Enhanced Security Systems for Hotels and Resorts: Threat Detection and Avoidance
By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | July 07, 2019
On Easter Sunday, 2019, two men wearing backpacks walked into the Shangri La Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. After strolling around the lobby, they rode the guest elevator to the second floor and entered the Table One restaurant. Moments later they detonated suicide bombs killing dozens of guests having breakfast at the luxury hotel. Two other luxury hotels and three churches saw coordinated attacks killing 321 people in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in recent history.
Just a few months earlier, in January, Islamic extremists attacked the DusitD2 luxury hotel and office complex in Nairobi, Kenya killing 21 people during a 19 hour siege. The attack started when a suicide bomber detonated his suicide vest in the foyer of the hotel and continued as gunmen with AK47s hunted down and killed guests throughout the hotel.
One of the most dramatic hotel attacks, as depicted in the recent movie, Hotel Mumbai, occurred in November of 2008 at the famed Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. The sophisticated and coordinated attack killed 31 people in the Taj Mahal and another 30 people in the Oberoi-Trident Hotel during a four day siege. Two other hotels in Mumbai were attacked during the siege. The attackers had gained access to the blueprints of all four hotels facilitating their deadly planning.
A lone gunman, Stephen Paddock managed to smuggle an arsenal of weapons into the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas in the days leading up to the Route 91 Harvest music festival on October 1, 2017. Using bump-stock devices that turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns, Paddock fired more than a thousand rounds of ammunition into the crowd from his 32nd floor suite, killing 58 festival goers and wounding 422 others. Reportedly Paddock left a Do-Not-Disturb sign on his door for 3 days which, against security protocol, went unreported by the hotel staff. This was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
In June of 2015 38 people were gunned down on the beach near the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in a Tunisian resort town. In July 2005 a terrorist drove a pickup truck laden with explosives through the glass façade and detonated in the lobby of the Ghazala Beach Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh resort on the Sanai Peninsula, killing dozens of hotel guests. Similar deadly attacks in recent years have occurred at the Resorts World Hotel and Casino in Manila, a North Caucasus ski resort in Russia and at the Bella Vista Hotel in Hurghada, Egypt.
Hotels and resorts have increasingly become targets of terrorist attacks. Ease of access to facilities that are designed to promote welcoming hospitality to its guests and visitors make securing hotels against attacks a difficult challenge. Terrorist regard hotels and resorts as "target-rich" since guests in luxury lodging are typically affluent and potentially politically influential.
Recent attacks emphatically demonstrate that today's hotel and resort security systems need to focus not only on petty criminals and intruders bent on theft, vandalism, arson or personal assaults, but must employ cutting edge technology in early threat detection of potential terrorist attacks. Politicians, military personnel, celebrities, captains of industry and other potential targets of terrorists are especially vulnerable when away from the protective cover of their dependable home or workplace security networks. Hotels and resorts that cater to this type of clientele must consider going beyond conventional hotel security systems and employ real-time intrusion-detection and threat assessment technology.
Terror attack on Shangri-La Hotel Colombo. Sri Lanka Easter Weekend 2019
Enhanced Security Technology
Traditional hotel security systems have three principal components: video surveillance, alarm systems and locking systems. Video surveillance has typically utilized a closed circuit television (CCTV) system comprised of a number of video cameras strategically located throughout the hotel in stairwells, entrances, elevators and other security sensitive areas, such as safe deposit rooms or cash counting rooms in casino hotels. These cameras are usually monitored in the hotel security office where guards watch a bank of video monitors that record activity in relatively short cycles. While this system relies on the attentiveness of the guards watching the TVs, alarms on certain doors or motion detectors in restricted areas may trigger a video camera and alert a security guard to a potential intrusion or threat.
Electronic card-key systems have replaced mechanical locks and are often connected to computer networks allowing security staff to identify and record the staff member or guest gaining access to a certain space along with time of entry. New advances in guestroom locks allow guest to use their personal credit card or smart phone to enter their room. Retinal scanning and QR (Quick Response) code scanner apps for gaining room access are also on the horizon.
Advancements in video surveillance technology have been rapid and now provide real-time applications to identify, tag, track and address potential terrorist threats. A long-range infrared pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera with video intelligent-convergent technology connected to a data-base that includes facial recognition records of known threats, can potentially detect, track and thwart a threat before it enters the hotel.
Security software technology can now immediately detect weapons, public disturbances and suspicious behaviors. Through artificial intelligence software this type of system analyzes video data, detects anomalous behavior using forensic use-cases, filters data and alerts security officers so they are focused on actual threats and can formulate and deploy appropriate responses. Multi-camera streaming video provides necessary context to achieve accurate predictive modeling and behavioral paradigms. Three-dimensional imaging of the threat environment can help security officers assess a menacing situation and help establish an interactive virtual barrier. These images can then be streamed live to portable devices to support a deployed response.
Ground-based radar and all-weather, day-night laser illuminated thermal PTZ cameras can be utilized on waterfront hotels and resorts to automatically vector-in and track-on-approach unknown targets from up to seven miles out to sea, creating a virtual electronic "bubble" of security. The 2005 American film, Red Eye, has a dramatic sequence where domestic terrorists in a boat off the coast of a high-rise Miami Beach resort hotel, in attempt to assassinate the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, fire a FGM-148 Javelin infrared-guided anti-tank missile at his family's suite on the top floor, destroying the suite but narrowly missing the family who, having been alerted to the threat, escaped into a stairwell. Though fictional in this case, an event like this could occur, but could also be prevented using the security technology described above.
