Orlando Venues Key Staff Help Vegas Recovery
Post-shooting, Orlando’s Craig Borkon and Kathy DeVault facilitated Las Vegas assistance efforts.
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: November 7, 2017
The famous 'Welcome to Las Vegas' site a day after a gunman killed 58 people and wounded over 500 more attending Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1.
Two reluctant recovery center vets, Orlando Venues’ Assistant Director Craig Borkon and Kathy DeVault, director of strategic partnerships, immediately offered their expertise to the city of Las Vegas following the tragic mass shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival, Oct. 1.
Borkon and DeVault were both instrumental in the Orlando recovery following its own horrific event where a lone-gunman killed 49 people and wounded 58 others at the Pulse Nightclub in June of 2016, helping set up and man the temporary Family Assistance Center at Camping World Stadium for those directly impacted.
Kathy Devault, director of strategic partnerships and Craig Borkon, assistant dierector, Orlano Venues, were in Las Vegas within 24 hours of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting.
Borkon and DeVault got involved in the Las Vegas tragedy after Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer spoke with officials in Las Vegas. “I got a call early Monday morning from Mayor Dyer and he asked if I would participate in a conference call with the Las Vegas mayor and John Steinbeck, the deputy chief of the Clark County Fire Department who oversees the office of emergency management for the county,” said Borkon. “The mayor also asked if I was willing to go out to Las Vegas to help them set up their assistance center. I said ‘yes’ immediately.”
DeVault was already onboard. “The mayor asked me to volunteer to go to Vegas and I said, ‘of course, absolutely.’ I was happy to offer my experience to Las Vegas; I knew what they must have been going through after a horrific event like Route 91 Harvest Festival.”
Both were on a plane to Las Vegas within 24 hours. “We went out to help in any way we could,” said Borkon. “It was a humbling experience in Orlando after the Pulse shootings. We always talked about how after Pulse we hoped that it would never happen again. However, we’re grateful for the opportunity to share the knowledge we had from an unfortunate situation and help make it a little easier for Las Vegas to start the healing process.”
Upon arrival, the pair were taken to Las Vegas Convention Center where the recovery efforts were already underway. They joined assistance command center operations and proceeded to guide the Las Vegas team through the process of creating a family assistance center using their personal experiences.
“The first thing we did was assess the situation, and we looked at what they had already set up,” said Borkon. “After a walkthrough, they sat us down and said, ‘tell us what we don’t know.’ We were happy to share what we did right in Orlando and what we thought needed to be changed.”
Borkon and DeVault met with many of the same people leaders and agencies they previously worked with, such as the FBI and the Red Cross. “Tara Hughes is the main response front-person for the Red Cross and she was on-point at both centers and the folks from the FBI were the same, too, so it was easy to get on the same page quickly,” said Borkon.
“After we evaluated the setup and logistics, we explained that there was a lot more that needed to be done,” explained Devault. “This included specifying which people and organizations should be at the table and involved as well as focusing on how to address parking, security, check-in and media, among other concerns.”
The similarities between the Pulse shooting and Route 91 Harvest Festival massacre were striking — both had numerous casualties and serious injuries and the need to provide a safe and secure place for the victims' families to get aid and assistance was top of mind. “Mental health issues had to be addressed in both circumstances as well offering privacy for grieving friends and family away from the media,” said Borkon.
Also, there was the need to coach the volunteers on how to behave and carry themselves. “We had to explain that the volunteers couldn’t laugh when the victims' families were around and everyone has to pitch in and leave their egos at the door,” he said.
But there were significant differences as well.
“The Las Vegas Convention Center was a much bigger facility and posed more challenges in controlling the setting,” said Borkon. “Because it was a large music festival, there were also a lot more personal effects to sort through like lawn chairs and hats and coolers.”
“Many of the Route 91 victims were out of town visitors, so lodging and travel accommodations for relatives was a priority,” said DeVault.
Devault said that getting the right agencies and partners on-scene was her step one. “In Orlando we had 42 agencies involved because a lot of the relatives were from out of the country and we needed to expedite visas,” she said. “We also learned that we needed to assist people in the long term. We had people who needed rent assistance weeks later and learned that the help needed doesn’t end when they leave the center. I wanted to make sure that Vegas understood this. It’s not just a few days and close up shop.”
Agencies involved were Clark County Social Services, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the FBI, the Red Cross, MGM Resorts (lodging) and multiple airlines, among others.
Borkon reached out to the ticket firm that serviced the festival and got the ticket data to find out where people came from to help identify the relatives who might need assistance. “We sent out press releases to the areas identified to let the people know we’re there for them,” he said.
“Victim’s crime compensation is huge,” said Devault. “There are certain rights that victims have including financial benefits, so having someone from the Nevada Attorney General’s office at the table was very important to the process.”
One of the things that the duo learned in Orlando was to “take control of the intake process.” They encouraged Clark County officials to not let the FBI control the intake. “It was not easy getting information from the FBI,” said Borkon.
“The FBI and Red Cross pack up and eventually leave,” said DeVault. “You need to be certain that you have enough information about the victims so that when they call, you can actually determine what they need.”
DeVault said it was important for the aid workers to “keep up their stamina, eat, get sleep and spend time with their own families. The first couple of days everyone is running around and just want to do the best they can for the people in need but often don’t take the time to take care of themselves. The facility staff can quickly deteriorate and we experienced this in Orlando,” she said.
Borkon also shared that most of the cost of setting up the center was reimbursable. “Spend the money you have to spend,” he said. “There’s money out there from the Department of Justice and other grants that will offset the cost.”
Also helping was convention center concessionaire Centerplate which supplied food and drinks at no cost and numerous local restaurants which sent over food. “It’s a real community effort,” said Borkon.
Las Vegas locals and visitors gathered to process the horrific Route 91 Harvest Festival incident a few short blocks away from where the tragedy occurred.
Staying at the original emergency space is often not an option after a tragedy; in both the Orlando and Las Vegas aftermath the centers needed to move after a few short weeks. The assistance center at the convention center was open from Oct. 5 - 20.
“We learned that there needs to be no gap in services when the center moves,” said Borkon, “so we stressed to Deputy Steinbeck the need to start planning right away for when the center will move to the next location.” Following the advice, Las Vegas opened the Vegas String Assistance Center in a medical office building the next day after shutting down the makeshift center that was set up in the convention center.The Orlando center is still open and plans are to keep it open until 2020.
“We never wanted to have the experience we do have after the Pulse nightclub shooting,” said DeVault. “But Craig and I now have knowledge that we hope no one ever has to have. We always said if there was another community in need, we’d be there to help. This was Orlando’s way of helping to give back. Personally, it is healing and therapeutic to be able to put into practice all we learned the hard way.”
In all, Borkon and DeVault spent six days in Las Vegas. Over 4,350 Route 91 Harvest Festival victims and relatives passed through the doors of the temporary family assistance center in the two weeks it was open. The permanent assistance center is expected to remain open indefinitely.
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: November 7, 2017