On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman fired hundreds of rifle rounds from his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel into a large crowd of concertgoers attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival near the “Las Vegas Strip,” leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States. The sniper’s motive is still unknown.
It is believed that the killer arrived at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino hotel on September 25, 2017. He occupied a suite on the 32nd floor of the hotel, which was diagonally adjacent to his shooting targets in the festival lot. He placed a “Do not Disturb” sign on his door, organized the room, and stockpiled an arsenal of weapons. Clark County (Nevada) Sheriff Joe Lombardo said that the killer had carried more than ten suitcases into his hotel suite during his preparation for the shooting which presumably included multiple weapons, ammunition and other tools used to enable his mass murder. Investigators also found hidden surveillance cameras which had been placed inside and outside the hotel room suite, presumably so the shooter could monitor the arrival of others.
As the on-going investigation progresses, it is becoming increasingly clear that this episode raises many questions for law enforcement, hotel (business) security and general public/event safety preparedness. For those whose tasks include crisis preparedness and management this tragic event also has generated range of considerations which due diligence demands to be contemplated. Among these considerations are critical questions about whether better communication processes and procedures internally as well as with interagency linkages, might have allowed police to respond more quickly and act to stop the gunman before he had full opportunity to commit the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Did poor communication planning, lack of communication coordination procedures and limited communication tools and technology hamper or delay an effective response in the Las Vegas sniper massacre?
According to news reports, there is some reason to believe that Mandalay Bay hotel officials did not immediately notify police about a shooting in a hotel hallway inside the high-rise which occurred before the massacre commenced, or at least until some point after the gunman had subsequently opened fire on the crowd. If these news reports are accurate, this suggests there may have been a delay of at least six minutes, possibly longer, in the hotel summoning police to the specific scene on the 32nd floor, both before the shooting began or even while it was occurring. It also means that in the critical first minutes when law enforcement was responding to the mass shooting as it was unfolding that they didn’t have this potentially vital information communicated to them. To be fair, we do not fully know all of facts yet, and both the Las Vegas police and the Mandalay Bay’s corporate parent, MGM Resorts International, have not answered direct questions about whether or when the hotel notified law enforcement about the hallway shooting in the minutes before and during the time when the massacre began. MGM has said the chronology timeline released by police is inaccurate, but it has not said what was wrong with it. It is also useful to acknowledge that six minutes might not have been enough time for responding officers to arrive and stop the attack before it started, however a six-minute head start with knowledge of a location might have been an edge to help stop the shooting sooner than it otherwise ended. However, we do know that the entire situation was chaotic and confusing and that there were many potential “chokepoints” for communication and information sharing during a very short time period. It does not take much to use this as a learning tool for seeking to streamline and improve communication processes for future dangerous events.
One aspect of the narrative timeline of the events related to the shooter is the fact that a hotel maintenance worker (Stephen Schuck) reports that he requested hotel security dispatchers to call police and report a gunman had fired with what he believed was a rifle inside the Mandalay Bay hotel before the shooter subsequently began firing from his high-rise suite into the crowd at the nearby musical performance. Yet, according to law enforcement provided timeline, they were not notified of this information in the approximately 6 to 10-minute interval between Schuck’s report to hotel security and when the shooting commenced, nor did they get Schuck’s report relayed to them in the critical time period once the mass shooting had begun. Schuck says he was checking out a report of a jammed fire door on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay when he first heard gunshots and reported it to the Mandalay Bay security office. In addition, a hotel security guard, who had also been shot in the leg by the gunman before the mass shooting of the crowd commenced, had taken refuge in an alcove on that floor level at the same time as Schuck sought cover. Law enforcement officials have said that they believe gunman shot the hotel security guard through the door of his suite at least six minutes before he subsequently unleashed a hailstorm of bullets into the concert crowd below his suite. The injured guard used his radio (and possibly a hallway phone) to also alert hotel dispatchers seeking help. Yet, neither the report from the security guard nor the maintenance worker were relayed to Law Enforcement authorities before or during the gunman’s rampage.
Shooting incidents begin and end in such a short period of time (statistically usually these start and begin in under 15 minutes) that by the time first responders arrive on the scene, the shooting is usually over and either the shooter has fled or has killed himself. Minutes and seconds are always important in such shooting episodes. Since these incidents are so spontaneous and lethal, timing and protocols for communication is a critical link.
It is clear that every type of organization, business, school or public venue should create an emergency communication plan that addresses critical policies and procedures for: reporting, responding, alerting and reacting to emergencies. The plan should be created by gathering input from various stakeholders and external partners including health care providers, local law enforcement and/or emergency responders.
Among the communication considerations should be to work to align your communication strategy and protocols for/with the following key constituents:
- Communicating with law enforcement (as well as fire dispatch, etc.) have protocols and procedures in place with training and practice
- Internal operations (employee-to-employee communication) – have a notification system and procedures in place.
- Communicating to guests, customers and all employees (employee-to-customer) – have a well-rehearsed notification plan
- Linkages to other key external partners (tenants, neighbors, community, health care providers, etc.)
- Crisis team/crisis leadership at corporate headquarters
Train your people and test your communication plan. Ensure that you have a resilient and redundant (back-ups and alternatives) communication protocols. Prepare your key people to function quickly, efficiently and predictably. Run a table top exercise and/or simulate an active shooter situation – include practical tests of all communication notification procedures, test connect and linkages and rehearse communication messages. Include periodic large-scale drills or mock exercise walkthroughs.
Active shooting situations may be preventable. Assess behavioral risks and take appropriate steps to mitigate and minimize the risks of workplace violence whenever possible. However, not all active shooter events may be preventable however even in these cases, the amount of damage, injuries and lives lost can be minimized. Among the steps is to remember that fast, accurate and reliable communication matters. It matters most when time is short and the stakes are high. The Route 91 Harvest music festival massacre reminds us once again that we must better prepare to communicate in these horrific situations.
Better communication planning, effective communication procedures, successful training and resilient personnel along with appropriate communication tools can enhance the response time and keep our communication on point to better protect people during the next horrific episode.