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