Vegas Hotels Institute Bag Searches

Every safety and security incident informs new protocols going forward

  • by Brad Weissberg and Linda Deckard
  • Published: October 4, 2017

Deserted and eerily quiet, the north end of Mandalay Bay Road is still cordoned off by yellow police-tape, three days after the horrific mass shooting from the 32nd floor of the Las Vegas strip hotel. (VT Photo)

In a dramatic response to the senseless mass shooting Sunday night, Oct.1, Wynn Hotel and Encore Hotel, Las Vegas, instituted bag checks at the entrance of the Strip hotels as of Monday morning, Oct.2, 12 hours after lone gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 concertgoers attending Route 91 Harvest music festival from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay.

Hotel security workers used handheld metal detectors. “We initiated metal scanning at our entrances early Monday morning when it was uncertain if there were multiple shooters,” a Wynn spokesperson said.

Stunned guests were told to line up with their bags ready for either a hand search or using the handheld scanners.  This resulted in a 10-minute-long line to get into the luxury resort.

Wynn reduced the intensity of the checks Tuesday, indicating the new policy was still being tested. “Now that it is confirmed there was one shooter, we will return to scanning guests when we believe the need arises. We are continuing our other enhanced security procedures at entrances and throughout the resort.”

The Wynn spokesman confirmed that guests who exited the hotel had to stand in line again to re-enter.

Russ Simons, Venue Solutions Group, who is chairman of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Public Assembly Facility Sub-Sector Council and serves on the IAVM Safety & Security Committee and NCS4 (National Center for Spectator, Sport, Safety and Security) board of advisors, noted the mass killing in Las Vegas reinforces the need to do a threat assessment and vulnerability to that threat constantly. “That leads to a risk assessment and from that you get your emergency action plan. I don’t think anyone would have weighed gunfire from a significant distance and, by the way, from as high a level as this was as a threat to an event like a country music festival. But when anyone was conducting a threat assessment the next day, they would have added in that vulnerability. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to think anyone should have or reasonably could have been thinking about that for that event.”

This does not change the game for venue managers, just increases the volume of the message. “Venue managers will be doing what they’ve done every day for 17 years, since 9/11, which is taking a look at what the circumstances are on the ground, not being comfortable with what you knew yesterday, and knowing you have to think about what the situation will be for you tomorrow. Every professional venue manager knows that complacency as it relates to safety and security is our biggest enemy, and we have to focus on the changing nature of the threat and our response. That has to do with that emergency action plan, training, execution, evaluation and retraining.”

How often do they need to re-evaluate? “In the world we live in today, they need information daily, sometimes several times a day, to communicate the changing nature of the threat,” Simons said.

And it is a worldwide issue. On that same Sunday, there were terrorist incidents earlier in the day in Edmonton, Alberta; Melbourne, Australia and Marseilles, France, Simons noted.

His strongest message is one of personal responsibility.  “We can’t afford to rely on someone else to take care of us. We have to pay attention, think about where we’re going and assess our situation. What if an earthquake happened? What if something else happened? Where would I go? What would I do? I want people to think about it for themselves, and for their friends and neighbors and communities. I want all of us to spend a little more effort looking out for each other,” Simons said.

See something, say something is not just a tagline, he added. “We all have an obligation and a responsibility to be paying attention, and if we see things that make us uncomfortable or we don’t understnad, we have to bring those things to someone’s attention. All of us are better than any one of us. It’s not someone else’s problem. It should be clear this is each and every one of our problems and any solution will require everyone’s contributions.”

BACK IN VEGAS

Deb Oshrow, a professor of hospitality at Rosen College of Hospitality, Orlando, Fla., questioned the effectiveness of the new search policy on Wednesday. “Metal detectors can scare guests and make them feel like there’s something they need to worry about and could potentially spoil the vacation experience,” she said.

“Having an increased security presence and keeping a watchful eye on everyone coming in and out and looking for anything unusual may be a better solution,” Oshrow said.

