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May 26, 2007

Ten Tips for Keeping Guests Secure Via a Mix of Training and Technology (Southern Hospitality, Spring 2007)

This article on ways to increase hotel security focuses on the Four Seasons in Atlanta. Read more after the jump.
Good security and safety practices can mean the difference between a pleasant stay and a potential disaster. Especially in larger properties, hotel staff and their guests must work together to ensure the safest environment possible. Here are 10 ways to update and enforce staff training while encouraging guests to be as aware as possible of their surroundings.


Don’t rely on stereotypes

Remember the old movies, where a black-hat-wearing cowboy was sure to be the dastardly villain? If only it were that easy to confirm a shady character. “Today’s hotel criminal isn’t necessarily the guy off the street – he could be the guy in a suit and tie, with a briefcase. You have to look at behavior more than appearance,” says Don Cohen, Director of Security for the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta, who has spent over 10 years in hotel security after serving in the military. His security staff trains with other employees so that they act together as a protection team. “We rely on employees to be eyes and ears of the hotel,” says Cohen. He encourages staff to attend security department meetings where possible and to contact security if they feel something isn’t right or if they see a potential security issue or safety hazard. The training goes both ways: “We think our security officer in the lobby should possess the same hospitality skills as our concierge – he is meeting and greeting as well as looking for suspicious behavior.” And the front-desk staff is trained never to announce a room number when guest is checking in.


Keep training fresh.

Cohen takes security training very seriously, beginning with the orientation process for new staff. He attends each orientation, gives a 2-hour talk on security, and recertifies staff annually. His security staff gets additionally certified on top of their orientation, and is also certified in CPR and the use of a defibrillator. The Four Seasons also offers more formal classroom training, where staff members learn about building and sprinkler systems and participate in fire drills and practical exercises.


Practice evacuation drills for all types of guests.

The Four Seasons plans regular hotel evacuation drills in conjunction with the local fire department. The hotel and its residents receive notice of the drill the day before, and the hotel ensures that employees know what to do in an evacuation and how to assist guests. This is very important in high-rise hotels; as Cohen notes, “Getting down a few flights of stairs is easy, but a 54-story building needs an evacuation plan, and you need to practice it.” New building codes dictate a certain percentage of rooms be fitted for disabled travelers, with speaker strobes on the wall adjacent to the bed, so that if guests can’t hear the siren, they can be alerted by the strobe. The front desk can notify security teams in case of an emergency so that disabled guests receive priority assistance.


Provide electronic security solutions with backup power sources.

Electronic locks, as well as deadbolts and inside door latches, should be in use on all doors. In the Four Seasons, the locks are battery-operated, so that locks will continue to work in case of a power outage. (Front desk systems are on generator backup and continue to operate for check-ins.) Electronic access is more than just a cool swipe system; modern security access is also tied to energy management, so that infrared sensors read to a sensor inside the room when the door is opened. A guest can set the air conditioning or lighting, which can power down when the guest leaves, coming back up when he re-enters the room. Infrared systems can also tell the front desk if a door is left ajar, and if there is a problem with a key, the front desk can fix the guest’s key or move him remotely to a new room.


Provide safes in the room and at the front desk.

Electronic room safes, usually stand-alone systems that use a 4-digit code, should be big enough for a laptop computer, carried by most business travelers. A locked safe offers another level of security for valuables, and at the Four Seasons, an on-duty manager will open a safe if guests leave something behind.


Integrate security with digital camera monitoring and better fire-alarm systems.

Many hotels are turning to digital closed circuit systems (DCCT) for surveillance. The Four Seasons uses DCCT systems, and any unauthorized entrance or exit triggers an alarm, while cameras monitor the access point on full-screen. CCT digital cameras are tied a computer, and send data to a server (in contrast to using physical media such as tapes). Images can then be viewed remotely via a computer with encrypted software.

But cameras can only show problems, not solve them, so hotels are turning to increasingly complex technology to help during a crisis. These days, says Cohen, “high-rise buildings must be fully sprinklered, and our building has a stair pressurization system, where air is forced into the staircase to force smoke out and keep stairs clear for evacuation.” The Four Seasons also utilizes an updated fire alarm system. Formerly, he says, “the monitor used to require that alarms be triggered on the actual fire panel. Now the monitor displays the floor plan and shows exactly where the activated alarm is. You used to read the fire panel and then tell the fire department where to go – now you know exactly where it is in floor plan, and you are able to pinpoint exactly where the alarm is. It’s a great technology improvement.” Elevator monitors also provide a measure of security, he says, because “we can watch elevators as they move on a computer monitor and instantly see where one gets stuck and when.”


Be sure to monitor the hotel’s outside areas and parking garage.

