidents that may occur on property.

For example, an armed robbery suspect was reported to be hiding inside Prairie Meadows’ casino resort parking area. Once the casino tactical response team was in place, they were able to quickly clear the area in coordination with local law enforcement. Previously, they would have needed to wait for additional law enforcement assets to arrive, thus lengthening the impact to the property.

Another security director shared that after undergoing the major incident and response team planning for their property, other incidents—like natural disasters and fire life safety preparedness—seemed less stressful. The measures they implemented with the response teams increased their capacity to respond to almost every other security situation.

In the end, anything we can do to raise our security posture and reduce response times during any incident will result in a safer environment for our customers and employees. 

Robert Prady, CPP, PSP, CSP, is currently the Chair of the ASIS Gaming and Wagering Protection Council and a 20+ year active member of ASIS International.

Clint Pursley is the vice president of security operations at Prairie Meadows Casino located in Altoona, Iowa. He is currently serving on the ASIS Gaming and Wagering Protection Council and is credited with creating the first armed response team in a casino located in Iowa.