The author, a 35-year NASCAR promoter, managed Charlotte Motor Speedway and was president of Speedway Motorports, which owns Las Vegas Speedway.
I, like everyone, was appalled at the shootings in Las Vegas. I spent many a day looking down at the field where so many were killed.
NASCAR promoters won’t admit it, but we all worry about “what if.” At Charlotte Motor Speedway, we went beyond worry and spent hours trying to concoct the worst possible scenarios not only with staff but with security agents and law enforcement. We devised plans for imaginary situations that we would dream up. As a result, when a bridge outside the speedway collapsed in 2003, we put our plan into action and rescued and transported 95 people in 54 minutes to seven area hospitals with no fatalities.
With more than 171,000 people at our races, we were very concerned about mass shootings. After 9-11, we brought in top U.S. military experts to tell us how they would handle a situation like that. We had meetings with our own law enforcement partners, from the FBI to DEA, to help us establish a plan. We had regular meetings with our local law enforcement to keep them aware of potential security situations, and we got involved with Secret Service personnel when top elected officials (including three presidents) came to the facility.
We found through all of this that a substantial plan was needed, so we developed one for mass shootings. It included many elements, but these were the critical pieces:
▪ Most important was to get control immediately of the public address system to communicate with the spectators and tell them what is going on and what to do. The PA system at most large events is the single most important element you can use to control fans. The general manager or whoever was in charge needed to be on the PA. That would bring authority to what teh crowds were being told.
▪ Drivers were to be pulled off the race track as quickly as possible to get them out of harm’s way. One of the things we always worried about was somebody shooting a driver – we’ve had several death threats during races – and if that happened it would probably come from the infield and a Winnebago.
▪ Find as soon as possible where the gunfire is coming from and attack that area immediately. This can be done by triangulation, visual observation, sound, etc. This is where aggressiveness is everything.
▪ Law enforcement should be at full-scale response mode. If you have to empty a hotel it should be done fast; if cars need to be checked for a fleeing gunman, they needed to be pulled off the main roads and checked aggressively.
▪ Hospitals should be notified immediately that a full-scale problem is ongoing so doctors and specialists can be called in as well as helicopters and ambulances.
▪ Rescue and law enforcement should immediately set up regional areas for triage with small, hand-held public address tools to coordinate the large number of volunteers that can range from registered nurses to specialists and EMTs who can provide life-saving assistance.
The most important element when situations like this break loose is for management to seize the problem as fast as possible with two objectives: stopping the perpetrator and giving aid to the victims.
These situations are terrible, and only intense and deep security preparations can give organizations a chance to slow down these obviously deranged people. Fortunately it has never happened at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but we should all be as prepared as possible.
Wheeler is retired in Huntersville.