At the Four Seasons Atlanta, residents need continual access to the parking garage, while valets need their own access for guest vehicles. Proximity readers operate the valet gates, while residents operate high-speed roll-down doors at their own entrance. The system displays each entrance on a monitor in the security area. Proximity readers are also used at other points in the hotel, including the elevators used by residents as well as the hotel service elevators. Perimeter doors should be alarmed and tied into a camera system, but security should monitor more than just structure access. “The physical security of a property means thinking about area lighting and vegetation control,” says Cohen. Hotels should eliminate dark spots where someone could hide.


Control vendor access with designated entry and exit points.

The frequent entry and exit of contractors and other outside work teams can unwittingly compromise security if these access points are not carefully monitored. At the Four Seasons, contractors and vendors are required to come in through the loading dock, where they must sign in with an ID that is exchanged for a visitor pass while on the property.


Work with your local police and fire departments – and other hotels.

Cohen and his team work with local police and fire departments, which provide guest speakers for staff training sessions. “One reason to practice with the fire department,” says Cohen, “is to learn how to do things better. If you need to evacuate, have a plan for where you are going to put your guests. Have a plan of different hotels and phone numbers ready to contact in the event of a large emergency.”

Draw up a crisis management plan.

After 9/11 and other disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina), more hotels are focusing on crisis management. The Four Seasons’ crisis management plan, says Cohen, “is not just about our hotel but about business continuity. We have plans for disaster preparedness. Part of our crisis management plan is the role of key personnel during a crisis. We make sure everyone is prepared.”  Paying attention to Homeland Security threat levels, he says, “means the ability to tighten security and take additional steps” as needed. He adds that hotels should take into consideration not just national security but also pandemic preparedness, such as a wide-ranging flu, as well as the possibility of local area terrorist activity.



Coming Clean: How to Declare War on Germs (Atlanta Baby, Spring 2007)

This article on keeping germs at bay is aimed at moms trying to keep germ industry hype and their kids' health in perspective. (Available for reprint!)

Title: Coming Clean: How to Declare War on Germs

There’s the mom who scours every surface and never leaves home without three different kinds of wipes. Then there’s the mom who thinks nothing of retrieving an errant pacifier from the dog’s mouth and handing it back to her toddler. The rest of us fall somewhere in between: we wipe down what we know is dirty and cross our fingers regarding the rest. But how do you know if you’re doing enough – or too much? Read on for a breakdown of the do’s and don’ts of coming clean.

The lowdown: germs are a fact of life
Many of the germs kids pick up at school or daycare can’t be fought off by their immature immune systems, and they often pass on viral infections to their families. But you can’t keep your children in a bubble, says one pro who deals with germs on a daily basis: “Kids are all over the place, putting their hands in their mouths and touching other surfaces and other kids,” says J. Todd Weber, MD, Director of the Office of Antimicrobial Resistance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “You can’t keep a daycare or home 100% sterile,” he adds – it’s too burdensome. He advises parents to get a flu shot and remember that “hand washing reigns supreme.”

Best line of defense: wash your hands
Scientists and doctors agree: the most effective single act you can do to prevent infection is to wash your hands. But details matter: use soap and warm water, and dry your hands. Time spent lathering up is key. “If children sing their ABCs, they’ve done it long enough,” says Weber. Mom Heather Fullmer of Decatur uses Dial antibacterial foaming soap but worries about “the ‘washing away the good bacteria’ issue.”  But Weber says moms who are afraid of contributing to the rise of superbugs shouldn’t worry, since the problem mostly arises from over-prescription of antibiotics when they aren’t needed.

The rise in community-acquired Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) may cause parents to look for specific brands of soap. Robert H. Harrison, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Scottish Rite, says that people carry the bacterium around with them. “Most strains around the community are caused by one strain that is highly adapted to people, but it doesn’t live on inanimate surfaces,” he says. “The only thing that prevents spread of infection is soap that has anti-staph properties, like Dial, PhisoHex, and Phisoderm, or any product containing Hexachlorophene.” Harrison also advises parents to take showers rather than baths. “A bath can soften skin and make it easier for bacteria to get in. A shower is much shorter and reduces bacterial counts much more than a bath does.”

And don’t forget general hygiene. “Wash your hands before eating and after you use the bathroom,” says Harrison. “Keep your hands out of your nose and your eyes, and teach kids to cough and sneeze into their sleeves.” 

Call for backup: use alcohol-based gels
Alcohol-based hand gels are useful when there is no sink around, says Weber, although he warns parents to be watchful of ingestion by smaller kids. Mom Denise Thomason of Flintstone says her little girls, ages 4 and 6, use bottles of sanitizing lotion. “The girls get to pick out their favorite scent and color. The first thing they do when we sit down to eat out is get their lotion.”

