Las Vegas officials are expecting lower-than-normal attendance at the New Year's Eve celebration on the famed Strip, but in light of October's mass shooting, security will be at its highest level in years.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Wednesday that the Homeland Security Department had raised the New Year's Eve celebration to the highest security level under its special events protocols — SEAR level 1. In years past, it was level 3.
The change, he said, will bring snipers with spotters, extra air support, more medical equipment and personnel, and mobile command posts staffed by federal authorities. The same security classification and measures are afforded to the Super Bowl and political party conventions for presidential nominations.
Lombardo said there would be more than 1,500 local police officers deployed for a three-day window.
Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said he understood New Year's Eve revelers might be worried about safety after the Oct. 1 mass shooting, and he sought to assuage those concerns.
"Nobody puts on a New Year's Eve show like Las Vegas, and never will it be as safe as it will be this year," Sisolak said. "The safety measures in place are impressive."
It's been three months since 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room at Mandalay Bay into a crowd of more than 20,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Strip. He killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others.
The FBI has revealed little about Paddock's motives. Special Agent in Charge Aaron C. Rouse said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the FBI would be issuing a report sometime before the the anniversary of the shooting.
In an interview with the local CBS affiliate in November, Lombardo said Paddock, a gambler who played a lot of video poker, had sustained losses in recent years and may have been depressed.
Paddock killed himself with a gunshot wound to his mouth, the Clark County coroner said last week.
Officials with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said tourism was down 4.2% for the month of October and that the decline in attendance was attributable to the shooting.
The visitors authority said it expected New Year's Eve attendance to be down 1.2% from last year's total of 334,000 people. But officials said that expected decline was due to New Year's Eve falling on a Sunday instead of a Saturday, and a shortage of rooms this year as several casinos are in the middle of renovations.
Officials with the visitors authority said they didn't have enough data to estimate the shooting's effect on visits planned for Dec. 31.
New Year's Eve is a signature event on the Strip and one of the rare times the road is closed to traffic, allowing people to wander along the boulevard and watch fireworks at midnight.
Adrienne Packer, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Transportation, said the 3-mile stretch would be closed to traffic beginning at 5 p.m. and wouldn't be open again until about 5 a.m. Jan. 1.
She said her department would spent $350,000 on protective measures — up from $120,000 spent last year. She also said her agency would be getting help from other departments, and that authorities would be in plainclothes during the festivities. It is a level of security similar to that imposed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she said.
"Everybody in the wake of Oct. 1 is very sensitive to safety," Packer said. "We want to make sure our visitors and local residents feel safe and comfortable."
Gov. Brian Sandoval authorized 300 National Guard troops to be deployed around the Strip and at McCarran International Airport. That is twice as many as last year.
Mari St. Martin, a spokeswoman for Sandoval, said in a statement that "the horrific tragedy that occurred on Oct. 1 in southern Nevada was cited as a specific reason for the increased request," and that the "inter-local and mutual aid agreements are not sufficient in supporting the anticipated needs" for the New Year's Eve events.
After the shooting, Clark County commissioners approved the installation of bollards — short, stubby posts — along the Strip. Sisolak said nearly 800 bollards had been installed since the shooting and 7,500 more would go up in 2018. During the New Year's Eve celebration, there will be more than 4,200 metal barricades along the Strip.
Officials are prohibiting pedestrians from bringing large bags, strollers, backpacks and coolers onto the Strip.
"I recognize that is an inconvenience, but these restrictions are for everyone's safety," Sisolak said.