LINCOLN — Mario Scalora, a forensic psychologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a leading expert in the field of threat assessment, has studied the perpetrators of targeted violence, mass shooters like the Las Vegas killer among them, for most of his career.
He’s written or cowritten numerous journal articles centered around threat assessment factors and nonfactors — he and fellow UNL psychology professor Heath Hodges argued in a 2015 paper titled "Challenging the Political Assumption that 'Guns Don't Kill People, Crazy People Kill People!'" that lawmakers would be better served “if they focused on dangerousness as a disqualifying criteria rather than mental illness” regarding firearm possession, for instance.
So when he goes to a concert, yes, he’s thinking about worst-case scenarios. But he still goes.
“You’re always thinking of these things, but frankly, you try to enjoy it,” Scalora said.
The last show he took in at Pinnacle Bank Arena was Joe Bonamassa’s set that was moved indoors on Aug. 20, and he enjoyed it. “I’ve seen five brilliant guitarists, and he was two of them,” he said.
That concert took place a few days after the arena manager, Tom Lorenz, announced a temporary safety policy that was put in place for a big weekend that included a Kendrick Lamar concert and a boxing card featuring Terence Crawford. Showgoers were prohibited from carrying anything bigger than a small clutch purse (4.5 inches by 6.5 inches) into the event space.
It’s an arena policy that’s remained in place, Lorenz said Monday, hours after a gunman fired upon thousands of country music fans from a hotel room high above an open-air venue along the Las Vegas Strip.
“It’s a heart-wrenching thing to wake up in the morning and see the tragedy that occurred in Las Vegas,” Lorenz said. “Our hearts not only go out to the victims and their families but also to the staff in the venue.”
Lorenz said the latest terror attack at a concert venue reinforced the decision to continue with the heightened security policies in an effort to keep fans safe at the Lincoln event spaces SMG manages, the arena and Pinewood Bowl.
“We always think there’s something new to learn with any tragedy like this,” Lorenz said.
Security has evolved in several ways recently at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The security perimeter now extends past the doors to the arena, with staff observing the outside area for suspicious activity while also performing scans on attendees with metal detection wands.
And this basketball season, Nebraska fans will follow the clear-bag policy first enforced at Husker football games this season, in which fans are allowed to bring belongings in see-through vinyl or plastic bags no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches.
Those added security measures are visible to the public. Others aren’t, Lorenz said.
“We work closely with first responders and peers and hope we put forward a safe atmosphere for the public to attend events at our facilities,” he said.
Scalora said that close collaboration benefits the attendees of shows.
“I think in general, for large-scale events, this community does a good job because the agencies work together,” said Scalora.
A recent example is the Luke Bryan show, held at a farm west of Lincoln last week. Jim Davidsaver, head of Lincoln-Lancaster County Emergency Management, said the advance work his office did in conjunction with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office and Southwest Rural Fire helped on the front end to determine that the one-off venue would allow for quick responses and departures of emergency personnel if anything from a medical event to a fire to an act of violence, large or isolated, had taken place.
“The plan we had was a good one,” Davidsaver said, adding that the agencies look for ways to improve even when an event like the Bryan show goes off without a hitch.
Many emergency management exercises are conducted with an occupied Memorial Stadium in mind, Davidsaver said, but any sizable event that comes to the area requires a plan. He said his office is already looking ahead to the National High School Finals Rodeo, to be held in 2019 at the Lancaster Event Center, for instance.
Davidsaver is secretary of the Great Plains chapter of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, which holds its next meeting Oct. 19-20 in Omaha. Scalora, the group’s president, said they were already planning to discuss crowd safety at that meeting.
With mass shootings like the one that took place in Las Vegas, he said threat assessment professionals focus on learning the killer’s motive and the means.
“It gives us a sense of how they did it, and how we can prevent it,” Scalora said. “When you understand the why and the how, you can figure out how to disrupt it.”
He woke up Monday similarly to many, with news alerts on his phone informing him of the shooting. He said he realized it would be a sad day when he saw multiple messages left on his phone.
“It also just redoubles the resolve to think about ways to prevent these things,” Scalora said.