The Vulnerable Side of The Entertainment Capital, Las Vegas

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Las Vegas, Nevada is known to the world as Sin City or The Entertainment Capital of the World known for gambling, lavish nightlife, entertainment, and fine dining, all situated on a little over a four mile stretch of road called the Las Vegas Strip. But to me, Las Vegas isn’t just the strip, it’s home. I’ve watched my city grow from a small town to a metropolitan city in the past 30 years. I remember when I was in school, my house was at the end of the road where there was a sign that said “END OF ROAD” and behind it was desert all the way to the mountains. Where I live now, my brother and I used to ride our motorbikes because it was, what we perceived as, in the middle of the desert.

The landscape and population increase since the 1990s has drastically changed the city and thus has changed the strengths and vulnerabilities within the city. This paper will provide a little information about Las Vegas and, I selected a couple of the risks and vulnerabilities that I felt were of importance within the community that matches with the city growth and increase in population. We will review what the city is doing to address these vulnerabilities and what strengths they bring to the table to make our community resilient.

Las Vegas is located in the southern part of the state in the Mojave Desert, and is surrounded by various mountain ranges and desert. Founded in 1905, the City of Las Vegas was established with the opening of the Salt Lake, San Pedro and Los Angeles Railroad. In 1931, construction of Hoover Dam increased the population to the region. That same year, gambling was legalized in the state. In 1941, the El Rancho opened and was the first casino on what’s now called the Las Vegas Strip. And yes, it is true that Bugsy Siegel built one of the first casinos in Las Vegas, the Pink Flamingo (now known as the Flamingo). Over the years, more casinos and resorts opened providing gambling and entertainment not typically found anywhere else in the country. In addition, Las Vegas became known for being able to get a quick marriage or divorce due to the need for any blood tests or paperwork normally required in other cities. Over the years, Las Vegas continued to grow as businesses and corporations began to build and operate within the city thus, increasing employment opportunities and overall population. In just over thirty year, Las Vegas has become a major metropolitan city in the United States.

Vulnerabilities and Strengths

Flooding

Las Vegas Valley is in a region characterized by a series of northward-trending mountain ranges and intervening valleys filled by eroded sediments (Purkey). The National Weather Service reports the annual average rainfall in Las Vegas is 9.91 inches. Flooding can occur during anytime during the year when excess rain runs down from the mountains and into the Las Vegas. Due to the desert landscape, increase in buildings and housing closer to the mountains, dangerous flooding and flash flooding commonly occurs. Per the Clark County Regional Flood Control District “since 1960, the area has experienced at least 11 floods costing more than a million dollars each. In that same period, 31 lives were lost in 21 separate flash flood events”. (TripAdvisor) Due to how sudden flooding and flash floods occur in the city, the hazards as a result affect the city by disruption in traffic due to flooding and damage to local streets and highways along with damages to homes and businesses. In 1999, severe thunderstorms hit the city causing flooding in various areas of the city. The result was “damage throughout the city of over $20 million, damage and destruction of 369 homes, and two fatalities”. (Manning)

Poverty and Low-Income and Language limitations

According to the United Way of Southern Nevada Community Connect, the current population of Las Vegas (located in Clark County) is over 749,000, making Las Vegas the most populated city in the state of Nevada and, the 28th-most populated city in the United States. (Nag) And that number is increasing each year by an average of 150,000. The U.S. Census Bureau conducted the 2013-2017 American Community Survey which stated that during this time period, over 110,000 people moved to Las Vegas from California. (Davidson) This was due to cost of living and employment opportunities. Community Connect reports “35.3% of the Las Vegas population lives in poverty or low-income 12.4% living with disabilities, and 7% living with language limitations”. The highest poverty rates are seen in the black and Hispanic communities. Per an article by the Pew Research Center in looking at cities where unauthorized immigrants are moving or live, it noted “Among the top 20 metro areas, only Philadelphia (2.6%) had a lower share of unauthorized immigrants than the national population, while Las Vegas (8.2%) had the highest share”. (Passel & Cohn)

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Community resiliency is the ability of a community to sustain and recover during times of emergency and/or disaster. Masterson noted “in order to enhance disaster resiliency, hazard mitigation must be consistently addressed in all types of planning activities”. To determine what the vulnerabilities in Las Vegas are, I would look to historical information that provides information on issues seen in the history of the city. This information is easily obtainable through state and city historical data. Next, I would look at the population of the city, the demographic, economic status and review if there are any differences that would prevent any group from being unable to be resilient during an emergency or disaster and determine how to adjust a plan to meet the differing needs. In my research for this assignment, the strength of the city is the identification and recognition of risks to the community by the Clark County Emergency Manager and then, providing this information to the community.

