A day after panelists at a tourism safety conference warned Las Vegas is a prime target for a terrorist attack, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie and a top tourism official issued strongly worded denials.
Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, singled out one of the speakers, Adam Walker, saying his statements were “irresponsible, reckless and counterproductive to the collaborative efforts of the (authority), its resort partners and local and state law enforcement who work closely together to maintain a safe and secure experience for our visitors and residents.”
The panel dealt with the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and was held during the 20th Annual International Tourism Safety Conference earlier this week.
Walker, an intelligence analyst with the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center, had a grim assessment of the danger to Las Vegas:
“Anybody that’s in the business is surprised it’s taken this long to happen. Moving forward, it’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when’ something happens on Las Vegas Boulevard.”
Panelist Tom Burns, a security and police consultant, agreed that Las Vegas definitely is a target, given the city’s high-profile resorts and worldwide reputation.
But in an extensive statement released Friday afternoon, Gillespie downplayed any threat.
“It has always been the job of law enforcement to train for the worst-case scenario,’’ he said. “We do this every day, even training our people for things such as active shooter scenarios, hostage situations and other large crisis incidents.”
Gillespie emphasized the counterterrorism center’s 24/7 work and “constant contact” with first responders, hotel and casinos security, the hotel lodging association, the utility sector and businesses.
“I am confident we have the best trained, most qualified people working for us,’’ the sheriff said. “Our community here is strong, and we have thousands of trained people who are vigilant in keeping this a safe destination for visitors and for residents. Our vision is to be the safest community in America. I believe we continue to move in that direction.”
In his statement, Sandoval said that “Las Vegas is recognized across the world as a safe and welcoming tourist destination, and it continues to be. Working with the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and federal authorities, the state is working every day to ensure the continued safety of tourists and Nevadans alike in Las Vegas.”
While defending Sin City’s safety, the officials must walk a fine line.
Earlier this month, Clark County appealed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s decision to lower the area’s terror risk ranking from 30th to 33rd nationwide. The reason for the appeal?
Potential loss of $1.8 million in federal funding for regional homeland security and anti-terrorism efforts in the valley, including the counter-terrorism center.
In its appeal, Clark County emphasized the potential of an attack and noted that five of the 19 hijackers linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks visited Las Vegas before the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
Regardless, Ralenkotter said, Las Vegas “is among the safest travel destinations in the world and uses the most advanced technology and training to maintain a secure environment. Providing a safe and secure experience is our top priority.”
Both the Metropolitan Police Department and the Clark County Fire Department operate stations on site at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“According to recent statistics from (Las Vegas police), violent crime in the tourism corridor was down approximately 13 percent in 2012 and is down 28 percent so far this year. And, according to our latest Visitor Profile Study, 94 percent of our visitors reported being ‘very satisfied’ with their Las Vegas experience, with 84 percent of our guests being repeat visitors. Both of these statistics indicate an extremely positive experience overall. Las Vegas continues to be one of the safest places to visit,” Ralenkotter said.
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.