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Chris Jones

Expert: Las Vegas is High Risk Target

27 May 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Even though local tourism officials said they have not been warned about any specific threats based on the latest terror warnings, one security expert Wednesday suggested Las Vegas is a high-risk target.

"This city is clearly a credible target," said Sal Lifrieri, a 20-year veteran of the New York Police Department and former head of that city's Office of Emergency Management.

Most casino and tourism representatives were mum Wednesday about increased security procedures following Wednesday's warnings that terrorists are likely to attempt attacks in the United States this summer.

Still, Lifrieri, who was New York's former director of security and intelligence operations, said Las Vegas ranks high on his list of potential targets because of its importance to the worldwide travel industry.

"Las Vegas doesn't have the same significance or stature as New York or Washington, but any attack here would affect the tourism industry, and not just in Las Vegas," he added.

After he addressed those at the Contingency Planning & Management trade show at The Mirage, Lifrieri told the Review-Journal he believes an attack here would likely result in a "ripple effect" dissuading both Americans and foreigners from traveling. Such an event would devastate the local economy and have a severe negative effect on the nation, he added.

Lifrieri now heads a White Plains, N.Y.-based consulting firm called Protective Countermeasures & Consulting. He partnered Wednesday with fellow ex-policeman Peter Picarillo, who likewise runs a consulting firm called Picarillo Consulting & Management Associates, to educate business leaders on how they can better protect their employees and physical assets from terror attacks.

Picarillo said many terrorists, both individually or those from organizations like al-Qaida, understand that even small economic attacks often carry more weight than major events that result in significant injuries or deaths.

"(Terrorists) have an interest in attacking our economy because they know that's where our power is," Picarillo said.

Both Lifrieri and Picarillo said business leaders should mirror government agencies and develop their own disaster preparedness plans and procedures. Without such proactive measures, business leaders are inviting disaster, they said.

Lifrieri praised many Las Vegas companies and agencies for their willingness to work together, sharing information and training procedures to prevent or handle the results of an attack. Still, he said much more could be done, including further training hotel-casino employees skills such as recognizing guests carrying weapons under their clothing or spotting someone who may be surveilling a property.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson said local security officials should game play and brainstorm every possible terrorist attack scenario, even if they aren't willing to discuss those efforts publicly.

"I hope they are, and even though there is some reason to believe it is taking place, I can understand why they would not be able to discuss the planning," he said.

Many local gaming officials said Wednesday they have not been notified of any specific terrorist threat to Las Vegas and have made no recent changes to their security precautions.

Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County deputy director of aviation, said officials at McCarran International Airport were notified Wednesday that the Transportation Security Administration has planned no changes to its security procedures in Las Vegas.

"In the past, if there was anything specific to the Las Vegas area we were notified," said Vassiliadis, who added she was comfortable with that decision. "I can't imagine them (TSA) not notifying us if there was a threat because we all need to work together on this."

McCarran typically operates at a heightened security status, prohibiting public vehicles from parking within 300 feet of its terminals when federal guidelines call for such limits only during Orange or Red Alert periods.

Should the national security level shift to orange, Vassiliadis said the airport would also inspect all vehicles coming within 300 feet of the terminal, including buses, taxis and private automobiles.