Hotels place emphasis on terror awareness training

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.

"One of the most successful ways to counter terrorism is really to empower staff employees and people to be aware of their surroundings and to understand vulnerabilities and understand threats," he said. "What people know or what they don't know can have an impact on how things turn out."

As a way to boost awareness among hotel guests and employees, Cardinal Point Strategies has partnered with AH&LA to develop a new counter terrorism and safety training initiative called "Eye on Awareness - Hotel Security and Anti-Terrorism Training."

The program, which also complements the Department of Homeland Security's "See Something, Say Something" terrorism awareness campaign, features three tiers of training for hotel employees to help them recognize and report suspicious activity.

"What really distinguishes the Eye on Awareness training program from many others that are out there is that this is an interactive, engaging program," Goldenberg explained. "It is going to be on an LMS (learning management system), which means that the hoteliers will really have an opportunity to know who goes through it and when. It is really for the most important people in the hotel, which are frontline staff, those are the eyes and ears of each and every hotel."

Darrell Clifton, CPP, director of security for Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nev., says that his facility has used a "See Something, Say Something" initiative for several years in an effort to make hotel staff and guests more aware.

"Whatever slogan you use, it's about getting your employees to be more aware of their surroundings," Clifton said. "Not being able to screen people like you would be able to in a closed facility, we have to welcome everyone in and make sure they are not going to be a threat to us. Our biggest concern would be something like an active shooter or the actions of an outsider we don't know about until it happens."

Training initiatives like these also help hotels meet that balance between security and guest experience.

"In the hospitality industry, we can't setup screening operations like the TSA can and I don't believe it is necessary as a routine business practice in the U.S." Sanna said. "We really try to create a safe environment that meets the guest's expectations for security with appropriate operational measures to cover a variety of risks/threats - from criminal incidents, to terrorist threats."

McInerney agreed.

"Each hotel has its own security protocols based upon the type of property it is and the types of guests they have," McInerney said. "It's very important for all the hotel companies to make sure the guest is taken care of and we meet this expectation because the last thing you want to do is have somebody leave the hotel with a bad experience because that person tells 10 people and those people tell 10 people."

In addition to terrorism, Sanna said that hotels are working to combat fraud, particularly computer hacking and attempts to gain access to personal information, which have become a big problem for the industry in recent years.

"We're obviously investing heavily in IT related security, but also we have implemented very stringent measures around data privacy protection and personal guest security. Practices as not disclosing the guest room numbers in public areas, installing auditable security technologies for door locks and other access control measures," Sanna said.

The inability to also physically harden the hotel itself against attacks emphasizes the need for awareness training for employees and utilization of surveillance and access control technologies, according to Clifton.

"We also do a little bit of intelligence work," Clifton added. "We work with our local authorities and our fusion centers and take any information where we can get it if there is a credible threat."

Sanna said that innovation in security technologies across the board have helped make the job of securing hotels an easier task. With the evolution of IP cameras, Sanna said that hotel security directors are no longer hampered by bandwidth issues and can even use cameras to supplement guard tours.

"The state of surveillance technology has so dramatically advanced and improved," Sanna said. "We have significantly lowered costs, greater reliability, better integration of disparate technologies - such as cameras, alarms, locking systems, etc. - greater mobility capabilities -- particularly in surveillance detection and monitoring. For example, in mobile guarding - a night manager working alone, or a security guard on tour can wear a mobile camera on them when they go to respond to an incident - and also have their response activity remotely monitored - giving them a back up. That improves their personal safety and enables an immediate police response if needed. Applications of smart technologies can also reduce guarding costs for a property as well as improve performance and operational efficiencies."

Sanna also noted that the use smart card technology is rapidly growing in the hospitality industry, as hotels look for ways to enhance the experience of guests.

Clifton also believes that biometrics may play a big role in hotel security at some point in the future.

"I'm not using biometrics so much yet, but I think it's just a matter of time once that technology gets a little better, we will probably be using something like that in the next five years or so," he said. "I think at some point, we will be able to look at a crowd coming in or people coming in and be able to identify them, either within our own database or with some external database so that we know who they are and know who we are dealing with."

Hotel security staffs themselves are even going through a transformational period, according to Sanna, as security is becoming a greater shared responsibility for all employees.

"I think from my perspective, the most positive transformation that I see underway is a growing recognition that security isn't just the security staffs responsibility, it's really becoming a part of every employees responsibilities in some meaningful way," he said. "There is a growing recognition that (security) is becoming an increasingly important element of hospitality operations and you really need to know something about it."

Clifton also believes that while hotel security staffs may not grow in size, they will probably be better trained moving forward.

"I know that your hotel security officer now is better trained because he is starting to learn about things like behavior recognition, anti-terrorism, bomb recognition, active shooter reaction, and things like that," Clifton said. "I don't think you are necessarily going to see bigger numbers (of security guards), but I think you are going to see them better trained and a little smarter."