Las Vegas Attack: Observations on Personal Security and Sniper Attacks
By Charles Goslin & Charles “CHUCK” Andrews, CPP
CEO and Principal Consultant/Global Security Advisor
CG Security Associates/Friends Of Chuck (FOC)
In the evening hours of 1 October 2017, Americans attending an open-air country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada were introduced to a horrifying new tactic in the lexicon of mass attacks: A stand-off sniper attack from a nearby high-rise. Unlike the infamous “Texas Tower” sniper attack by Charles Whitman in Austin, Texas in 1966, this attack was carried out with a veritable arsenal of high-caliber weaponry modified to perform as automatic weapons. They were used to lethal effect, as the heavily clustered crowd was sprayed repeatedly at an elevated distance of over 300 yards from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay luxury hotel.
In the days after the attack, even as the investigation into deceased killer Stephen Paddock’s motives continues, security experts are scrambling to delineate the contours of this threat and provide the best advice possible for the public. The prevailing wisdom has been, with some variations, an active shooter countermeasure known as “Run, Hide, Fight (RHF).” This personal security countermeasure has been reliable and effective, but just as the infamous French “Maginot Line” was a defensive measure developed for the “last war” that failed to stop the Nazi Blitzkrieg in the opening days of WWII, RHF in its traditional usage was rendered relatively useless as a defensive measure against this kind of attack, given the elevation of the shooter and openness of the field of fire. RHF, traditionally, is a sequence of measures designed for a horizontal plain inside a building. Think school shooter, workplace shooting, etc. What occurred in Las Vegas requires re-thinking the traditional RHF model, and adapting it to this new threat.
A word about context. This is not a new tactic. The last attack similar to this one was in 1966, on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. Last year, a sniper in Dallas, Texas gunned down five police officers who were protecting a peaceful protest. This is a grimly familiar tactic for those who have experienced urban combat - there were a lot of military veterans in attendance at the concert, and they were some of the very first to recognize the sound of gunfire and take action. For most civilians of this generation, in the U.S., an event such as this utterly new and terrifying. A stand-off sniper attack, let alone with automatic weaponry, is something no one should ever in their life have to experience. Now that it has occurred, it is incumbent on security professionals to develop best-practice countermeasures to mitigate this tactic. Unfortunately, successful attack tactics such as this – whether it turns out the shooter was a lone gunman with a grudge, or a terrorist with a political agenda – tend to be replicated by other terrorists. Grim success, begets copycats. So accept that this threat is real, and act accordingly both now and in the future.
There are some who would attest that there is nothing one can do, in the event of an attack such as Las Vegas. This is simplistic, defeatist thinking. In the realm of personal security, there will always be something one can do to protect themselves or those for whom they are responsible. The whole point of personal security is having a “portable” set of principles and best-practices from which you can think, act, and survive. You cannot control the adversary, you cannot control the rapidity or absence of police response, you cannot even control the trajectory of the bullets. You can control what you do – that is what personal security is all about.
Following are things that one should consider, following the incident in Las Vegas, when attending events or outdoor venues in the weeks and months ahead:
- PREPARATION: Preparation in advance, no matter where you are going, is the long pole in the tent for increasing your chances of survival. You are simply setting a posture of mind, before you venture out on your own, with friends, or the love of your life. This might include the following:
- Understand that gunfire has a sound distinct from firecrackers. Firecrackers pop. Gunfire, whether pistol, or automatic weaponry, has “two syllables” – a deeper bang and crack. The crack, if you are on the receiving end, comes first. It is the sound of the round moving at supersonic speed past or around you, and has a distinct buzz that briefly rips past you. If it is automatic weaponry, the cadence is not clustered – it is regular and cyclic. A string of firecrackers can almost drown each other out, which is a very different sound.
- Think like Wild Bill Hickock, who – until that fateful day in Deadwood, North Dakota – never sat at a poker table with his back to the door. Opt for seating at a venue that gives you quick access to an exit. Any exit. At restaurants, face the door, face the street. Do not sit with your back to the direction of threat. Before you go to the mall, study the layout. Know your exits. Stay away from peak hours, especially during holidays. At events, be wary of the premier night or the closing night. As with this attack, the Manchester terrorist bombing of the Ariana Grande concert was on her closing performance.
