Hotels place emphasis on terror awareness training

Industry experts discuss how making employees, guests more aware can make hotels safer

Traditionally seen as a "soft target" because of their open access nature, hotels can present significant challenges to a security manager. There is a delicate balance that must be achieved between providing an adequate level of security for guests and ensuring that their stays are pleasurable.

In November 2008, terrorists launched a series of coordinated attacks across Mumbai, India, killing more than 160 people. Two hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Oberoi Trident, were among the targets attacked by the terrorists.

Just last week, a small explosion shattered two windows at a hotel in Davos, Switzerland, which was playing host to the World Economic Forum. While the incident didn't result in any injuries, it proves how difficult it can be to secure a hotel, even when increased security measures are already in place.

"The impact of the Mumbai attack was on scale within India, in terms of impact, as 9/11 was to the U.S.," said Mark Sanna, vice president of corporate security for Hyatt Hotels, who also serves on the loss prevention committee of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. "Within India, it has significantly transformed hotel security. The government has established security standards for the various ratings of hotels, and to receive, for example, a five-star rating, you have to comply with a very rigid set of security standards that they have now implemented. Outside of India, I think in the larger context of the hospitality industry, it more or less coalesced the industry to really better understand that it, as an industry, is and will likely continue to be a major target of terrorist attacks around the world."

Paul Goldenberg, president and CEO of risk management consulting firm Cardinal Point Strategies, said the style of Mumbai attacks also changed the way that the law enforcement and the security community think about and prepare for terror threats.

"There has been a lot of preparation for large-scale attacks involving IEDs (improvised explosive devices), or truck or vehicle bombs, etc," he said. "What we have seen is that an active shooter or small groups of active shooters and terrorists utilizing explosives, small arms and the taking of hostages is unfortunately a very effective tactic."

Though hotels can't divulge details of their security measures, Joe McInerney, president and CEO of AH&LA, says that hotels are cognoscente of the threats that they face and are always working to implement security policies and procedures that keep their guests and employees safe. That being said, McInerney added that hotels may vary what they're doing from a security standpoint based upon who their guests are at a given time.

"Security is different, maybe depending upon groups that are (staying in the hotel)," McInerney said.

Sanna agreed and added that while hotels may technically fit into the category of a "soft target," he says the terms hard or soft targets are really more pertinent for law enforcement authorities and that hotels should think about security in other, more pertinent ways.

"The challenge you have with using 'hard' or 'soft' is how hard is hard? To be "hard" implies some form security akin to a fortress, and we are a business that by its very nature has to be readily accessible and open to the public. Where I think my security colleagues in the industry are really reshaping this concept is more around a better understanding of what I'll refer to as dynamic threats," Sanna explained. "The hotel facility is protected not just by physical security or technical security measures, but also operational security measures, such as surveillance detection and disruption, guarding operations, a variety of measures which bring together a better understanding of targeting and linkages to threat and risk - and appropriate static and operational measures to detect and prevent them or blunt and minimize them. The hotel itself can be a target for a variety of reasons - its location, its iconic stature, its brand image - those sorts of risk factors, but as important and perhaps more germane, is who is at the hotel and what's going on at the hotel? The emphasis here is really on understanding dynamic threat and how key guests staying at the hotel - such as renowned movie or rock stars, a government dignitary, or even the CEO of a major corporation, or a major event or meeting at the hotel, can change the threat profile of the property and make it attractive to someone who is intent on attacking it."

Goldenberg said that the goal of hotels is not to turn themselves into fortresses, but rather create a safe environment by making their staffs and guests more aware.

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