A thousand innocent years ago, my elementary school instituted policies to prepare us for emergencies. We had fire drills—everybody had fire drills. We had earthquake—or maybe it was tornado or construction-defect—drills; I recall crawling under my desk for protection, but I wasn’t sure which disaster I was foiling.
The plan I remember most was the “Stop, Drop and Roll” campaign, in which we were taught how to respond if we, for reasons that were agonizingly never clear to me, suddenly caught on fire. The direct nature of the response—three quick, perfectable actions—stuck with me. Fortunately, none of these disasters happened, and I think I was one of few neurotic kids who truly sweated out the idea that they might.
Today it’s different. The public takes more seriously the frequency of natural disasters and the constant prospect of random terrorism. The U.S. Homeland Security Department was born 11 years ago; and the incidents of marathon bombings, school massacres, domestic fights turned into office shootings, as well as the 24-hour hyperbolic coverage of it, keeps the concept of emergency management commonplace.
And so it was with a bizarre mix of nostalgia and dread that I recently attended a UNLV seminar about crisis management for the hospitality industry.
The U. S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last month that it would cut funding to Clark County’s law enforcement agencies this year from $1.8 million to nothing. And, it’s worth noting, the entire bunch of Strip properties have never conducted a coordinated, full-field exercise to respond to a catastrophic threat, according to the state’s emergency management chief.
So, I sat there with more than 100 attendees and focused on the importance of emergency preparedness catchphrases.
We honed in on Homeland Security’s 2010 edict, “If You See Something, Say Something.”
It’s a call for all of us—residents, employees, tourists and paranoiacs alike—to look for suspicious behavior and report it: things like abandoned backpacks, people taking pictures of a building’s infrastructure, or snippets of peculiar conversation.
To the reasonably good at math, the idea that this is a big part of our way of protecting 40 million visitors a year on the Strip might be a tad unsettling. To the hyper-conscientious charged with self-policing every odd thing on the Strip, it’s a tad overwhelming. But I whittled out some comfort in the fact that the slogan’s ambiguity implies some big odds between personal accountability and imminent tragedy. That is, I deflected panic by accepting that when we all die, it won’t be my fault.
But the next instructional phrase ruined all that. We were introduced to this preparedness edict in a short, but vivid, instructional video called “Run, Hide, Fight.”
The video was, as New York-New York Safety Compliance and Training Manager Ric Newell said, a great primer for dealing with “an active shooter situation.” That’s a thing now.
Never mind surreal spontaneous combustion; we are now beset with the very real day-to-day possibility of an active shooter situation. The video, produced by the City of Houston, showed such a scenario in graphic detail, pausing to point out where it was appropriate to run, or hide or fight.
I looked around the room at the seminar attendees; the professionals charged with keeping safe a chaotic tourist destination that, grotesquely, makes an ideal backdrop for horror. They, like me, were taking notes that spoke not to massive military plans or homeland defense funding. We wrote: “If you’re hiding from a shooter behind an object, don’t forget to silence your cellphone ringer.”
I felt the vestigial urge to stop, drop and roll. Why why why, if the world was in any way sane, would we ever need to know this? And yet, I realized, it’s solid advice. Half the battle is for each person to exercise her own emergency management, so I made myself memorize a new slogan: run, hide, fight.
And whether we have $1.8 million in funding or not, I’m pretty sure that’s going to come naturally.