Wipe on, wipe off?
The sheer variety of wipes on the market shelf can be staggering to parents who grew up dabbing at dirt with a damp paper towel and calling it a day. Parents who draw the line at more toxic cleaning techniques use milder wipes on public surfaces. “I pretty much just rely on Wet Ones,” says Katie Howell, a Decatur mother of a 1-year old. “That said, I've got them in the car, in the diaper bag, by the high chair, and at both grandparents' houses.” Surface dirt aside, there isn’t much parents can do. “Some viruses and bacteria are not transmitted via inanimate surfaces, and some are,” says Harrison. Bleach will kill germs on tables and highchairs, but, says Weber, “It’s far from benign. Parents should make sure to dilute the solution and rinse the surface after use. People can go a little crazy with cleaning. You don’t need to pull out bigger guns, such as industrial-use cleaners. These aren’t necessary for the house and are dangerous for kids – they’ll ingest it or get it in their eyes.”  

Placemats, shopping cart covers, and other products – when is enough enough?
Each year finds new parents scrambling for the next generation of barriers to put between kids and any public surface. But some parents are amused by the paranoia. To mom Ann-Marie Anderson of Decatur, “the buggy cover seemed like an amazing idea, but was only really useful for the short period between the baby growing out of the infant carrier and getting big enough to have her own opinions about what she touched.” And according to Dr. Harrison, “Many of these products are panaceas. You’re awash in germs. They’re part of the environment and part of your body. They’re all over your skin. That’s just the way it is. Most of this stuff out there is for parents that are frightened -- if they really want to reassure themselves, they should wash hands, take showers, and get immunizations and flu shots.”

And in Anderson’s opinion, “Kids have managed to survive for thousands of years. There are generally bigger issues to freak out about.” Mom Clare Schexnyder agrees: “I feel part of building up good antibodies is getting exposed to things. I try not to live in fear of germs.”

May 05, 2007

Special Tables around Atlanta (Points North, April 2007)

Special tables around town provide diners with ringside seats or private retreats

 Whether you want to be part of the scene or pop the question somewhere private, these Atlanta restaurants have just the right spot.

Points North
Melissa Bradley Diskin

Title:Special tables around town provide diners with ringside seats or private retreats

 Whether you want to be part of the scene or pop the question somewhere private, these Atlanta restaurants have just the right spot.

Restaurant: Restaurant Eugene

Table Description: The chef’s table at Restaurant Eugene seats 8 in a perfect square surrounded by curtains. Don’t worry about feeling sequestered – you’ll still have a great view of the entire restaurant. The business types who commandeer the table during the lunch rush give way to anniversary and bridal shower celebrations at night. Flexibility and personal attention is the watchword: feel free to ask for a tasting menu, order from the regular menu, or call ahead for special requests. In Chef Linton Hopkins’ words, “Yes is the answer; what is the question?”

Vibe: Sophisticated New South, but you’ll taste the best of your grandmother’s cooking driving the ingredients of every urbane mouthful. Several fish entrees every night offer up the freshest and best seafood flown in daily from all over the world, but you’ll also find a ribeye, rabbit, or even a top-notch vegetable plate.

Next Best Thing: For a romantic night, Chef Hopkins loves tables 11 and 13, in the lounge area banquette between the chef’s table and the bar.

Location: 2277 Peachtree Road, south of Peachtree Battle
Reservations: At least a week ahead, especially around holidays.
Contact: Call 404.355.0321.  For catered events, contact Amy Williams: amy@restauranteugene.com

Restaurant: Aria

Table Description: Table #4, in the restaurant’s wine cellar. The most sought-after table in Atlanta, the 4-person leather booth is surrounded by ranks of red wine and lighted by more than a hundred candles. Tasting menus by request allow Chef Gerry Klaskala to put together a menu showcasing the season’s best ingredients.

Vibe: Romantic gothic; the pop-the-question location that trumps all others.

Next Best Thing: Intimate conversations are best held in one of the sleek club booths in the upper dining room; to see and be seen, request a table flanking the fireplace in the lower dining room, resplendent with Georgian library paneling.

Location: 490 East Paces Ferry Rd., at the corner of Maple Drive in Buckhead
Reservations: Table #4 is booked an average of three months in advance.

Contact: 404-233-7673

Restaurant: Wahoo

Table Description: “Neptune’s Table” seats 6 in a semi-private space off the restaurant’s outdoor patio, near its herb garden. A 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings, fresh flowers, and dedicated waitstaff ensure attentive service, whether you’re popping the question or wishing friends bon voyage. Expect candles, fine china, white-tablecloth, and a menu driven by fish and seasonal ingredients, with massive desserts on offer.

