Are Las Vegas Resorts Ready for Emergencies?
Las Vegas promotes itself as a safe place to come for family fun, offering shows, food, and, of course, gambling, but in an atmosphere where no one needs to fear or worry.
While the gunman who reportedly opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort on the night of Oct. 1 really hasn’t changed the city’s popular image, it has woken up some experts to the complete lack of preparation by most resorts for coping with sudden, serious emergencies.
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The Las Vegas Review-Journal has published a report showing that most casinos have either no emergency response plan or a hopelessly outdated plan.
Nevada has laws in place mandating casinos and resorts to create and update emergency plans. The law was enacted shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001—but it was enacted without any enforcement provision, making it more of a suggestion.
Records show that half the 155 casinos required to file a plan in 2008 had complied, and in 2017, only 76 out of 139 had any sort of plan at all.
No Plans, No Updates, No Review Process
What’s worse, is that the state lacks the resources to review the plans even if they are filed.
The Nevada Division of Emergency management claims it has reviewed the plans it does have, but investigation reveals that no such review has taken place.
This means that first responders rushing into a resort full of civilians might not know the floor plan, where the emergency exits are, or where the fire-suppression systems might be. A casino might have remodeled several times since a plan was filed—if there is a plan at all.
Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell said no plans have been submitted to them at all. Though the law was finalized in 2003—15 years ago—not a single plan has been passed on to the fire department.
Caleb Cage, chief of the Division of Emergency Management, said local emergency responders need to see the casino plans because they are the first ones at the scene. First responders need to know where guests might be running to or from, where guests can be guided towards exits or shelter, and where emergency exits are.
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Former Assemblyman John Oceguera, who sponsored the original legislation, said, “An emergency plan covers a wide variety of incidents, including active shooters.”
Mandalay Bay had not updated its plan since 2012. While state and local emergency officials will not comment on whether the plan was carried out successfully on the night of the Oct. 1 shooting, parent company MGM Resorts International, said “the plan’s guidelines for defining roles and responsibilities during an emergency were followed,” according to the Review-Journal.
MGM Resorts refused to comment on why many of its 12 other properties had not filed updated plans since 2008.
Bill Elliott is the Division of Emergency Management official responsible for reviewing the resorts’ emergency plans. He simply doesn’t have the expertise to do it, he said.
“My expertise on a casino plan is very minimal,” Elliott told the Review-Journal. “If we had a requirement to judge the plans, we would need additional staff to do it.”
Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell didn’t even know such plans were supposed to exist. “This is something that we had no clue ever existed,” Cassell told the Review-Journal. Cassell is also a member of the Nevada Homeland Security Commission.
Stonewalled by Police
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department simply refused to cooperate with the Review-Journal’s investigation.
Police spokesman Larry Hadfield refused to confirm or deny that his department has received any emergency plans, which by law must be filed with the agency.
Hadfield would not allow the Review-Journal to interview anyone from the Emergency Management Section responsible for reviewing plans, nor to interview Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
“This should concern everybody, especially after the shooting at the Mandalay Bay,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association.
“We trust the government to have our backs on this kind of stuff, but when they won’t tell us what they’re doing, we suspect that they’re not doing anything all.”
Ex-Assemblyman John Oceguera opined, “There needs to be some teeth in the law so folks are compelled to act.
“But more importantly,” he continued,”a plan on a shelf is virtually useless if it’s not getting to the people who need to see it and use it.”
Emergency management consultant Mike Davis said, “They have to coordinate and communicate with the first responders to make sure everyone understands the procedures and anticipates each other’s actions.”
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Retired FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence specialist Steven Hooper said the businesses needed to work with the public agencies before a crisis develops.
“On the day of, you don’t want it to be the first time you meet the crisis managers for the first responders because it will be chaos on the day of,” he said.
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Division of Emergency Management chief Caleb Cage said his department focuses on response to earthquakes and such.
“We look at planning and preparedness in general—how we can make sure we have plans in place at the state to correspond with local governments and tribal governments that work directly with the local businesses,” he said.
Cage said that the plans needed to go to first responders, not his department. However, after his interview with the Review-Journal, Cage did send letters to some 90 casinos, asking them to submit updated plans.
Fire Chief Greg Cassell said that with so much information available online about water hookups, exits, elevators and power hook-ups, his department doesn’t really need emergency response plans.
Still, he said he would send letters to some three dozen casinos and resorts asking for such plans.
Differing Methods in Different Cities
Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski also said the city has computerized records which provide the needed information.
The city of Reno Fire Department, on the other hand gets annual updates to the response plans from the resorts there.
Capt. Willie Seirer, with the department’s fire prevention division, said the plans go beyond locating emergency exits. They outline who emergency responders, casino staff, and law enforcement would work together in the event of an emergency.
Review of the plans is extremely important, he stated. One submitted plan ordered resort employees to contact a supervisor before reporting a fire to the Fire Department.
“I red-lined that part, sent it back and told them to change it so that the Fire Department was called first before a supervisor,” Seirer said.
Atlantic City, in New Jersey, another nationally popular casino and resort vacation destination, also keeps emergency plans on file with the Fire Department, and tries to keep the plans updated, according to Fire Chief Scott Evans, who said the Fire Department and the casinos have “a pretty good relationship.”
“They are very cooperative with our needs and our partnerships now with casinos to enhance the security of the city as a whole.”