How Paddock got “in excess of 23 rifles” into Mandalay Bay was something Las Vegas, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is still trying to piece together. What was clear to Lombardo was that “Paddock brought the weapons into the hotel on his own and that he used a device similar to a hammer to smash the windows.”

Randy Sutton spent 24 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He was “unsurprised” that Paddock could amass the large amount of weapons and get them into the hotel and up to the 32nd floor.

“He had plenty of time to get the guns to his room,” he said. “There would have been no reason for hotel security to identify Paddock as a threat. It looks to me like this guy just checked in as a guest, and it's very common for guests to have a lot of luggage. It's relatively simple to conceal weapons in luggage. Actually, security wouldn't be involved, because it looks like he went directly to the room. Typically he wouldn't deal with security; security wouldn't be aware of his presence."

Sutton does not blame Mandalay Bay security in any way. “There's no way security could have known about the threat. Without some tip-off, Paddock passed through the hotel like any other guest would have. There's nothing that security could have done to stop that."

Most casinos, if not all, on the Las Vegas Strip have a weapon ban; signs are posted at all entrances advising guests of the policy.

Joe Morton, a security expert, who was at the scene of the Route 91 Harvest massacre as a guest said that, when he worked at Strip hotels, “if someone openly carried a weapon into the casino we’d have stopped him. I can assure you, if somebody came in brandishing a weapon, he would get a reaction from security. But there is no way for anyone to know whether weapons are hidden in hotel luggage, barring searching everyone and every bag on the way in.”

Morton also questioned the wisdom and logistics of searching all guests. "How can this be accomplished? There are thousands of people coming in and out of the hotels, at hundreds of different entrance points. It would be a nightmare for the hotels and the guests. Sure, it could be done, but the risk of this kind of thing happening is so rare that having that kind of security in place just wouldn't be a reasonable thing to do. If somebody is determined to commit a crime like this, they'll find a way to do it. It's almost impossible to prevent."

Morton survived the shooting by taking swift action. “As soon as bodies starting falling I knew we were dealing with a mass-shooting scenario,” he recalled. “I grabbed my children and started shouting for festivalgoers to take cover near a garbage dumpster that was nearby.”

“About 30 of us hid behind the dumpster as round-after-round of rapid-fire barreled down upon the concert-grounds, ” he said. “At this point, no one knew where the shots were coming from. Some of the people gathered wanted to run for it; I told them to stay put until we found out the source of the bullets.”

Morton believes his quick action and sound advice saved the lives of the innocent festivalgoers who followed his instructions and stayed out of sight until the gunfire stopped. “People panic and want to do exactly the opposite of what they should do; some wanted to run out from behind the dumpster to find friends and family.” Morton advises anyone caught in a similar situation: “Don’t use your heart in a situation like this; use your head. It will save your life.”

Simons agreed this was a rare and unpredictable incident, but not unbelievable. “It’s been 50 years since the asshole at the University of Texas took a long rifle up into the tower. It’s always been something.”

“I think the problem people are having with this guy is he doesn’t fit any known profile,” Simons said.

The scenario is another factor in assessing threats, however. The National Football League is among the many organizations taking a look at highrise buildings in direct proximity to mega events at stadiums, for instance.

Without scientific data, and simply a gut reaction, Simons believes if there is going to be a copycat shooting, it usually occurs in a short period of time. Look at the shootings in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., he noted. That hasn’t been re-created. But that doesn’t mean under a certain set of conditions, it might not be. Vigilance is mandatory.

Each one of these incidents peels another layer off the onion. “There are substantive, ongoing conversations about the kinds of things that can be done. They all have costs. They all require a level of commitment. I don’t have a feel for how far people are willing to go,” Simons said. (Simons participated in a PBS special on the tragedy in Las Vegas, shown here.)

  • by Brad Weissberg and Linda Deckard
  • Published: October 4, 2017