Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2021

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Las Vegas shows it’s a resilient community by rebounding, improving when stricken by tragedy

This past week brought painful reminders of two of our community’s darkest moments, but also offered reassurance of our resolve to make Las Vegas a better and safer place to live.

On Monday, the anniversary of a devastating flood that swept through Las Vegas on July 8, 1999, officials gathered to remind local residents about the dangers of flooding but also to outline an array of improvements that have helped protect the community since the disaster.

On Wednesday came the results of a comprehensive Metro Police review of the Oct. 1 shooting, which pointed out steps that authorities have taken to prevent and respond to mass-casualty events but also identified areas that still need to be addressed.

In both cases, reliving the tragedies wasn’t easy. But the progress we’ve made in each incident showed that Las Vegas, despite its image as a place for carefree fun and 24/7 sunshine, is a community with the unity and determination to withstand hardship and meet our shortcomings head-on.

In the case of flood control, that’s meant the installation of nearly 650 miles of drains and channels, as well as 100 water-retention basins, as well as advancements in weather detection and warnings. And with another three dozen flood-prevention projects on the books, officials are working to ensure the city grows safely.

Emergency responders also have significantly improved their flood rescue operations through specialized training and investments in equipment. As Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski noted, firefighters in every fire station are trained and equipped for rescues.

The lessons learned from the 1999 flood, which killed two people and caused $30 million in property damage, clearly aren’t being forgotten.

As for the Oct. 1 shooting, Sheriff Joe Lombardo reported that the review had yielded 93 policy-change suggestions, about half of which the department had already implemented. Among those that have been adopted was the creation of an around-the-clock Major Case Squad to coordinate responses to large-scale incidents.

Needs that are being addressed on an ongoing basis include better communications and a more efficient method for deploying off-duty personnel. On the night of the shooting, radio signal strength was poor inside of resorts, and a flood of emergency calls hampered the ability to communicate at times. And while off-duty officers poured into the scene — something for which they deserve high praise — the lack of a system to coordinate their response added to the confusion of the situation.

Lombardo and his department deserve credit for conducting their self-examination and moving quickly to address its findings.

Let’s be clear: The response on that terrible night was extraordinary. Amid a situation that couldn’t possibly have been anticipated, the selfless and professional actions of police and other first responders saved countless lives.

They stood by their vow to protect and serve that night. And by learning from that evening, they’re proving their commitment yet again.

What’s happened since the shooting and the July 1999 flood should serve as inspiration that our community can solve problems when we work together and bring our talents to bear. And that includes not only tragedies but day-to-day challenges like homelessness, our shrinking supply of affordable housing, food insecurity and the quality of our public education system.

We’re working on those and other issues, of course, and in some cases we’re making strides. A couple of recent examples: the Clark County Commission’s decision to steer nearly $1.8 million in marijuana business license fees toward tackling homelessness, and Nevada lawmakers’ approval of a bill allowing counties to increase sales taxes up to one quarter of a cent per dollar to address such issues as housing affordability.

Those moves show how our leaders, and we as taxpayers, can improve our communities. And the need is definitely there, as demonstrated on a national level this past spring when news cameras followed Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on a tour of homeless encampments in drain tunnels beneath the Hard Rock Hotel.

Now, there’s a lot more work to be done. But if we go about it with the same urgency, forthrightness and determination we’ve displayed in the worst of times, Las Vegas will quickly become an even better place.