The information and education, to me, is one of the first steps towards community resiliency. The public cannot know what to prepare for or what the city risks are if they are not informed. The recognition has resulted in thorough information relayed to the public regarding all risks to the city, how be prepare and information on sustainability they occur. Various vehicles are utilized that are easily accessible to all residents such as local radio and television alerts, social media, and websites. Basically, keeping the public informed and educated is the priority. Utilizing past experiences, such as flooding, enables the ability to provide the public with detailed information on how they should prepare should an event occur again. For example, following the 1989 flooding in Las Vegas, the Clark County Regional Flood Control spent $1.2 billion dollars on an electronic Flood Threat Recognition System to measure the amount of rain in specific areas and activate warning systems when reached. Accessing and using today’s technology is another way to reduce this vulnerability. The use of GIS to map out the city by using historical data to determine the need and location for storm drainage systems and building of roads to ensure access in and out of areas is a must for this type of disaster. Las Vegas has done this and made this information available to the public for review.

Further, their website offers GIS enabled mapping which provides detailed information on flood zones and areas within the city that can be monitored during times of excessive rains or storms. These processes follow what Masterson noted in that “public awareness can promote the adoption of mitigation actions to reduce disaster impacts by influencing households and individuals to “modify their behavior or their property to minimize such impacts.”

The Las Vegas population growth seen over the past twenty years has changed not just the size of the city, but in who now calls Las Vegas home. In looking at the increase in poverty, low-income, and language limitations, these areas are located in the west and east areas of Las Vegas. The west side is predominantly African-American and the east side is predominantly Latino. There is also a large number of unauthorized immigrants in the area which accounts for the large number of people with language limitations. Yet, each demographic is enduring the same issues with low income or high unemployment.

The above noted risk of flooding, an example of a disaster risk for the city, and the information noted is readily available for this group as it is for the rest of the city. For those that do not speak English, emergency alerts are broadcast in Spanish in addition to English as well as website information in Spanish. But socially, these areas are more vulnerable than most due to their lack of certain resources that others in the city may have. Although government programs are available to these communities, the question is how can we ensure that they can be resilient in the face of a disaster or emergency?

Getting the information to the people is of importance in any endeavor developed for a city. Therefore, having cable and internet is a vital means in Las Vegas. It’s the first go-to for all emergency information. In this area, I would research how to attain services lacking within the community, working with the local cable company to allocate services to those in poverty or low-income areas. Local government has worked with the major cable subscriber in Las Vegas in which reduced costs for cable and internet services are available to those who qualify as low-income. Another way to get the community resilient is to get them invested in their community. Here is another area of strength that I feel Las Vegas is doing well in recognizing and establishing starting points.

The recognition that having some economic control in their community can aide to resiliency. Business owners are more invested in the protection of their businesses and can be leaders in providing information on preparedness and recovery efforts. A way to accomplish this is through the implementation of the Opportunity Zone program “which offers significant federal income tax incentives for investors who put their money in communities deemed most in need by state governors”. (Kudialis) Since implementation more big business have opened shop in these communities and have created some job opportunities. Another avenue looked at is the ability for residents to open small businesses in their communities. The Nevada Department of Business and Industry has a program called SCORE and/or Nevada Small Business Development Center which provides free business mentoring services free of charge. Through community leaders and organizations, the word about SCORE is getting out and we are seeing an increase in small businesses in these communities.

One more area of focus for these vulnerable communities is in the area of education. Middle and high schools in low income areas are receiving additional funding for educational programs to include technical education to prepare for a job or college following graduation, computers and tablets with internet access for students to use in the classroom and at home, and English language programs to assist those students with language barriers. Additionally, in working with community leaders, programs have been developed which offer opportunities to attain high school diplomas for adults, for free. This improved view and the recognition of the importance of education to these communities make a community more resilient. The goal is with this increase funding, is to provide opportunities that were not previously accessible to students in this area.

It must be understood that the resiliency of an individual is different from person to person. But when a community is going through the same event, we commonly see the community come together and can sustain for a short amount of time. But part of resiliency is recovery. It putting those things in place to ensure a community is prepared, able to respond to a given situation, and to recover to a point where they are better off than when they started. This, last point is another area of strength that I see in Las Vegas. When disaster strikes, the cities goal isn’t just to get the community back to where they were. It’s to make it better and prevention. We see this with the changes to the building of storm drains in the city along with the flood control mapping GIS programs. Additionally, no longer is it assumed that poverty or low-income areas are unable to sustain or are unwilling to be resilient. If anything, due to their economic struggles, they are more resilient than most.

In looking at the City of Las Vegas, I’ve identified a natural disaster which is the cause for a vulnerability within the city and from the social aspect, how poverty, low-income, and language barriers are being recognized as vulnerabilities and what strategies are being put in place to help make these communities resilient. For the city to be successful in their commitment to community resiliency, it must do more than just throw money at problems. Las Vegas leaders must continue to monitor and update risks as necessary and, remember the community they are there to serve, determine what their needs are, the various assistances necessary, and promote a whole-community approach to ensuring the entire community can be resilient.

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