Training Your Hotel Employees to Manage an Active Shooter Situation
By Kurt Meister Senior Vice President , Distinguished Programs | July 07, 2019
If a gunman opens fire inside your hotel, will your employees know how to respond? It's a question that hospitality leaders are asking more often these days. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the number of active shooter events grew from 20 in 2016 to 30 in 2017, claiming 943 lives over that two-year period.
Those statistics make it clear why an active shooter situation ranks high on the list of security concerns for U.S. hotels. And without proper employee training, a hotel has no chance of handling such a situation correctly.
The FBI defines an active shooter as "specific to one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area," with one or more firearms. From a wider perspective, active shooter events also may include incidents involving other weapons, such as knives or explosive devices. And while mass casualty events such as the October 2017 Mandalay Bay shooting grab headlines, many active shooter situations start as a small altercation involving one or two individuals with weapons. These events typically have a specific target (a jilted lover or a man insulted during a barroom conversation) and involve fewer people.
No matter the size or scope, active shooter events present serious challenges for all U.S. hotels. Most don't have security officers or off-duty police on-site, and if they do, those officers typically aren't armed. U.S. hotels also don't have Transportation Security Administration (TSA)-style checkpoints, which means people may come and go as they please.
So, how does a U.S. hotel general manager walk the fine line between providing a welcoming "home away from home" for guests and protecting both guests and employees from bad actors? The answer is creating a solid and effective training plan.
Gather Resources and Form a Team
With proper employee training, the chances of mitigating the loss of life and injury during an active shooter event can improve dramatically. Most U.S. hotels located in large cities already conduct some type of active shooter training; many major hotel brands offer it, too. But independent hotels may be left to handle it on their own.
The good news: Hotel general managers can tap into many resources. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website includes ready-made PowerPoint presentations and other materials to help you design a hotel-specific active shooter workshop. The American Hotel & Lodging Association and state lodging associations also offer materials and guides.
As part of any emergency plan or training, hotel general managers must include local law enforcement. In many municipalities, local police either provide the training themselves or will connect you with a security firm or third-party consultant who handles such workshops.
Bring those local officers, paramedics, first responders and any security consultants to your hotel. Have them tour your property with your own security team so they know the layout of the building inside and out. This will help avoid surprises that could hinder a response or rescue effort in the moments after an active shooter event. Then, ask those first responders questions that will help you train your staff appropriately, such as: Who will respond in the event of an active shooter situation? How many officers will be part of that response? How quickly will they be able to arrive the hotel? How soon will injured guests or employees be tended to?
Once first responders are on board, then it's time to assemble an internal team that will work with them. The hotel's general manager and regional manager must support or sponsor that team. It should include all of the hotel's division heads-security, maintenance, finance, housekeeping, human resources, legal, etc. Of course, all employees must be trained. So too should all employees of third-party amenities, such as valet parking, a restaurant or a spa.
As part of your training, develop specific roles for key team members. For example, hotel management might be responsible for handling media inquiries as the event unfolds. Human resources may be responsible for leading communication with employees on and off site. Security should handle the immediate communication with law enforcement and coordinate efforts to keep guests and employees safe.
Implement Scenario-Based Training
The most effective active shooter training walks employees through a typical scenario. Employees should be trained on how to recognize the sound of gunfire, and then how to react. First and foremost, they should know how to protect themselves and any nearby guests. DHS recommends following the "run, hide, fight" protocol, which means employees and guests should run and escape if possible, hide if escape isn't possible, and fight back against the shooter as an absolute last resort.
During training, employees should ask local law enforcement for specific tips on what to do if running isn't an option. Police officers or third-party companies may also recommend different options; some consultants are now teaching more aggressive survival skills, such as how to grab the weapon of a would-be killer as well as how to effectively barricade a door.
In general, employees should be taught how to safely warn their families to stay away, and how to notify staff members on the next shift (frontline employees and regional management) to avoid the hotel until the all-clear is given. This will help local law enforcement secure the perimeter of the hotel more easily. As part of your planning, consider whether it's prudent to determine an off-site meeting place where families or other employees can gather and stay informed
Employees must also know how to safely inform and evacuate guests during an active shooter event. Remember that, while your employees will be well trained to respond, your guests do not go through the same training. They won't be familiar with your hotel's layout or escape routes, and they'll need help. So, develop a plan for which areas should be on lockdown during an event, and which ones should not. Then assign specific people or roles to be responsible for either communicating lockdown status to affected guests, or for knocking on doors and helping guests leave their room and get to safety.
Your training should also include ways to prevent an active shooter situation before it occurs. This includes teaching all employees to look for, identify and report any suspicious guest behaviors. It also should include a policy where housekeeping or another staff member performs a visual inspection of every guest room at least once every 48 hours.
Also, be sure to address roles and responsibilities in the aftermath of the event. Plan for post-event debriefing meetings that are led by hotel management. Prepare your HR team for the work of providing counseling resources to affected employees and negotiating time off so workers can heal and get the help they need to handle any physical or mental anguish.
Once your training is complete, don't consider it once-and-done. Because of the high level of employee turnover in the hotel industry, plan to conduct active shooter training on at least a biannually or quarterly basis. Run through different mock scenarios. While it's not possible to train for every possible scenario, giving your staff the general guidelines and rules-and teaching them how to respond ahead of time-will keep everyone calm if an active shooter event occurs in your hotel.
Consider Additional Preventive Measures
While active shooter training is a major way to reduce your risk in the event of the unimaginable, so too are other preventive strategies.
When developing your hotel's overall security plan, pay attention to the back of the house. Make sure freight elevators, loading docks and back entrances are secured with badge access, routine security patrols and surveillance cameras.
Consider the feasibility of installing additional surveillance cameras inside and outside your facility. Having such cameras in key parts of the building, along the perimeter and even up the building's exterior has been proven to help law enforcement pinpoint the location of a shooter or multiple shooters in real time.
Also, work with your insurance agent to review your current policies. A hotel's standard commercial policy may include coverage for active shooter events, but such policies often include limitations, exclusions, or even the caveat that the insured must file a lawsuit to collect damages. You may instead consider a separate active shooter policy that provides additional coverages for liability and physical damage.
Look for an active shooter policy that also covers crisis management. While hotel management should be trained to handle the immediate media response, hotels will need to hire a public relations firm to handle subsequent news inquiries and rebuild reputation with guests. Also, look for a policy that offers business interruption coverage after an active shooter incident. This will help absorb any economic loss your hotel may face in the aftermath of a shooting.
Active shooter events happen more frequently today than even two or three years ago. As a result, hotels will be held to a higher standard when it comes to exercising reasonable care for the safety of their employees and guests. Developing a thorough and continuous active shooter training program will help hotels achieve that higher standard.
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