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NetApp customers, partners press on after Las Vegas shooting

About 4,000 NetApp customers and partners attended the vendor's Insight user conference expecting storage news. Instead, they had to absorb the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.

LAS VEGAS -- Against the backdrop of a mass shooting here, NetApp customers and others attending the vendor's annual Insight conference were understandably subdued. NetApp said about 4,000 people showed up for the event at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, but that is about half the anticipated attendance.

Many of the shows attendees returned home with memories of experiencing terror up close on the Las Vegas Strip. They saw SWAT teams on the street and in the air, and a stream of ambulances carrying gunshot victims. They were scared by rumors of more shooters as they scrambled to connect with co-workers and were forced to leave -- or stay in -- their hotel rooms for hours during a citywide lockdown.

NetApp Insight resumes, but 'melancholy' mood prevails

NetApp postponed its kickoff event originally scheduled for Monday. When NetApp Insight opened on Tuesday, NetApp customers and partners at the show said they struggled to go on with business as usual.

 "The mood here is very melancholy. People are looking around, more concerned about security," said Tony Phan, a storage engineer at eBay, which he describes as a "big NetApp shop."

On Sunday, Oct. 1, on the eve of NetApp Insight, a gunman identified by police as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire from his suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel. He killed 59 people and wounded hundreds more at an outdoor concert. Paddock later was found dead in the hotel room.

Las Vegas was placed on lockdown for the next 24 hours, with McCarran International Airport and Interstate 15 shut down, and major arteries in and out of the city blocked.

Phan arrived for Insight at 10 p.m. Sunday, at roughly the same time police say the shooting started. Phan had booked a room at New York-New York Hotel and Casino, about three blocks south of Mandalay Bay, and arrived shortly after reports of a second gunman inside his hotel.

"People were running through the lobby yelling, 'There's a shooter, there's a shooter.' It turned out to be false. There was no [second] shooter, but it was just chaos. People were panicking everywhere," Phan said.

A SWAT helicopter descended around New York-New York to investigate the reports of a second shooter, and other SWAT officers appeared on the ground on the Las Vegas Strip.

A second helicopter hovered above the rooftops of MGM Resorts, following more erroneous reports of another gunman. Taking no chances, teams of armed police officers methodically conducted floor-by-floor searches of each hotel. Even after an "all clear" was given, those inside the hotels were not permitted to leave for several more hours.

As the helicopters whirred above, a stream of ambulances howled down Las Vegas Boulevard for the better part of two hours, ferrying shooting victims to nearby hospitals. A manager at the Tropicana Las Vegas resort offered the hotel's luggage racks to serve as makeshift gurneys, transporting shooting victims to a hastily arranged triage area.

NetApp has a large on-site team to help coordinate the events at Insight. Several team members said they, like thousands of other visitors, were stranded in the aftermath of the shooting. Two team members were having dinner at Mandalay Bay when they suddenly were forced to evacuate. They hid in a cinema until 6:30 Monday morning.

A NetApp executive said she arrived at her hotel around 10:30 Sunday night, only to receive a flurry of texts from colleagues asking if she was safe. Then, she couldn't find those same colleagues.

A bomb threat at the Luxor Resort and Casino put that facility on lockdown and heighted anxiety, although it proved to be a false alarm. The Luxor adjoins Mandalay Bay and is connected via a walkway.

'Thought it was fireworks'

Among the NetApp customers to remain was Scott Stockton of Polsinelli PC law firm in Kansas City, Mo. Stockton, a Polsinelli systems engineer, said he heard a series of pops that he associated with the Route 91 Harvest music festival across the street from Mandalay Bay.

"I heard the shots, but I thought it was fireworks," Stockton said, echoing a description used by survivors who attended the concert.

Stockton said he considered leaving Las Vegas on Monday, but decided to stick it out to show support for NetApp.

"I think they acted appropriately. They postponed the first day to give people time. We're all here to learn; that's why we come. We all have to keep going," Stockton said.

The U.S. Navy uses a lot of NetApp storage gear, which is why Angel Pereira made the trip from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Las Vegas. Pereira, an integration systems specialist with U.S. Navy, learned of the shooting when a colleague called his cellphone to check on him.

"I was asleep in my hotel. I didn't even know what had happened until everything was all over," Pereira said, adding that he never considered leaving NetApp Insight.

"I was already here. I probably would have come anyway [even after the shooting]. You just have to keep going on. You can't stop," Pereira said.

NetApp customers and employees weren't the only ones in attendance struggling to cope. Mike Brooks, a local freelance stagehand hired to work the event, heard about the shooting on the news, shortly before leaving Sunday to help with setup for Insight. Brooks did not leave for Mandalay Bay until Monday, only to turn around and go home after learning the resort was still locked down.

Brooks returned for Tuesday's NetApp events, but said the Insight crowd was far below what he's used to seeing at other Las Vegas conferences.

People are trying to move forward, he said, but it is difficult.

 "You can tell people don't want to talk about [the shooting]. If you bring it up, there's this awkward pause as people ty to change the subject," Brooks said.

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