Hotel Security Experts Warn About Learning the Wrong Lessons in Wake of Las Vegas Shooting


A couple stops on the Las Vegas Strip Oct. 4, 2017, to look up at the two broken windows in the Mandalay Bay hotel from which killer Stephen Paddock let loose the worst mass shooting in modern American history on Oct. 1, 2017. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

On Oct. 12, 2017, the MGM Resorts International issued a statement disputing the Las Vegas police report that there was a six-minute delay between the time gunman Stephen Paddock shot security guard Jesus Campos at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and the time he opened fire from the 32nd floor into a crowd of concertgoers, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500. MGM, which owns Mandalay Bay, says the time delay was more like 40 seconds, according to new information it received. (Police confirmed there was no six-minute gap today.)

The hotel was responding to one of the unanswered questions and concerns that people have voiced about hotel security: Why was there a delay? How was the gunman able to make several trips back and forth to his hotel room to bring in 23 weapons without anyone noticing? And, why, if many of the moments of the shooter's preparations were captured on hotel surveillance camera, was nothing done?

Hotel security in the U.S. today seems to be where airport security was before 9/11. Will it change after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history? And how should it?

Metal Detectors in Hotels?

Mac Segal is head of hotel security consulting for the global security firm AS Solution. He says that metal detectors, luggage searches and armed guards are already standard at Western-style five-star hotels across Africa and the Middle East. That's because upscale hotels have proven to be attractive targets for terrorists.

"In the last three years, over 300 people have been killed or injured in terror-related attacks on hotels in Africa," says Segal, citing deadly incidents in Mali, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Libya.

Malian troops take security measurements outside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, on Nov. 20, 2015. Gunmen took 170 hostages and at least 20 people, including 18 hostages and two attackers, were killed in the siege.
Habibou Kouyate/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

But in the United States, terror threats and active shooter situations hadn't even made it onto the radar for most hotels. Until now.

"In the U.S., hotel security has ended with petty theft, potential sexual harassment and drunk guys in the bar," says Segal.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Stephen Paddock could carry so many weapons up to his luxury suite in the Mandalay Bay is that most hotel security in the U.S. is focused on protecting the guests, not profiling them as potential threats.

"In hotel security, they're looking at two things," says Bill Nesbitt, a security consultant and expert witness with Security Management Services International. "They want to protect the guests against outside incursions. They also want to protect the guests against any dishonest employees."

Would Tougher Security Measures Have Helped?

When Paddock opened fire through two broken hotel windows at 20,000 concertgoers attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival, he became the first lone gunman in U.S. history to use a hotel as a staging ground for an attack. It's unclear at this point whether Mandalay Bay could have done anything to predict or prevent the shooting, given that Paddock's profile and behavior didn't follow the typical pattern for a mass shooter.

Another important fact, says Segal, is that the target of Paddock's attack wasn't the hotel.

"I don't think the conversation right now should just be about hotel security," Segal says. "The Mandalay Bay was not attacked. The hotel was not attacked in any shape or form. No guest was injured or threatened. The only person injured [in the hotel] was that incredibly brave security officer."

While the Las Vegas shooting should absolutely be a wake-up call for hotels, Segal says he thinks that bigger questions need to be asked about event security and particularly event evacuation plans. Hundreds of people were injured trying to flee the outdoor music festival, with some scrambling over barbed-wire fences and others trampled in a panicked rush for the exits. Segal believes that venues need to design exits and evacuation plans specifically for active shooter situations, not just fires.

Still, says Nesbitt, hotels need to be on guard against copycats who are inspired by Paddock's rampage – just as there have been many copycat killings after Columbine.

More Effective Security Measures

Yet, Segal says that hotels can tighten security against future terrorist or lone gun attackers without turning hotel lobbies into military checkpoints.

"Increased security doesn't mean that we have to inconvenience the guests, make the guests feel intimidated, make the kids feel scared or make the hotel look like a prison," says Segal. "On the contrary, you can do this in an intelligent, aesthetic manner that still allows for a positive guest experience and still keeps people safe."

While some hotels may install more cameras and metal detectors, the best protection against future attacks, says Segal, is a well-trained hotel staff. Every hotel employee, from housekeeping to blackjack dealers, needs to be trained in how to recognize "suspicious indicators" of an imminent attack.

"You see nervousness, aggression, tunnel vision, repeated body movements, avoidance of eye contact," says Segal. "Maybe the guy pays for the room in cash, doesn't want to give ID."

Again, whether that type of training would have prevented the gunman's attack is unclear, since all accounts describe Paddock as cool, calm and drawing no attention or suspicion before the attack.

Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, told Fox News that his Las Vegas hotels implemented heightened security protocols in 2015 after identifying The Strip as a soft target for terrorists. Those protocols included a "no gun" policy for all guests and security training for all hotel staff members. In addition, all entrances and exits are monitored with cameras and hidden metal detectors to alert security personnel to suspicious individuals.

While Wynn refused to say whether his hotels' security measures could have prevented an attack like Paddock's, he did point to the fact that Paddock had holed up in his room for 36 hours, which should have been a red flag.

"We also have rules about 'do not disturb,'" Wynn told Fox News. "If a room goes on 'do not disturb' for more than 12 hours, we investigate."


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