The drone hovered like a vulture from the ceiling, a drone catching cage ready to trap it. Nearby, an enormous concrete ball was painted white with red stitches to resemble a baseball, thereby masking its real purpose as a barrier to stop heavy trucks from plowing into crowds or buildings. These high tech security measures were part of hundreds of booths on the show floor at a Global Security Exchange conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The site and timing of the annual conference were especially significant this year. It was held less than a week before the anniversary of the country’s worst shooting by a single individual.
On Oct. 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock fired from his room on the 32rd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas into a crowd at a country western concert. He killed 58. More than 800 were injured in the gunfire and the frenzy to flee.
The Global Security Exchange conference included hundreds of educational sessions. K. Campbell of Blue Glacier Security & Intel spoke on “Hardening Concerts and Special Events.”
The three P's of security
Campbell teaches participants to protect the Three P's: the Performer, the Patrons, and the Pocketbook.
He explains that some incidents have left performers standing on stage, what he described as “shell-shocked from the attack,” like Jason Aldean in last year’s Vegas shooting. Campbell says security guards must ensure only ticketed concertgoers get in.
“There’s overlap in that because once you are protecting the pocketbook,” says Campbell, “you are also protecting the patrons.”
In the year following the massacre, Las Vegas has concentrated on enhancing security for its annual 45 million tourists. A drive down South Las Vegas Boulevard, known as the Strip, shows more cylinder-shaped waist high permanent barricades to protect pedestrians from errant or intentional ramming vehicles.
Thousands of cameras, but not in one room
C. David Shepherd, CEO of Readiness Resource Group wrote the active shooter program for the Department of Homeland Security. Before he held that position, he led the security departments at the massive Venetian hotel and casino in Vegas.
Shepherd says more security guards are in place now and many are dressed in casual clothes to better blend in with tourists, but some carry more powerful guns to better match the criminals. He says one casino can contain thousands of surveillance cameras.
However, “the only place you don’t have cameras is in the bathroom,” Shepherd said.
Paddock, the perpetrator, stockpiled more than 20 guns in his hotel room over several days and was able to use those weapons to fire more than 1,000 rounds into the crowd.
Shepherd says most hotels have instituted a new policy to help prevent that. Housekeeping now reserves the right to enter and inspect a room with a “do not disturb sign” on the doorknob for longer than 24-48 hours.
As the city elevates security, it also increases visibility of the memorials to help recovery and to give tribute to the victims.
In the days following the tragedy, 58 handmade white wooden crosses and one that read “Vegas Strong” were erected in a flowing line near the iconic Las Vegas welcome sign.
For the memorial weekend, a second group of crosses was placed at the same location and the original crosses were moved to the Clark County Government Center. They stand in a roped-off area alongside 58 portraits, one of each victim. Organizers solicited volunteer artists from around the globe via Facebook to paint these tributes to the victims.
Following this year’s remembrances, the portraits will be given to the families, said Kevin Schiller, assistant Clark County manager. Schiller says the Vegas strong resiliency center has had “a constant focus on outreach to get to victims or potential victims” because 60 percent of the concert victims lived in California, one state to the west.
Turning tragedy into celebration
Elizabeth West clicked her black calf-high cowboy boots across the center’s concrete floor and paused a few feet from the crosses to take a photo. She wore a silver necklace of angel wings and a shirt commemorating last year’s music festival.
West, of Yucca Valley, California, and her daughter Lacey, were among the 22,000 people who attended the concert and ran for their lives when the bullets started flying. They returned to Las Vegas for the events to commemorate the anniversary. This year, Lacey brought someone new to support her, her fiancé, Josh Trujillo.
In the past, Lacey and her mom would drive to Vegas several times a year for concerts and “girl time.” But since the shooting, Vegas visits took on a somber note as they relived the horror of the previous year. So Lacey and Josh chose to get married during this visit. They said their vows Friday at the Chapel of the Flowers.
Lacey says she’s “taking the opportunity to turn last year’s tragedy back around and create that positive memory again.” And where will the new Mr. and Mrs. Trujillo spend their honeymoon? In Las Vegas, of course.