In the aftermath of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting at Las Vegas’ Route 91 Harvest Festival, a command staff was put together to create a family-assistance center (FAC) for victims, survivors, families, and friends of the concertgoers, workers, and others impacted. The FAC would be a hub where they could get assistance with psychological, financial, transportation, and lodging needs, and locate and be reunited with belongings left on the concert grounds. It also provided a place for them to meet with FBI victim-assistance personnel and give statements.
I was invited to be part of the ICS Planning Section command staff, along with six others. I spent 16 days helping organize and facilitate regular meetings for all sections and collecting data on the victims and survivors. Deputy Chief John Steinbeck served as Incident Commander over the FAC; he is also Clark County’s emergency manager.
As we collected paperwork and information on those who came into the FAC and requested services, the magnitude of this incident and its effect on people and families became overwhelmingly clear. We worked hard to make sure the information we collected could be transferred to the permanent resiliency center once it was created and secured. As I entered details from the intake forms and processed requests from families of loved ones for victims who’d been killed or left in critical condition, I’d catch myself having overwhelming feelings of loss. Sometimes I’d have to step out into the hall and release some of the emotions enveloping me, but then it was back to work.
On October 20, 2017, we turned over command to the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center and were released from service.
Subsequently, though, we recognized that while survivors were trying to reach out to each other through social media and gatherings and the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center was trying to secure licensed and vetted psychologists and locations, no organized group sessions were yet available to address victims’ psychological needs. This became personal to me because my neighbor and friend was shot that night and kept asking if there were any support groups where survivors could meet.
Ultimately Stoney’s Rockin’ Country, a Las Vegas nightclub, offered its space for meetings, and I worked with Kyle Dunlap of the Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital to organize the Vegas Strong support gathering. We meet every Wednesday night from 5:30–7 p.m. We have about 20 people who come each week to talk about their experience and struggles. Our focus is on education, helping these victims recognize psychological trauma and learn how to help themselves through the healing process. We have information on the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center and usually have one or two therapists on hand from Desert Parkway or the Never Give Up Wellness Center to talk to survivors who may not have begun formal counseling.
Recently we started workshops at the EMS Training Center of Southern Nevada to educate people on recognizing and healing from psychological trauma such as PTSD. We have invited psychologist Shiva Ghaed, a survivor from San Diego, to speak on the subject. We have opened this training up to not only survivors, families, and friends, but to our EMS, fire, police, first responders, and coroner’s office personnel. They too are struggling with the events of October 1 and need to be able to talk and heal.
By doing these small things, I feel I’m giving something back to my community. Through serving others, we begin to heal. As I write this, my eyes fill with tears at the loss and devastation of families from at least 12 states and 4 countries. I believe that knowledge is power, we are Vegas Strong, and love always wins.
For more on the Las Vegas response, see the August issue of EMS World.
Debra Dailey, NRP, has been a paramedic in Las Vegas for 30 years. She owns and operates the EMS Training Center of Southern Nevada and is a member of the Clark County Type 3 All-Hazards Incident Management Team.