The participants in Snoqualmie Casino’s active-shooter training had the opportunity to put their knowledge to use in live simulations, in which an actor using live blanks initiated the chaos of an active-shooter scenario. (Photo Courtesy Snoqualmie Casino)
Two years ago today, a gunman opened fire in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding 422, though the ensuing panic brought the injury total to 851. The incident at the Route 91 Harvest Festival was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. While nationally, the anniversary incites further debate about gun control, within the casino industry, it prompts a deeper awareness of the need to be prepared. Brian Decorah, CEO of Snoqualmie Casino, was in Las Vegas during the deadly shooting — a fateful night that prompted him to take action. Decorah, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, developed an active shooter training simulation with current and former SEAL Team Six members to prepare Snoqualmie Casino employees for a worst-case scenario.
Snoqualmie Casino partnered with NBC Seattle for a special media piece on the training — media coverage that received an Emmy in 2019. Subsequently, Decorah and the Snoqualmie team developed the first-ever, multi-casino (10-plus) active-shooter training series with one of the FBI’s top active shooter trainers with live/blank assault rifle gunfire. “When it comes to active shooter preparedness,” says Decorah, “we want to share everything that we can to make our entire industry better.”
Native Business interviewed Decorah about Snoqualmie Casino’s live-simulation, active shooter response training for our April “Gaming” issue. In remembrance of the Las Vegas mass shooting, in honor of the victims, in tribute to Decorah’s visionary leadership and in recognition of the need for Tribal casinos to prepare, Native Business shares that feature below.
Doing Your Best To Prepare For The Worst
The CEO of Snoqualmie Casino is prepping for an active-shooter scenario by urging his employees to act
On October 1, 2017, a horrific tragedy struck when a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people. The shooter was holed up in a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, from which he was able to shoot indiscriminately into the crowd for 10 minutes.
Brian Decorah, who is now the CEO of Snoqualmie Casino, was at a nearby hotel-casino that night — the MGM Grand. He was not in immediate danger, but he witnessed the throngs of people panicking, running through the casino floor, unsure of what was happening but sure they should be running somewhere.
“As it was happening, all of the staff was standing there in shock, not moving themselves,” Decorah recalls. “They just stood there, and watched the people come from outside and run through the casino, through the pit, running into the back-of-house areas. And they really just froze. I can’t blame them; none of us have ever seen anything like that before. But it established in my mind that we’ve got to do more to prepare our staffs on what to do in an active shooter environment.”
The “what to do” is perhaps surprising — it’s not about complex lockdown procedures or heroic search-and-neutralize activities. The most useful behavior for the staff, Decorah says, is “to save themselves — because if they save themselves, our guests will see how our staff is responding, which will tell them how they should respond … thereby saving their lives as well.”
Three months later, Decorah, a veteran of the gaming industry and enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, started his current job at Snoqualmie Casino. With the experience in Vegas fresh in his mind, developing an active-shooter training program was high on his list of priorities.
Active shooter training has been a concern in the gaming industry for the better part of a decade. Decorah had actually conducted training in a previous job, calling in experts who gave PowerPoint presentations. The instruction was useful and well received, but Decorah felt that it would be a good idea to take the training a step further, with a real simulation. He secured the services of a former Navy SEAL, through a firm called Tomahawk Security Solutions.
Training day was a big deal — attendance was paid, and voluntary. The experience would include live blanks being fired, and Decorah made it clear that employees who felt uncomfortable in such a training environment were not required to attend. It’s part of his something-is-better-than-nothing strategy: it’s better to take some action than it is to freeze, and it’s better to train a portion of the staff than none of them. To raise awareness of the casino’s efforts, Decorah invited the Seattle NBC affiliate to cover the training.
Each of the two training days consisted of two four-hour sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Each began with classroom instruction, covering statistics related to active shooter events and then focusing on the simple mantra of the active-shooter scenario: run, hide, fight. These are the three options Decorah wants on everyone’s mind as all hell is breaking loose — run if you can, hide if you can’t run, fight if you must. Consider that you may have to do more than one of these things.
Talking to Decorah, you can’t help but notice he keeps returning to those frozen casino employees in Vegas. The “run, hide or fight” directive is pretty broad, and that’s the point. “It’s whatever you need to do to survive the situation. And the most important aspect of that is acting. You only have one chance in that situation to respond and react. Even if you don’t make the absolute best decision, you have to make a decision — whether it’s running, it’s hiding and barricading, or fighting the active shooter. Do whatever you have to do to ensure that you survive.”
The participants in the active-shooter training had the opportunity to put their knowledge to use in live simulations, in which an actor using live blanks initiated the chaos of an active-shooter scenario. Simulations were run in a concert hall, with loud music to duplicate real-world complications, and in the back offices, to test office workers on their ability to hide and barricade themselves safely with whatever furniture was available. All simulations, Decorah says, were complete successes.
In fact, he likes to mention that the active-shooter training proved of use almost immediately for two individuals. One of the people was a photographer from the NBC news team, who within a week found himself in a road rage incident where someone pulled a gun on him. He said that the training he witnessed saved his life because it gave him the right survival mindset for the possible gun-violence situation. Another person, a casino IT worker, found himself in a potential active-shooter scenario when someone pulled a gun, and used the training to get his family to safety (and fortunately, the gunman never fired his weapon).
Training the employees to take appropriate action is just one component in an overall active-shooter strategy. Another is educating security and other staff in what’s now called “behavioral threat detection.” That’s a prevention strategy that seeks to pick up on cues that a person may be planning, or may have planned, to initiate gun violence. While emotions can run hot in a casino, if for example a person is losing a lot of money, to the point that violence of some kind seems imminent, that’s not how mass shooters usually work. As we’ve seen in news story after news story, shooters who seek to kill people indiscriminately are usually carrying out a premeditated plan. “We’re also in the process of creating another training scenario for this year which includes a separate training session based on what to look for,” Decorah says.
Another important strategy, one that Decorah is prioritizing for the next training session, is facilitating the best possible response from law enforcement — noting that it’s likely to be a combined response, from state, city and Tribal officers. “We continue to have meetings with all of the law enforcement agencies who would respond in this type of situation,” he says. “The additional training we’re looking at for this year is how do we organize the response from law enforcement. Because the average active shooter scenario lasts just seven minutes. So we’ve got to make sure we are equipped, prepared and trained on how to most quickly get law enforcement into the building to mitigate the threat as soon as possible.
The active shooter training has attracted attention in the gaming industry, and has made Decorah something of a trendsetter. “Other casinos have come forward to ask: How did we do [this training], what did we do and why did we do it,” he says. “My feedback to them is, similar to the active-shooter training, you just have to do something. Some training is better than no training. A PowerPoint training is better than no training. But having a plan is probably the most important thing overall. I can’t emphasize enough that you truly get just one chance to be ready for it, and if you miss that chance, then you expose yourself to a worst-case scenario.”