Las Vegas Aftermath: Setting a New Standard for Hotel Security
By John Welty Practice Leader, SUITELIFE, Venture Insurance Programs | March 04, 2018
It was the worst shooting in recent U.S. history, and a hotel room provided the shooter’s home base. The massacre, which left 57 dead and another 500 injured this past October at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas served as a dark reminder to the hospitality industry that security is critical, and maintaining and updating systems as well as training employees is something that can’t be ignored.
Since the event, more details of how killer Stephen Paddock orchestrated the attack have emerged – details that in retrospect might have been read as warning signs by the hotel. For example, we now know Paddock had a do-not-disturb sign on his door for three consecutive days. Also, new details released by police in January and outlined by the New York Times show that Paddock brought five suitcases to his hotel room on his first night, seven more the next morning, and an additional six more suitcases the day before the shooting – suspicious activity that hotel staff can be trained to identify and report in the future.
Sadly, active shooter situations are a reality in today’s world and are occurring too often in our country. Just this February, a former student murdered 17 students and teachers and injured a dozen more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. And, not too long before in 2016, a gunman killed 49 at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. Though these are three incidents with some of the largest reported fatalities, numerous active shooter incidents have occurred at various locations across the country.
While active shooter situations can happen anywhere, hotels have a higher risk exposure, as they operate with their front doors open to anyone and everyone who wishes to come or go, and they pack in large numbers of people in one place. Unfortunately, when it comes to security, U.S. hotels are not as proactive or vigilant as hotels overseas, according to the New York Times. Hotels in the Middle East are now using “explosive trace detectors and x-ray systems” to detect dangerous weapons or explosives entering the vicinity. In the U.S., the market faces different challenges as U.S. guests strongly value their privacy.
A recent article posted by FOX News says that the Mandalay Bay hotel—like all hotels and other public spaces—was a “soft target.” They quote a UCLA professor and gun law expert, who said guests can easily bring weapons into hotels. “Firearms in a suitcase would… easily get past any hotel security,” he said.
So, what can hoteliers do to protect their guests, their employees and their businesses to prevent or stop and an active shooter situation? Risk management is the key.
Assessing the Situation
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation defines an active shooter as an individual “actively engaged in or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” The FBI reported 220 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2016, which resulted in 1,486 casualties. The largest percentage of these incidents (more than 43 percent) took place in areas of commerce. Other incidents occurred in schools, open spaces, government, health care facilities, houses of worship and residences.
To understand where to go next, the hotel industry needs to watch and understand active shooter and terrorist events taking place around the world to better protect itself.
Some hotels have already taken steps in the wake of the devastation in Las Vegas. Disney and Hilton hotels have both changed their policies regarding do-not-disturb signs. Disney now offers guests “room occupied” signs and if a sign is there more than 24 hours, staff can enter at will, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Meanwhile, Hilton has changed its policy so that when housekeeping is confronted with a do-not-disturb sign, they are required to place an unable-to-service sign under the door alerting the guest that the room will be entered in 24 hours if the sign remains. Other hospitality companies like Caesars and Wynn Resorts have also amended their do-not-disturb policies to allow for inspections, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
Luggage scanners are being considered as well, Muller Group International President and CEO Jeffrey Muller, a former FBI agent, told CBS. These differ from those at the airport as new technology does not require personnel to actually open the bag.
Overseas, hotels have been stepping up security for years. The King David Hotel in Jerusalem, according to Travel + Leisure, has windows that can withstand blasts, bomb scanning technology and a state-of-the-art air system to combat possible poisonous gas attacks. The New York Times reported that a hotel in New Delhi is using facial recognition technology as part of its enhanced security efforts and that other major hotel chains in India have begun using explosive trace detectors and x-ray machines.
So, what can U.S. hotels do to increase security without compromising the guest experience?
In a recent white paper on commercial buildings and terrorist attacks Zurich Insurance Group recommended that commercial building owners, including hotels, consider adding structural and technical protective measures to their five-year capital improvement plans. These measures could include upgrading or installing security systems, implementing real-time access to emergency assistance, car and truck screenings, cyber security protections and even biometric screening systems. Plus, as noted in the media, some housekeeping staff members are already outfitted with panic buttons in case of sexual harassment; these could also be incorporated into broader security strategies.
However, along with these capital improvements, it’s key to also implement employee training processes to identify suspicious activity. Employees should be drilled often to reinforce evacuation plans and more. Hoteliers can also increase vigilance by incorporating more employee background checks, maintaining security systems recurrently or purchase luggage screening systems.
Russel Kolins, chair of security association ASIS International’s Entertainment and Tourism Security Council told Security Management magazine hotels may handle approaches to security differently as each has its own culture. Some hotels have policies on weapons and some allow hunters to bring weapons to their rooms, he said. Overall, it would be very difficult to identify all weapons brought into a hotel unless all bags were inspected. Kolins noted that we’re unlikely to see metal detectors in hotels, but that employees can be trained to identify guests carrying weapons.
Hotels can spend countless dollars beefing up security and alarm systems, but what might be the most effective is staff training. Without staff education, technology, alarm systems and other increased security measures will not be enough. Everyone on staff from administrative staff to housekeeping, bellhops and bartenders should be trained to identify and report suspicious activity. Policies regarding do-not-disturb signs are also a step in the right direction, as is keeping up with the latest trends in security technology to understand what might work for a particular hotel.
An Uncompromised Guest Experience
As many hotels have their own individual culture based on location or corporate policies, hotels will want to review their own situations individually. Industry associations can offer insight here into the latest trends in security. However, specialty insurers can also provide guidance. Insurers perform risk assessments day in and day out and are well-trained to identify risk exposures related to these types of attacks, in addition to a variety of other exposures like theft, business interruption, flood and more. They can help an individual hotel draw up its own risk control plan that includes staff training plans, processes and drills and regular security equipment maintenance and tests.
Unfortunately, active shooter situations are occurring with some frequency in public areas like hotels. To protect guests, employees, the business and its reputation, hotels need to ensure they’ve taken the proper steps regarding security. We all agree that guest experience is top priority and we don’t want to stain that experience by transforming the hotel lobby into an airport security line, but we do want to ensure our guests’ safety. By keeping up with security trends in technology and staff training, hoteliers can continue to provide an outstanding experience for guests while doing all they can to ensure their safety.
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