Another View -- Clark Dumont: When the unthinkable becomes thinkable
September 30. 2018 9:38PM
“BAD THINGS are going to happen. It’s how you respond to them that shows your true sense of community... and this community is strong.” — Aaron Rouse, FBI Special Agent In Charge, Las Vegas, Nev.
In the late hours of a Sunday a year ago, the unconceivable again became thinkable. This time it was during the concluding performance of a three-day country music festival at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard.
While the reason remains unknown, the shooting, and other incidents before and after, highlighted the importance of anticipation, planning, and collaboration in an event management and response management chain.
I was the chief of staff to the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. That night, I was at home. I awoke to the fog of the incident, which Las Vegas residents call “10/1.”
When you think of Las Vegas, the casinos, the lights, and the Strip come to mind. What is not as obvious is that Las Vegas is a highly-connected community. Regularly hosting medium, large, and mega-events, Las Vegas has advanced a model of deep and interdisciplinary collaboration.
In the lead up to the 2015 “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, I hosted a first of its kind meeting with Las Vegas Metro Police, FBI, Clark County Fire & Rescue, Clark County government, Regional Transportation Authority, Nevada Athletic Commission, McCarran Airport, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, with the objective of ensuring relationships and trust were in place.
Just a year before, people at a Mayweather fight were injured in a panicked stampede resulting from an erroneous report of gunshots. Lessons were learned. Communicators were added to the city-wide Fusion Center and in the MGM Resorts International operations center.
This planning and coordination yielded a flawless event. These efforts would help in the response to and recovery from last year’s shooting.
The imperative of community in response to disasters
In the wake of 10/1, inspiration was drawn from the response of the community to help, to volunteer, and to contribute. In its aftermath, #VegasStrong became the unifying theme for the community.
As a member of the board of directors of the Red Cross of Southern Nevada, I was immediately able to coordinate with regional Red Cross leadership to ensure the adequacy of the blood supply.
Work space was secured for 100 Red Cross staffers that arrived within 24 hours, eventually growing to more than 300. They were experts in mass casualty response from around the country to provide trauma counseling, care management, and staffing to the victim’s assistance center that is now an immediate and integral part of mass casualty response. The Red Cross was amazing. Lines also quickly formed to donate blood.
Financial donations also soon started to flow and the Clark County Commission and the Las Vegas Metro Police Sheriff created a GoFundMe account.
An account hosted by a 501(c)3 fiduciary facilitated a more centralized fund repository for the administration of a victim’s assistance account, with assistance and guidance by Kenneth Feinberg, J.D., an international leader in mass victim financial assistance response.
After such an incident, the need for qualified, trauma-certified counselors is immediate and immense. The University of Nevada Las Vegas’ College of Urban Affairs has a counseling major and immediately provided additional resources to support the community of existing therapists.
Public vigils, tributes, and memorials were important components of the mourning and healing process. In the immediate aftermath, memorials of items appeared at a traffic island adjacent to the site. For safety, the tribute and memorial site was moved to the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. Later, the 58 victim crosses, fabricated by a retired carpenter from Illinois, were moved from the “Welcome” sign to the Clark County Museum.
How the nonprofit sector mobilizes was inspiring. “Voluntary Organizations Activated in Disaster” include the broad cross-section of the community’s nongovernment organizations and programs. Each with their areas of focus, they collaborate on the ongoing response. With guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Also inspiring was the role that professional sports played. The NHL’s expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, was on the eve of launching its inaugural season. The team honored the victims, uniting, and healing the community. Its first regular-season game, within one week of the incident, and the entire season were pitch perfect.
Let me acknowledge comfort animals. The yellow and black labs, the shepherds, the poodles, the beagles. You cannot underestimate the calm they brought wherever they were. They are man’s best friend.
Professor Rob Ulmer, Ph.D., dean of the University of Las Vegas Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, a good friend, notes in his book “Effective Crisis Communication, Moving from Crisis to Opportunity” (SAGE), from crisis can —and does — come improvements. As we have seen in other communities, they can become stronger and more resilient in the wake of crisis.
That several months have seen another cross-city effort to remember the victims of Oct. 1. The community will embrace and honor memories, while also celebrating life and how in the past 12 months, the city had gone from #VegasStrong to #VegasStronger.
Clark Dumont is the former chief of staff of MGM Resorts International, and began his career in New Hampshire radio.