Homeland Security and Public Safety

Las Vegas Fusion Center Is a Model for Public-Private Collaboration

Now when a school official hears a rumor about an upcoming fight, the information is reported to the school district police and the SNCTC’s watch desk. It’s then pushed out to the local police departments. Hibbetts said since this process has been in place, there hasn’t been a major incident at or near any of the schools.

The SNCTC also seeks to educate police officers to be force multipliers in the mission to mitigate and prevent terrorist activities through the terrorism liaison officers program. About 2,200 officers have completed the Web-based training that informs them what to look for and how to report the data. The fusion center doesn’t turn only to law enforcement officers as force multipliers — the casino and hotel industry plays a large part in keeping the Las Vegas area safe.

A Unique Kinship

Beyond the hired security personnel, there’s a layer of security within the hospitality industry that’s rather inconspicuous — and that’s by design. Las Vegas is a party town and while the goal is to protect its main asset — people —from harm, it has to do so without alarming visitors. There can’t be a uniformed cop on every street corner.

The layered security system is getting more and more elaborate, and there’s a set of strong relationships comprising SNCTC staff, the hospitality industry and others, including the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). The collaboration is unique partly because of the inherent need of the hospitality business to protect its assets, and because the industry understands that operating within a silo would limit the industry’s ability to protect its critical assets.

The importance of this mission is evidenced by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority funding a full-time analyst at the fusion center. The analyst analyzes suspicious activity information that comes in from the federal and state levels as well as from the resorts, and maintains direct contact with personnel at the resorts.

“Having someone from the private sector funded by the private sector sitting at the fusion center having access to a great deal of information, then messaging back and making sure there’s two-way flow of information — that has worked quite well,” said Dawn Scalici, deputy undersecretary for analysis at the DHS. “I won’t say it’s totally unique, but it really does stand out quite a bit in terms of the kind of private-sector interaction they have.”

The fusion center staff includes overt and covert personnel always on the lookout for something unusual. Add that to security personnel hired by individual hotels, along with the Las Vegas Metro Police, and you have several layers of security. But that’s not enough.

“We know we can’t do it alone,” Hibbetts said. “It can’t just be police.” 

It must be everyone, including maids, front desk clerks, valets, and recently, taxi cab drivers. They all receive training on what to look for and what to do with the information. It’s a network of eyes and ears not limited to security personnel.

“We’ve created this platform of sharing information not only among ourselves, but also with the industry and the fusion center,” said Tom Lozich, executive director of corporate security for MGM Resorts International. “When you look at this, security [personnel] is not the main component, nor should it be. Everybody has a role to play, and we’ve adapted a collaborative effort.”

See Something, Act

Whether it’s inherent in the nature of the Las Vegas community or whether it was forged through hard work, this network of collaboration thrives. One reason is the outreach done by the fusion center staff, Hibbetts said. “You get a whole lot more mileage out of walking into somebody’s office than you do picking up the phone.”

And having the card or phone number of someone to call when something doesn’t look right is crucial. “If we’re not out there making contacts with people, then the people don’t know who to call,” Domansky said. “They have information that is useful, but they often don’t know what to do with it.”

The outreach and training of private-sector personnel is a requirement that’s taken on a new dimension recently. The city has taken the See Something, Say Something campaign to heart, using a logo, created by a graphic designer at the MGM Grand, that has been adopted by the city.

And it goes beyond billboards. There’s a real effort to get nearly everyone in the hospitality industry involved, and to give them the impetus to keep their eyes and ears open and the confidence to report something unusual.

Fusion center staff used to conduct instructor-led training of private-sector personnel, but the training has gone online with DVDs and Web pages. All employees at the MGM Grand go through Web-led training, including watching Nevada’s Seven Signs of Terrorism, which explains what behavior might be out of the norm and could be preparation for a terrorist act.

The training gets more specific and drills down into what various staff members might look for depending on their jobs. There are videos for parking valets, guest room attendants, porters, technicians, guest services representatives and most recently cab drivers. 

Each video is tailored to the position held at the hotel. For instance, the bellhop might see something different than a maid would. “We tried to look at the hundreds of positions we have in our company,” Lozich said. “Which ones have the greatest opportunity to see as much as a security officer or a person in a surveillance room?”

Lozich called it a focused approach in that the valet outside parking cars will see something different than the guestroom attendant on the 33rd floor and should be trained as such. The DVDs underscore what might be suspicious activity that warrants reporting and how to report it. The DVDs avoid profiling individuals, and SNCTC personnel stress watching for suspicious activities rather than suspicious people.

The videos were developed in a collaborative effort with the industry, the fusion center and the Institute for Security Studies at UNLV. During development, business practices and the constraints of the hotel industry were taken into consideration. The industry can’t afford to put staff in a training room for hours at a time and provide a PowerPoint presentation. It can, however, provide looping video in a lunchroom or break room and train employees at opportune times.

Employees view the DVDs on preshifts, when one shift starts and another ends. And the point is driven home daily, from the billboards employees see as they drive to work to the looped “MeTV” on the video screens in the lunchrooms and elsewhere. “I call it media touch points,” Lozich said. “We understand posters aren’t the answer; it has to be a layered approach between our MeTV to the cards that we hand out to promote discussion between security and employees.”

Never Bite the Hand That Feeds

Anyone can view the video, Nevada’s Seven Signs of Terrorism, or fill out a Suspicious Activity Report at www.snctc.org. But employees of the MGM are coached to report any suspicious activity — an item out of place, a person acting strangely — to their supervisor or security personnel. If the supervisor or security officer believes it to be an urgent threat, he’ll place a call directly to the fusion center. Or the information is entered into Trapwire, a citywide database linking surveillance systems of most resorts and the fusion center.

Lozich said it’s critical that employees understand that there would never be negative repercussions from reporting something they deem suspicious. “We never bite the hand that feeds us. We never say, ‘Don’t call us again on this.’ We treat every one as important. If it’s important enough for an employee to report it to us, we’re going to say it’s important to us.”

The private sector is sometimes accused of hiding information that may be detrimental to business. However, everyone agreed that the stakes are too high to bury information that could thwart a terrorist attack. “We know, unfortunately, that one bad day for one of us is a bad day for all of us,” Lozich said. “That binds us together. Our view is we’d rather report something up front than have to suffer the consequences later. There’s been a change in that regard.”

Lozich said because the industry is the economic engine for the state, Las Vegas is actually like a small community. “We don’t have a lot of diverse infrastructure, manufacturing and everything else. That really helps when we have a common goal. We’re trying to make this the safest place possible.”

Elaine Pittman  |  Managing Editor

Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Elaine joined Emergency Management in 2008, and she can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.