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The crowd gathering at the world famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign on Thursday could have been any other crowd on any other day in the desert city: young women jumping in unison to time the perfect mid-air selfies, a showgirl in white feather sequins with an unbreakable ear-to-ear smile and Elvis impersonator Mark Rumpler greeting fans with his acoustic guitar.
“We’re the greatest place on Earth and who doesn’t want to go to the greatest place on Earth?” boasts the 11-year Las Vegas resident.
The growing memorial of flowers and candles behind Rumpler are hard to ignore, however, as is the “Vegas Strong” banner hanging between two palm trees. By nightfall, 58 wooden crosses — one for each victim of the Oct. 1 Route 91 Harvest festival shootings — would be placed around the sign.
The contrast of the scene speaks clearly to the dilemma Las Vegas faces in the days ahead. How does the “Entertainment Capital of the World” put on a happy face in the aftermath of such tragedy?
Or, to put it bluntly, how does tourism-dependent Las Vegas — a city that welcomed a record 42.9 million visitors in 2016 —protect its reputation and bottom line?
“Rarely is there one easy answer,” says Steve Adelman, vice president of the Arizona-based Event Safety Alliance trade association and an attorney specializing in safety and security at live events.
“When you talk about, ‘What more could they do?’ — anything Vegas could do would be much more than what other cities could do,” he adds.
What the city can do — and has done — since the shootings is make its police presence much more visible in casinos and on the Strip. The largest contingent remains outside the Route 91 Harvest site, known as Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds. At the same time, visitors are seeing more officers walking casino floors and parking patrol cars at McCarran Airport.
Las Vegas hotels are historically tight-lipped about their security procedures, so any changes may go unnoticed unless announced. Adelman says taking unprecedented safety measures, such as scanning baggage in hotels, seems unlikely.
“Anybody who says that’s going to happen is greatly exaggerating America’s willingness to be inconvenienced for something that’s never happened before,” he says.
Adds David Shepherd of Las Vegas’ Readiness Resource Group: “If you have a hotel that’s going to [scan bags], you’re going to have 72,000 hotels in the United States do the same thing.”
Shepherd, a retired F.B.I. agent and former executive director of security for The Venetian, stresses the need for police and security officers to focus on “every threat condition, not just what the latest one happens to be.”
A motive for the mass shooting has yet to emerge, although each day brings new details about gunman Stephen Paddock’s background and his meticulous planning. Before taking an elevated position on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, investigators say Paddock may have also targeted Chicago’s Lollapalooza and the Life is Beautiful festival — held in Las Vegas September 22-24.
The three-day Route 91 Harvest event had been staged at Las Vegas Village since 2014. A spokesperson for MGM Resorts International, which owns the site, had no comment on its future Thursday. A reference to Las Vegas Village remains on the MGM website, but clicking through sends users to a message reading “We’re sorry we can’t find that.”
While the site may never host another music festival, Adelman says Las Vegas is well equipped to safely host similar events.
“We’re not going to stop doing outdoor shows because there’s a building nearby,” he says. “We know [Paddock] never tried to penetrate the festival, so event security isn’t part of the story.
“The only thing that could have been changed — that could have prevented Sunday night — is if that guy couldn’t have become a shooter.”
Rock bands Incubus and Cake postponed their October shows in Las Vegas following the attack, but of greater concern is what may happen to the convention industry if trade shows start to pull out of the city.
This week’s Global Gaming Expo went on as planned and the International Medical Educators eXchange (IMEX) begins October 10, although its possible the timing of the shootings made it impossible to cancel either show.
Nearly 22,000 events were held in the city in 2016, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, including the annual CinemaCon and National Association of Broadcasters shows.
Both remain on the schedule to return in April 2018.
Meanwhile, the LVCVA and Strip hotels have rallied behind a unified “Vegas Strong” campaign, with billboards and marquees displaying the message: “We’ve been there for you during the good times. Thank you being there for us now.”
The campaign includes a video, narrated by Las Vegan Andre Agassi, in which the retired tennis champ defines the word “strength” from the perspective of those who rallied to save lives during the shootings.
“Strength is valet parkers who become medics, mothers who become emergency responders, sisters who shield brothers because they love them with a love that has no bounds,” Agassi narrates, as a camera zooms toward an image of the Strip, with its hotels illuminating the surrounding city.
Adelman, who says Las Vegas is already the “gold standard” for security, predicts brighter days ahead.
“The response to Las Vegas will be like the response Ariana Grande had after the Manchester Arena bombing,” he explains. “She took time to grieve and then went full speed ahead at planning a benefit concert to show that she and her fans weren’t going to be so fearful that they’d be afraid to live their lives.”
Echoes Elvis fan Rumpler: “You have to continue to have normalcy. If you don’t you start to lose to these crazy people.”
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