After Las Vegas shooting, Vancouver event planner faces new security reality

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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The massacre at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday was, from the perspective of the large event planning industry, utterly unprecedented, said Greg Flakus, who runs a Vancouver company that handles large event organizing.

“In the industry that I have worked in for this long, it’s really unimaginable what happened,” he said.

“The sad part is it’s happening more and more,” he added, referencing the bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, United Kingdom, in May.

Flakus runs GF Strategies, which for close to 20 years has worked with fairs, festivals and similar large events around the country handling organization for concessions and other event facilities. Flakus said GF Strategies has worked with 53 fairs in 20 states and around a dozen major festivals nationwide, including the Las Vegas Village, which hosted the music festival that was attacked.

His connection to the venue organization for the Las Vegas Village is personal. He worked with the company in the early years of the venue, and forged dozens of friendships and professional relationships with people in the organization.

He was in town in 2012 for an industry event, and met the vice president for entertainment at Mandalay Bay resort and casino. They struck up a conversation about the industry and their mutual love of horse racing.

Through that connection, Flakus ended up attending the first two Route 91 Harvest music festivals, and consulted with the organization as it built up the MGM Village festival venue and what later became the Las Vegas Village.

He was at home listening to the radio around 10 p.m. Sunday when he heard news about reports of gunfire in Las Vegas.

“I heard the news — gunshots, Vegas — and I thought, well, that happens regularly in Las Vegas, doesn’t it?” he recalled thinking.

When the details started to come into focus, that hundreds have been injured and dozens killed in a shooting spree at the venue he knew so well, he was overwhelmed.

“Just to see all that taken down in an instant is really heartbreaking,” he said. “I would be saddened for sure if I didn’t know about the Las Vegas Village and I didn’t know the people involved in building it up and working to make it a great venue.”

“It’s just a great team of people. Their major goal was to make sure that everybody who came to it left saying that was a great, great time.”

Patron safety is a part of large-scale event planning. Planners try to set things up with a mind to safe entrance and exit, and how crowds might move around concessions or other facilities.

Festivals, fairs and concerts often have emergency personnel staged outside, or inside the venue, but the threats are typically medical issues, fires or personal violence, Flakus said.

Large, big-budget events will often have a walk-through beforehand, or a drill, where planners, staff and emergency workers try to identify potential issues should something profoundly bad happen, such as a disaster or active shooter, he said.

Many outdoor events also have collapsible fencing, he said, to mitigate for bottlenecks or stampeding guests should something happen. But he could see how Sunday’s shooting created confusion as the shooter attacked from a high-rise window a block over at Mandalay Bay casino and resort. The crowd, he said, didn’t know where the threat came from.

“There was no real way to predict where the crowd was going to run to, and that is a very, very scary, and pretty much, to my knowledge, an unheard of situation in the world of events,” he said.

How, and if, the industry at large will respond is unclear, he said. The staff with MGM Resorts International, which owns Mandalay Bay and the Las Vegas Village, are likely still reeling, much less able to process what happened.

From his perspective, there’s likely little practical recourse festival planners have to mitigate threats like Sunday’s.

“How could you prepare for something like this?” he said.

He expected MGM will, in the next few weeks, outline what happened as it pertains to event and festival planners, and the industry will start looking at how it can adapt.

Until then, he said, people shouldn’t let monsters keep them from living their lives.

“My reaction is we can’t let fear dictate where we go,” he said. “We have to continue to gather as people, we have to celebrate who we are, we have to continue to enjoy our neighbors and friends, and that’s really what the festival business is all about.”