Advances in thermographic cameras, utilizing hand held devices, can now provide infrared imaging to detect weapons on a person by detecting temperature contrasts between a weapon and the human body. One company, FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared), is developing apps that can turn a smart phone into a thermographic camera. In the near future a security guard will be able to use their smart phone to detect a concealed weapon on a person of interest.
Detection of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)
Perhaps the most challenging terrorist threat to detect is one that is arguably the most deadly: concealed explosives. There are a number of effective methods and technical systems for screening for explosives when in close proximity. Trained canines, x-ray devices and trace particle detection systems can detect explosives in packages, luggage, vehicles and persons at close range. However, detecting concealed explosives at a safe standoff distance remains an elusive challenge. While utilizing techniques that detect trace particles or vapors are feasible at close range, at stand-off distances for current technology, the substances become too diluted and undetectable.
One promising development of standoff detection of explosives is the use of a gated UV Raman Spectrometer. Terrorists are often contaminated with trace amounts of the chemicals used to make or handle an IED. Spectrometry can detect microscopic traces of bomb-making material on an individual, package or vehicle leading to further investigation of the threat. UV Standoff Raman Spectrometry experimentation has successfully demonstrated identification of explosive traces at distances of up to 30 meters with a line-of-sight sensor laser source that optically collects and analyzes recorded spectral signatures of all known explosives.
The iconic Taj Mahal Palace was besieged by terrorists in 2008
A new screening technology developed by QinetiQ, a security company utilizing the latest advancements in science and engineering in threat detection, is called SPO-NX. SPO-NX is a stand-off detection system that can scan a crowd and reliably detect suspicious articles such as suicide vest at distances of up to 15 meters. Using passive millimeter wave (PMMW) technology, the system does not provide imaging but can detect an object concealed under clothing by comparing differential in heat transmission between the body and a concealed object. The scanning device can be hand held or mounted to a wall or ceiling. The detected anomaly will trigger a red bar on the sensor and alert the security staff of a potential threat. One can imagine that if this system was in place at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka, the terrorist might have been stopped before they got into the elevator to go to the second floor restaurant.
One interesting development in explosive detection technology, bordering on science fiction, is the use of trained honeybees to detect scents associated with explosives. Entomologists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been investigating honeybees' ability to identify the olfactory footprints of deadly explosives. The initiative is called the "Stealthy Insect Sensor Project" where scientists train bees to extend their proboscises-tubular organs in the presence of explosives. In an outdoor environment free-flying bees that detect a scent will slow down and circle the area of the target.
This method is obviously fraught with control complications, not least of which is the short lifespan of a trained bee. But the technology provides impetus to explore applications of the operation of this natural system to other scientific advancements in detection. What if this natural olfactory system could be replicated artificially and installed in a swarm of micro-drones (á la Michael Crichton's Micro) that could be deployed and controlled in a threat-rich environment?
Criminal use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) known as drones are increasingly being recognized as threats where traditional security measures are easily defeated. Small drones can be very difficult to detect and can be used to deliver contraband, capture intelligence and deploy explosives. While use of drones by terrorists in attacking hotels or resorts has not yet been documented, it is easy to see the possibility of such an attack occurring. QinetiQ has developed a system of detecting and tracking unauthorized drones utilizing its Palisade Surveillance Management System using a patented radar system and 3D software to detect, assess and track targets in real-time. In a further advancement of anti-drone intrusion, artificial intelligence driven drones can find and capture other drones.
In many African countries, such as Kenya, vehicles are restricted from entering governmental complexes, luxury hotels and corporate office complexes without first being inspected for weapons or bombs. Unfortunately for many, the inspections are cursory and unsophisticated, utilizing in many cases only a mirror at the end of a pole for inspecting a vehicle's undercarriage.
Four gunmen were able to get past the security checkpoint at the DesitD2 compound and storm in with their weapons blazing. Leidos is an engineering company that produces the VACIS Cargo and Vehicle Inspection Systems. The VACIS IP6500 FullScan Integrated Cargo Inspection System is a drive-through scanning portal that utilizes x-ray imaging and radiation scanning to help security guards intercept weapons, bombs and even nuclear material in containers and vehicles. It can scan vehicles from bumper to bumper, roof to tires and even the vehicle occupants at a rate of 150 vehicles per hour.
There are common sense design solutions that don't necessarily involve hyper-technological applications to insure the safety of hotel guests. During the attack on the Taj Mahal Palace as the terrorists were roaming through the hotel killing everyone they saw, dozens of guests were taken to and barricaded in the safety of the Chambers Club, a private lounge in the hotel that had a hardened shell that the terrorist could not easily penetrate. The club room was in effect a "Safe Room" that afforded most of the guests enough time to escape down a stairway to safety as the terrorists attempted to break down the fortified door.
Consideration should be given, when designing or renovating a luxury hotel, to creating a space that has blast proof walls, windows and doors that provide guests with a safe haven should this type of siege occur. Such a space could be a large meeting room or lounge that has access to food, water and sanitary facilities, but that has a hardened shell and is equipped with provisions for hours and perhaps, as in the case of the Taj siege, days of refuge.
The dilemma for luxury hotels and resorts is how to create a welcoming hospitality atmosphere without making guest feel like they are going through security magnetometers at the airport. On one hand guests are turned off by high security apparatus and so designers of enhanced security systems must endeavor to make them hidden from view. On the other hand, a sense of heightened security is in itself an essential luxury offering, so knowing that your hotel is employing the most sophisticated security systems contributes to the luxury experience.
It must be said that no matter how sophisticated the threat detection technology employed in a hotel or resort, the fundamental problem remains human. A person believing, based on religious, political or other reasoning, that delivering massive death and destruction is their calling will continue to wreak havoc on our society. Altering that kind of mindset continues to be a primary societal challenge for us all for the safety and security of our planet.
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