Las Vegas, a 'soft target,' long feared an attack

Las Vegas police investigate a side street near the Las Vegas Village after a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. (Photo: David Becker/Getty Images)
Las Vegas police investigate a side street near the Las Vegas Village after a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. (Photo: David Becker/Getty Images)

The shooting of more than 500 people Sunday night at a country music concert in Las Vegas is prompting questions about whether such an attack could have been prevented by hotel or city officials.

Stephen Paddock, 64, checked into a 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip on Thursday. He was found dead by police Sunday night, according to news reports, with at least 18 firearms in his room, including at least one fully automatic weapon or a semiautomatic weapon modified to fire automatically.

Like many popular tourism destinations, Las Vegas is what terror and security experts call a “soft target” for would-be attackers because it attracts large outdoor crowds of civilians. More than 40 million people visit Las Vegas each year to gamble, see concerts or other shows and take in the spectacle of the Strip. Six of the 10 largest hotels in the world are located in Vegas, towering over the streets and plazas where tourists walk and gather.

“We’ve always been worried about it,” Nevada State Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, a former Marine, told Yahoo News about the possibility of a terror attack. “Everyone has been very laser-focused on this for years.”

Local officials and security experts insisted that so far it seems there’s nothing the city or its hotel magnates could have done to prevent the attack, which is the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“There were no indications of this person being a target we should watch,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, told MSNBC. “I don’t know how you could have prevented it.”

Mandalay Bay doesn’t allow firearms onto its premises, but also — like the vast majority of hotels — does not search guests’ bags or pass guests through a metal detector. (Some other Strip hotels allow firearms.) Security experts say those measures turn off guests and can be a logistical nightmare. It’s unclear how Paddock transported the weapons into his hotel room — in gun cases or generic bags.

“Using metal detectors and searching everybody coming into a hotel is totally impossible,” said Fred Del Marva, a forensic expert specializing in casino security. “I was at the Bellagio a couple of weeks ago, and there were 300 people trying to check in at one time.”

Some were carrying suitcases as large as desks wrapped in cellophane, he said.

Pat Brosnan, the CEO of a security firm that works with hotels, agreed.

“We’re in Vegas,” said Brosnan. “People are schlepping in all kinds of stuff. They’re there to party.” Hotel owners want the vibe of a hotel to be “friendly” and fun. “It’s not like going to the 9/11 memorial, where they’re going to search you and take your bag,” he said.

But the sheer scale of this attack may change that approach, as Vegas reels from how vulnerable the 22,000 people attending a country music concert Sunday night turned out to be.

“I know there will be a lot of serious people on the Strip taking this as seriously as they’ve ever taken anything,” Anderson, the assemblyman, said. He added that he hoped people would not stay away from Vegas out of fear, since tourism is the area’s “lifeblood.”

Before this attack, Vegas had prided itself on keeping the Strip safe for its nearly 45 million annual visitors. John Choate, executive director of security at Wynn and Encore hotels in Las Vegas, told a meeting of hospitality officials in March that people “should feel very, very safe coming to Las Vegas,” according to the local paper. He pointed out that the Strip draws on a special section of Las Vegas’s city police as well as the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center and an FBI SWAT team for security. Casinos’ private security teams also cooperate with each other and law enforcement. Law enforcement has been praised for its quick reaction time Sunday night.

A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer stands in the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Ave. after a mass shooting at a country music festival nearby on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

But if someone is determined enough to wreak havoc, they can.

“There’s lots of ways to get a high body count,” Brosnan said. “This is something that keeps us up at night every single night. How do we further bulletproof these areas? And a lot of times there’s not a concrete answer.”

Bill Bratton, the former commissioner of the NYPD, told MSNBC on Monday that the easy availability of weapons in the country means that law enforcement has to be ready to respond quickly to mass shooting events and has little opportunity to prevent them.

“This is the new normal in America,” Bratton said.


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