We all know the line: What happens here, stays here.
This five-word catchphrase will go down as one of the greatest marketing campaigns ever, encapsulating of the freedom, anonymity, independence, and quirky self-awareness that have characterized Las Vegas for most of modern history.
Few slogans have more perfectly summed up a destination.
Until Sunday night. Until a deranged murderer changed everything.
The details of the worst mass shooting in American history are gruesome, and we won’t recap them here. The most important part of the story is this: More than 22,000 country music fans converged for the closing night of a three-day festival to celebrate art and life. Today, 58 of them are dead another 500 or so are injured, and all of them have been changed forever.
And so has Las Vegas.
For a city that celebrates the bon vivant experience, learning lessons from the security loopholes that enabled the Route 91 massacre will be a gut-wrenching reality check.
Changes to hotels and casinos
On the hotel level, the self-examination began immediately.
As news spread that the shooter managed to bring an arsenal of firearms into his suite, casino resort executives began asking themselves tough questions about ways to prevent this from happening again. The first item on the list: TSA-style security checkpoints. Officials at Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts have not committed to this move, each saying (in prepared statements) that they’re still evaluating which changes will make the most sense. Wynn Las Vegas was quicker to act, promptly rolling out some metal detectors and scanning certain bags.
Security experts are conflicted about whether this measure actually will provide more security in the long-term. Some suggest that checkpoints would work if for no other reason than because they make people feel safer. Others note that setting up screening points at hotel entrances would create choke points where crowds of guests will gather—crowds that could present inviting targets for would-be attackers.
“The bottom line is that a person who is motivated or even mildly motivated to cause terror is going to figure out a way to do it,” says Sarge Curtis, a security consultant and a former Las Vegas cop. “That makes it difficult to know exactly what precautions are worth taking.”
Another security issue vexing hotel officials is hotels’ Do-Not-Disturb protocols. Most properties have policies that stipulate when and how the housekeeping staff should report unusually long “DND” signs: In general, room attendants are expected to call it in after two or three days. Shortening that time—and standardizing the policy across the industry—may help, but hotel managers worry that guests will balk at what may be seen as an invasion of privacy. And in Las Vegas, many guests likely will.
Then, of course, there is the issue about keeping tabs on suspicious characters or unattended bags. While hotels and casinos have internal policies about how employees should handle these situations, few communicate that guests can and should be wary, as well.
Curtis, who in recent years has helped secure Downtown Las Vegas, says activating guests to help as additional eyes and ears could make a huge difference in neutralizing future threats. He suggests that hotels could pull a page from airports and metropolitan police playbooks and encourage an “If you see something, say something” mentality.
“Think about airplane videos—the ones they show you when you first board to get all of the safety information across,” he says. “Maybe when you check into your room, the TV is playing a safety message about what to do in the event of an incident or [whom] to tell if you see something. Maybe there’s some sort of incentive for people who watch the video. There are a lot of different ideas that address and improve security and don’t mean putting checkpoints or a bunch of guys with rifles in front of a casino.”
Changes to the festival scene
The Route 91 shootings will almost certainly alter the burgeoning Las Vegas festival scene. First up will be an expansion of on-the-ground security measures at open-air festivals, including screening checkpoints and the deployment of teams specially trained in assessing suspicious behaviors. Greg McCurdy, a retired assistant sheriff and a former Las Vegas Metro police officer, says redoubled security measures will also likely mean squadrons of counter-snipers at the ready for when future domestic terrorists attempt to copy the most recent attacker and fire from above.
“It might seem extreme, but having people in position atop buildings to take out threats that are above the ground would secure the perimeter in a big way,” says McCurdy, who also served as vice president of corporate security for SLS Las Vegas. “Whether festival promoters would be into it, I don’t know."
The strategy is hardly new: The NYPD installed counter-sniper teams in Yankee Stadium for Tuesday’s MLB playoff game, and New York City has employed such rooftop tactics at large events—including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square—for years
Moving big outdoor events inside, where security details can control access and use sniffer dogs and screening checkpoints, is another option for festival planners. But McCurdy recognizes the pros and cons to this approach. On the plus side, holding future festivals in a more controllable environment would shore up vulnerabilities inherent in outdoor, open-air festival sites. On the negative side, particularly for festivals that play off their surroundings, moving indoors would change the nature of these events and, for fans, significantly detract from the experience.
“I can’t imagine Life is Beautiful moving to an indoor facility and still being Life is Beautiful,” he says, referring to the popular Las Vegas outdoor festival. “[Event promoters] are going to have to decide: Do they want to continue to have outdoor venue performances and deal with the security issues associated with those, or do they want to move them indoors and feel like security is less of a wildcard? I can only present them with the options. I’m not the guy to make the decision.”
Overall, McCurdy notes that for better or for worse, big changes are likely to come in the festival space.
“I think the days of people slipping in and slipping out anonymously are going to disappear,” he says. “Just as we had to adjust the way we fly after 9/11, we’ll have to assess the way we festival after this.”
Inoculating against stress
While security experts agree that Las Vegas will change as a result of the Route 91 shootings, they also say visitors to the city—and to all popular destinations, for that matter—need to change, as well.
Curtis likens this process to a vaccination. Fittingly, he calls it “stress inoculation.”
“One of the biggest challenges in my industry is that even after an attack like the one we just had, people have been conditioned to feel like the next crisis event is not going to happen to them,” he says. “When something does happen, these same people freak out and often take the wrong response, putting themselves in even more danger.”
Fortunately, a stress inoculation is simple. The process, notes Curtis, involves steps such as identifying the closest emergency exit, formulating an escape route, selecting a meeting point. Having a plan, he says, and communicating it to your fellow travelers, could significantly improve your chances of staying alive.
“The more you and your loved ones run through a strategy for dealing with a stressful situation, the more immunity you develop to panicking in that situation,” he says.
The bottom line: We all must be more vigilant. Even in Las Vegas.
Since 2007, AFAR contributor Matt Villano has worked on 11 guidebooks and written more than 200 travel stories about Las Vegas.