- Have a plan, if only worked out informally in your mind. Work through some simple
“what if” scenarios. Just having given some active thought to what you might do, in the event of an incident, puts you ahead of 95% of the herd. In all cases, you want to know where the exits are and you want to be close to the exit, so you can run. You always want an exit strategy to, as they say, get off the “X”. RUN, but run with purpose. Knowing where to go without having to look for it in the heat of the moment will save time. Inside a venue, mentally inventory areas of potential COVER. Not concealment – which can be penetrated by bullets – but cover, that will both conceal and protect you, and those with you. In the case of the #vegasshooting, getting behind the engine block of a vehicle or concrete barrier, which we all witnessed on TV, are good COVER choices. Knowing where they are before the shooting, even better.
- RUN/HIDE/FIGHT TOOLKIT APPROACH. Typically, the advice given in past active shooter incidents is Run, Hide, Fight (RHF). This is good advice because it follows the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) maxim. This simple, but direct advice achieves the purpose – when the bullets start flying – of focusing one’s mind. The old saw in combat is “one falls back to the level of their training, they do not rise to the level of their knowledge.” Unfortunately, in this type of event, RHF as designed does not necessarily apply as traditionally understood. However, the fundamental principles of RHF did, and still do apply. In this type of a scenario, it is better to think of RHF as a set of tools, where you use your best judgement to select the tool that fits the situation. Here are some points on both running, hiding, and (believe it or not) fighting, to consider:
- “ASSESS” AND RUN: In an urban environment, it is difficult to know exactly where the gunfire is coming from because volleys echo off of other structures. Usually, advice is to run away from the sound of the gunfire. Easier said than done, in the opening moments of an incident. While it may seem counterintuitive, briefly assess before you run – do not strike out blindly. In a crowded event, the most immediate threat may actually be the human herd itself, and not the gunfire. Yes, consider the source of the gunfire but also keep in mind when you choose to run to avoid the mass. It is a reliable assumption that 80 percent of the human herd, whether at an outdoor venue or in a crowded theatre, know only one exit. They will all cluster to that exit, and as such pose two threats to you: A.) The clustered mass becomes an easier target to the shooter, and B.) You, or those for whom you are responsible – such as children or the elderly – will get trampled. Humans – in utter fear for their life – can turn into animals thinking only of survival, only, in incidents such as this and will stampede. Separate from the crowd. THINK and move. Do not panic, and whatever you do – when moving stay on your feet. Do not let fear paralyze you; let your fear motivate you. In a situation where you have a shooter such as Las Vegas, or other situations, they have to re-load. LISTEN FOR RELOAD. You may have only a few seconds, but when the firing stops – scoot to cover.
- HIDE:When the firing is sustained, and the “snap” of rounds is cracking overhead, remain in cover, or seek and shelter in cover. If you have prepared in advance, you’ll have an idea of where you can hunker down. What to look for? Physical objects such as concrete barriers, or the engine block (front wheel well) of vehicles. Second, note where the police are sheltering. They are using cover to advance. You can use it to shelter and withdraw. Use cover as waystation, between volleys. When running, stay low and move as quickly as possible away from the gunfire and the crowd mass.
- FIGHT: In the traditional usage of this principle, it means being prepared to engage the assailant with whatever you have at hand. Some have said that this principle did not apply – however respectfully, we disagree. The “Fight” principle is as much an internal psychological state of mind as it is an action. Survival, first and foremost, requires an active, nimble state of mind – a “fight” mentality postures one to think through the situation, using the aforementioned principles as tools to stay alive. The fight, in this instance, is wrestling with and internally mastering your own fear.
This incident can, and frankly should force new debate and analysis over several aspects of security in the U.S. Active shooter situations such as Columbine, and elsewhere begat the RHF model. It must be of necessity adapted given this threat. There also needs to be a discussion about hotel security inside the U.S. In the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere internationally, screening has long been a part of the regimen of security at luxury venues because of the history of terrorist hotel attacks. It has become a smooth part of the check-in process, and a revenue-generator (as opposed to a cost center) for security – VIP’s like to go where they feel secure, whether to stay or for conferences. Screening, in this instance, might have picked up the sheer amount of armament being carted up to the suite and raised a red flag.
Also, as we have already seen, a debate will rage regarding the tools used in this attack – the gun. That is also a debate we should have. However, at the end of the day when the first bullet goes past one’s head, the politics go out the window. Survival is paramount. Having a plan, and being able to think through it, can spell the difference between life and death.