HR, Safety Experts Identify Lessons from Las Vegas Tragedy

By Allen Smith, J.D. Oct 13, 2017
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​The Las Vegas mass shooting has left HR and security professionals wondering what, if anything, they can do to help prevent an event like it from happening again.

"We can't forget the tragedy of this incredibly unusual event," said security consultant Michael Tabman of Spirit Asset Protection, headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. He described the mass killings as "a tragic event we couldn't see coming."

But there are some measures HR and security can take to help prevent such atrocities:

  • Train all staff that they won't be retaliated against for bringing forward concerns about the clientele.
  • Profile guests entering hotels on multiple occasions with large bags.
  • Install sensors on the windows of high-rise buildings to activate an alarm if broken.
  • Team up with law enforcement authorities.

Tabman said employers don't want to make employees paranoid or for them to act alone. Instead, employees should become knowledgeable enough to spot red flags, like a "Do Not Disturb" sign on a door for more than one day.

Train All Staff

​Arte Nathan, former chief HR officer for casino mogul Steve Wynn's gaming companies in Atlantic City, N.J., Las Vegas, Mississippi and China, noted that security in Las Vegas casino hotels is extensive. Typically, cameras constantly monitor entrances, halls, elevators and storage areas. There are uniformed staff at every entrance, entry point into a gaming area, key money handling and crowd control areas. Plus, many staff members roam the premises and observe.

"It's not uncommon for a casino hotel to have a security staff in excess of 200 employees," he noted. "Only a small percentage of these are armed. The rest are trained in keeping their eyes and ears open and reporting anything suspicious to their supervisors."

Las Vegas casinos "have always worried they could be potential targets for violent acts. Because of that, most of the properties here initiated general awareness training that teaches all staff to report anything that might be out of the ordinary," said Nathan, who is president of Strategic Development Worldwide and founder of The Arte of Motivation, an HR advisory service in Las Vegas.

Staff "know their work areas and are more likely to spot unusual people or materials and possible anomalies," he said. Many casinos refresh training annually.

Housekeeping staff should be coached to report to security any suspicious items they spot while cleaning rooms—but they shouldn't poke around guests' possessions, Tabman said.

Employees need to be told they will not be written up for wasting management's time by bringing concerns to the security department's attention, he said. "We don't want everyone to be afraid," he noted, saying there instead should be "good, common-sense training."

Each casino hotel has an in-house emergency number for employees to call if they see something that could be dangerous, including suspicious people, said James Portese, director of safety for Hooters Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

Safety and security training needs to be conducted regularly and kept current in daily pre-shift meetings and other regular or ad-hoc meetings. "Most employees today understand the challenges associated with random or targeted acts of violence and are happy to play a part in providing secure premises for employees and guests," Nathan said. "They realize that their heightened awareness and good quick judgments are important to the company's overall security," adding that employers should "keep conversations about this issue going."

Multiple Trips with Multiple Bags

​Tabman said, "You can't walk anywhere in Vegas without being on camera." A former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent who was in charge of 250 FBI agents throughout three states, he noted that many security directors at the megahotels in Las Vegas also are former FBI agents. While they have been on the lookout primarily for robberies in the past, he said, they may now be watching for red flags indicating someone has brought in weapons. Does a tourist come back and forth with big bags? That could be suspicious, according to Tabman, who said that guests typically only bring their bags in and out during check in and check out. 

Portese said that it is common to forget something and bring separate bags up to a room on multiple occasions. However, Stephen Paddock, the assailant in Vegas, reportedly had 23 weapons in his room. If he had gradually brought them into the Mandalay Bay hotel room at the same time each day, that might have raised suspicions, Portese said. But Paddock might have brought them up during different shifts. Video surveillance teams typically change over three times a day, and if he brought the weapons up during different times each day, the different teams may not have noticed it, Portese noted.

If a hotel employee wants to stop and check a bag, that employee will have no legal recourse other than to deny the guest permission to continue staying at a hotel if the guest refuses a bag search, Tabman noted. Hotels must balance security with freedom and comfort, he added, saying it isn't realistic to check every bag.

If guests are profiled based on national origin or race, an employer may face a lawsuit, cautioned Jeffrey Horton Thomas, an attorney with Thomas Employment Law Advocates in West Hollywood, Calif. "Hotel personnel had better have a clear, objective nondiscriminatory reason for stopping, questioning and searching," he said. "The more assertive hotel operators get in this arena, the more they also must be attuned to civil rights protections."

Alarms

Portese recommends putting alarms on windows eight stories or higher to be activated if windows are broken or the windows are compromised.

Metal detectors aren't a good solution for hotels, he said, adding, "We don't want to inconvenience guests over car keys."

Alarms on windows might have been a deterrent and might have given a SWAT team more time to reach the assailant's room, according to Portese.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention Standard]

But he said that "Las Vegas came together quickly and conducted itself with professionalism. There was a sense of urgency here, and it saved a lot of people's lives." 

Work Closely with Law Enforcement

​Melissa Marsh, SHRM-SCP, principal of HR in Demand in Reno, Nev., and former HR director for the Nine Group at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, said if she were heading up training efforts she would be enthusiastic about teaming up with law enforcement authorities. She said while she was at the Nine Group, which ran a nightclub, bar, restaurant and retail store at the casino, as well as staffed and operated the pool area, police regularly came on the property. 

"We were very well-connected with the Las Vegas Police Department," she said. "There was a heavy emphasis on security and keeping people trained.

"My hat goes off to those who responded so quickly that it wasn't worse than it was. I hope we learned some lessons operationally from this awful tragedy."

Debra DeShong, MGM Resorts spokesperson, said, "This remains an ongoing investigation with a lot of moving parts. As evidenced by law enforcement briefings over the past week, many facts are still unverified and continue to change as event are under review."

Wynn Las Vegas and Palms Casino Resort declined to comment.

 

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