Vibe: At night, curtains and a candlelit chandelier conjure up the ghost of Miss Havisham, a romantic contrast to the sturdy brick interior of the restaurant’s main dining room and lodge-like bar.

Next Best Thing: Belly up to the bar to people-watch; you can eye the kitchen, chat up the locals and find plenty of elbow room for anything you want off the regular menu.

Location: 1042 West College Ave., Decatur, near the Eastlake Marta station.
Reservations: Table reservation is subject to inclement weather.
Contact: 404-373-3331

 Restaurant: grace17.20

Table Description: The 8-to-12-seat Chef’s table is tucked in a cozy private room between the airy main dining room and the kitchen,and is a frequent favorite of wine groups who bring their own wines or uncork from the restaurant’s listing. Chef Charles Schwab will design a menu around a wine tasting or theme. Some past parties and showers have focused on dessert tastings, The privacy of the space makes it a favorite for special business meetings during the day.

Vibe: Northern California meets “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The warm neutrals of the dining room’s décor act like virtual sunshine.

Next Best Thing: Owner Barbara diJames prefers the restaurant’s snug banquettes for intimate dinners. Larger parties can reserve a tower room that seats up to 36.

Location: 5155 Peachtree Parkway, Norcross, at the Forum
Reservations: Reserve at least a week in advance.
Contact: 678-421-1720


Restaurant: Taurus

Table Description: The chef’s table seats 8-10 and overlooks the kitchen. Curtains, dedicated sound and climate control systems, and soundproof glass windows permit the space to function as a retreat for business types during the day. Birthday partiers kick up their heels at night. Tasting menus by Chef Gary Mennie follow the theme of the restaurant, which bills itself as a “New American Chophouse.”

Vibe: New American Matador

Next Best Thing: Tables for 4 can be found in the Bull Ring, the raised center section; parties of 8-10 can try Table #76, on the far side of the restaurant.

Location: 1745 Peachtree Road, South Buckhead
Reservations: Call 2 weeks ahead, but you may get lucky on shorter notice. A contract and (reasonable) food and beverage minimum are required.
Contact: Loren Hagearty, 404-214-0641

Restaurant: Shaun’s

Table Description: Wunderkind Shaun Doty’s communal table in the main dining room ensures that locals can drop in and order from his bistro-inspired menu without fighting the crowds of weekend excursion diners. Tasting menus with wine pairings are available upon request, but don’t expect a private dining experience; the table seats 12-14, and you’ll rub elbows with all and sundry, as the 150-year old Swedish farm table turns over two to three times a night.

Vibe: It’s Shaun Doty’s new pad. Do you really need to know anything else?

Next Best Thing: #31, a romantic corner table facing the window. Come spring, the patio in back will open up to provide plein-air dining.

Location: 1027-29 Edgewood Ave, NE, Inman Park
Reservations: The communal table is occasionally reserved for large parties, but groups who want privacy should ask for the back room.
Contact: Liz Kim, (404) 577-4358

 Restaurant: Park 75 at the Four Seasons Hotel

Table Description: A true chef’s table, this one’s situated in the heart of Chef Robert Gerstenecker’s kitchen. Up to ten diners can take a tour of the kitchen and savor a nine-course meal lasting around three hours. Sometimes the table can be broken up for two smaller parties.

Vibe: Kitchen Stadium meets European chic.

Next Best Thing: Table 12, centered on the back wall of the main dining room, has a view of the restaurant, the lounge and the terrace.

Location: 75 14th St., in Midtown
Reservations: Call at least a day ahead.
Contact: 404-253-3840

May 01, 2007

Daily Candy: Miss Ellaneous

I'm a terrible archivist -- photos in boxes or languishing online, love letters stuffed into drawers, the works. But this scrapbooking boutique is about to help me change my wicked ways. Or just read the full piece here after the jump.
May 1, 2007
Miss Ellaneous
scrap chic!

In your bag: Spice Girls tickets from ’98. Under your bed: Shoe boxes full of high-school love letters and a half-filled travel journal from that awesome Parisian vacay.

Ooh la la. Looks like someone’s history could use some organization.

Pack it over to Scrap Chic Boutique, a craft haven run by four hip school teachers who now offer classes in scrap booking, journaling, and general memory preservation.

Novices start with basics like page layout and cropping (at last, a place to reconcile Sweet Valley High with Baby-sitters fan club memorabilia). Advanced crafters can learn how to spiff up old albums. If you’re really in a rut, check out their BYOB memory sessions — part freestyle art class, part dinner.

Drop by an open table in back and take your pick of mod papers, ribbon, and gadgets like Sizzix, a nifty tool that makes die-cutting projects (like, say, 50 purple unicorns on the fly) look like child’s play.

No kidding.

Scrap Chic Boutique, 906 West College Avenue, Decatur (404-378-2115 or