On Sunday, October 1st, I decided to drive to Las Vegas from LA, to visit with my best friend who was speaking at a conference. Last minute, we decided to be spontaneous and see a show; Michael Jackson, The One. We arrived at the Mandalay Bay Hotel + Casino, where the energy was buzzing, the lights were flashing and the machines were dinging - a typical ambiance you’d find in that environment. We made our way to the theatre, snapping photos along the way, excited to see the performance.
Five minutes before showtime, we parked ourselves in our seats, seven rows from the main stage, enamored by the decor in the theatre. There was a group characters dressed as paparazzi, roaming around the theatre, pretending to snap photos as the lights dimmed and the show began.
The show, or at least what we saw of it, was an immersion for the senses. Bright, flashing lights, acrobats flying through the air, imaginative story lines and of course, the music of Michael Jackson. I sat there with a huge grin on my face, delighted by the spectacle taking place in front of me.
It was just after the fifth act that the sixth didn’t follow. After a few minutes, the lights came back on, and the music continued to play on an eerie loop. An announcer came on to the PA and asked that everyone remain seated, there was something going on in the casino and that they would update us as more information became available. Within seconds, everyone had their cell phones out trying to assess the situation. Whispers began to surface amongst the crowd, until the couple next to us read that there is a shooter in the Mandalay Bay and two people were dead, and 20 injured.
My heart and mind began to race trying to make sense of what was happening.
“What are the chances of that?” “I wonder how serious this is…” “Why is this happening?"
While I tried desperately to rationalize what was happening in order to stay calm, my physical response to the fear and uncertainty began to permeate. Theories of what was happening began to flood the theatre, dozens of updates on twitter per minute, and a room filled with people unclear what to do. The severity of the situation began to escalate, with folks trying to leave the theatre, only to be stopped by law enforcement officers. They secured the perimeter of the theatre and instructed us to stay calm, turn down the lights and remain seated - reluctant to address what was actually happening. There was a loud bang at the door and everyone dropped to the floor behind their seats. You could feel the shift in the room from uncertainty to full on fear and panic.
There we sat, about 1800 people in this dark, cold theatre wondering what was next. Although we didn’t know it, this was a full on crisis happening outside. Last report was 20 dead, and 50 injured, multiple shooters, shooting on the Las Vegas strip, at the concert, etc. We didn’t know what to believe. Feeling powerless and helpless, my best friend reminded me to stay present and send light and healing energy to the victims.
Fast forward to several hours later, still stationed in the same theatre seats, dozing in and out of sleep, they announced that they would begin to evacuate us in small groups, starting with the elderly. Instantly people began lining up and herding. It was interesting to observe the nature in which people organize and prioritize themselves. About 1/3 of the theatre cleared out, and we continued to sit…wondering. The energy shifted back toward a cautious calm, until there was a loud scream and everyone again, ducked for cover. At this point in the night (early morning), as everyone grew more and more restless, we were hopeful the situation would soon be diffused. There was no way to tell when we’d be getting out of there.
We made our way into the lobby of the theatre in hopes of finding some warmth and possibly some food. I noticed a hotel manager handing out some chips, to a handful of people. An announcement was made that they would release the next group of people in 20 minutes. It turned into two hours of standing in the front of the exit, anticipating to go at any moment. We overheard a woman on her phone saying that the death toll was now over 50 with 500+ injured. Wow. Finally, after nearly 9 hours in the theatre, we were released. We walked to a nearby hotel and stood on a taxi line for another 30 minutes before getting a cab to our hotel. Arriving back at our room, we turned on the news to confirm the information, and it was fact. 57 dead, 530 injured. The following day, the usual Las Vegas vibe wasn’t quite as intense. While streets were closed and the police were everywhere, it seemed to be business as usual. Folks were gambling, shops were open, and streets filled with people taking selfies. On a brighter note, in our attempts to donate blood and volunteer somewhere, we learned everything was full, which means community really came together.
It got me thinking…a lot...what do you do in a time of crisis, when physically, you can’t do anything? How would I handle this, if it happened during one of my events? My thoughts began to snowball. As a seasoned event producer, I always have a contingency plan, but not one for a real crisis. I realized how much I take my safety for granted, particularly in the US. Yes, the probability of this happening was an oddity, but is it important to always be prepared? The answer is, of course!
Here are some key takeaways:
Increase security, despite the financial impact to your budget. Safety is key.
Help keep people calm by leading them through breathing techniques.
While it may not be the best idea to share the magnitude of the crisis with the group, dispel rumors by providing facts.
Map out an exit strategy prior to the event. Before event starts, point out all of the exits and share safety protocol with all guests.
Have portable charging stations available.
Make sure there is a reserve of water and snacks hidden away.
Have emergency transportation logistics mapped out and on call.
Don’t panic. Yes, I know, easier said than done. Panic and stress only perpetuate more panic and stress. Staying centered through deep breathing and visualization will not only help you, but also help those around you.
Use it as an opportunity to create community and empower people to step up as leaders. Simple actions like asking people how they can help, will encourage them to support one another.
To help victims effected by this tragedy, please see more info here.