In the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, in which 59 people were killed and hundreds more injured, authorities in New Orleans gathered Wednesday to discuss the city’s own preparedness in the event of a mass-casualty scenario.
Standing in front of City Hall, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said his department is working under a “heightened sense of awareness” in the aftermath of this week's tragedy.
Flanked by top officials from the city's homeland security and emergency medical services offices, Harrison said his officers are “equipped, trained and prepared to handle mass casualty incidents of any type.”
In addition to purchasing an additional 300 patrol rifles, Harrison said his officers are working with members of the FBI and State Police as well as the tourism industry to ensure large events in the city remain secure.
Additional measures include deploying officers in full tactical gear to large events such as protests and parades, and blocking streets to help prevent vehicles from plowing through large groups of pedestrians.
Homeland Security Director Aaron Miller said his office has “comprehensive emergency operations plans which include plans for a terrorist attack and any active threat scenario."
To test that preparedness, the agencies will conduct a full-scale “active shooter” exercise Monday with upwards of 200 volunteers assigned to different roles.
While Monday’s news conference focused mostly on response, officials also alluded to prevention measures, including the sharing of information about potential threats among local, state and federal officials. Harrison said members of the joint terrorism task force and NOPD detectives also constantly monitor social media for possible threats.
State Police spokeswoman Melissa Matey said the NOPD would be the lead agency to respond to and investigate a mass shooting in the city. State Police and the NOPD have not conducted a joint training exercise on a mass shooting in recent years, but they do have “lines of communication” already in place, Matey said.
Adam Lankford, a criminology professor at the University of Alabama, said New Orleans could present a tempting target for a certain type of attacker.
“The concern for New Orleans is the same kind of concern you have with the shooting (in Las Vegas), the Boston marathon bombing, the Atlanta Olympics bombing ... that attackers who are more broadly angry at humanity or angry at America could target people in New Orleans just because it’s a large crowd and a soft target,” he said.
The Police Department’s best hope for preventing an attack is following through on every lead from the public about a person making threats, Lankford said. That could be difficult for the NOPD, given its depleted manpower.
The manpower shortage could also affect the city's response, said J. Pete Blair, executive director for Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training at Texas State University.
“Obviously, the fewer personnel you have, the fewer people you can get to a scene quickly,” Blair said. “Training’s always important.”
Staff writer Matt Sledge contributed to this report.