No Vacancy – The Daunting Challenge of Hotel Security

Screen shot 2014-01-03 at 11.19.56 AMThe December/January edition of Homeland Security Today Magazine is available online. The hardcopy edition will be arriving in subscribers mailboxes very soon.

Take a look as it is a great issue and includes an article that I wrote on the challenges of hotel security, especially during the holiday travel season.

Hope you enjoy!

For more articles, please visit Homeland Security Today Magazine.

Here is a direct link to the online version of my article:  HERE

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FULL ARTICLE HERE (Update 3.11.14)

Whether for business or pleasure, travelers often find themselves allocating significant sums of discretionary and nondiscretionary income to secure the best home away from home — a temporary abode that serves as a warm blanket and provides well-deserved peace of mind.

However, keeping security tight can be a daunting challenge for hoteliers; guest expectations run high, and the sheer volume of visitors can give any seasoned security expert enough to worry about in spades.

Threats from criminals, terrorists and other villains are an ever-present concern for travelers, particularly those who expect a significant buffer of security from their hotel. Most travelers, however, often become unsuspecting victims. They fairly easily can become prey due to their confined, predictable and largely controlled space.

The operating landscape

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a national association that represents all sectors and stakeholders in the lodging industry, the typical lodging customer in 2012 traveled 60 percent for leisure and 40 percent for business. More than 40 percent of leisure and business travelers spent at least one night in a hotel during that time.

Additionally, AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, a nonprofit member services organization with more than 53 million members, projected in its AAA 2012/2013 Year-End Holidays Travel Forecast, that “93.3 million Americans would journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holidays — an increase of 1.6 percent over the 91.8 million people who traveled [the previous] year. This increase brings holiday travel figures to within half a million of the decade-high mark seen during the 2006/2007 season.”

Hotels and hoteliers strive to provide a safe place for travelers, but they do not guarantee your security — nor can they legitimately do so. Targeting victims for devious exploitation in hotels is a systemic landscape for the ill intentioned. Generally, criminals and thieves seek victims of opportunity, and hotels offer plenty of opportunity. Further, terrorists take population density and likelihood of success into consideration when identifying a site for mass casualty targets, and hotels are a formidable preference.

Anthony Roman, president of Roman & Associates, a global investigation, risk management and security consulting firm conceded to Homeland Security Today that the security landscape is rather poor for the hotel industry.

“They are underfunded, minimally trained and there is the expected poor execution of security programs,” he said. “As an industry, they remain an attractive and vulnerable terrorist and high-crime target that will garnish global media attention.”

With 35 years of insurance, criminal, corporate and fraud investigation experience, Roman said, “The real shame is executive management’s failure to recognize security as having the real potential to lower enterprise expenses, become a profit center and to be a prominent guardian of the enterprise brand. Professional security, by all metrics, is good for business.”

Roman’s observations are not a blanket indictment, and he noted a caveat: “There are exceptions,” he said. “For example, hotels within high-risk municipalities or venues often have former ranking police, military or well-trained and experienced security management, executing proper high-level enterprise management logistics and deploying state-of-the-art supporting security hardware.”

The complex reality

Most major hotel chains and hotel operators are cognizant of the complex security realities of their industry. Many industry leaders determinedly strive — often behind the scenes — to ensure that the security of hotel guests and properties remain an unflinching priority.

“As one of the 10 largest hotel companies worldwide, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group works tirelessly to develop expert insights on the geo-political environment, severe weather procedures and onsite safety policies,” Chris Gernetz, director of safety and security for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group Americas, told Homeland Security Today.

It’s not just expert insight that helps propel security efforts at major hotel chains, either. As Gernetz explained, “Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group has over 1,300 hotels in operation and under development in 81 countries. It’s imperative we are employing the most advanced technology available in order to successfully monitor what is being said about each hotel as well as what is happening in the areas our hotels are located.”

Leveraging monitoring technology is only part of the equation, as that information must be transferred into action. “If there is a threat or a potential threat, we are able to notify the respective hotel within minutes and advise best practices to handle the given situation in order to provide the highest level of safety for our guests and employees,” Gernetz said.

Public-private partnerships

Expert insight, monitoring and notification technologies help to enhance the threat detection landscape and improve situational awareness of hotel security efforts. Some hotels use public-private partnerships to further the implementation of industry best practices and stay abreast of emerging threats.

“Carlson Rezidor has partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to train workers on what to do if they spot suspicious behavior,” Gernetz said. “Potential threats can cover a wide range of issues, from riots to hostage situations to data protection issues.”

The importance of working in tandem with respective security and law enforcement elements should not be overlooked.

“Establishing public-private programs that further the coordination and communication of police, fire department and emergency services and private security in the protection of people and property helps to enhance the safety and security of the hotel community,” said George Anderson, vice president of operations for AlliedBarton Security Services.

“From an operational standpoint, it is vital for hotel management to have cooperation between all primary public and private sectors,” said Anderson, who retired from the New York City Police Department as assistant chief. “This cooperation is a mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship.”

“For example,” Anderson pointed out, “police officers appreciate the role hotel security officers play, as they are an extra set of eyes on the street and can share observations and monitor trends. Police officers, in turn, can communicate with security personnel about possible threats in the area, and give them photos of wanted individuals to look for.”

Hotel security and public security services improve when they work together.

The servicescape

Though ensuring guest security is a paramount concern in the hospitality industry, it can be tricky to do so without impairing customer service and comfort. The happy medium between creating a secure environment and ensuring that the environment remains inviting is one of the most difficult tasks hoteliers face in their security efforts.

“Hotels are held to a higher standard than other businesses with regards to safety and liability,” Anderson said. “It is critical that security procedures and personnel training for all critical traffic areas of the hotel, including the lobby, front desk, baggage storage area, guest entry points and the parking lot and receiving dock area be intensive and comprehensive for contract security and hotel staff.”

These higher standards, though, make hotel security more complicated. “Each hotel, which is unique based on its location, facility design and guest profile, needs to have a security plan that is designed around the functional areas of the hotel,” Anderson said.

Extending to aesthetics, Anderson said, “The late-night lounge, the on-site restaurant, on-site convention halls, parking lots, hallways, elevator access paths and meeting rooms need to be monitored and patrolled — around the clock — to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all guests.”

The so-called “servicescape” of a hotel includes the visual components of a hotel that help to determine its overall look, feel and style. While hoteliers work to ensure that safety and security are a priority, they do so without making guests feel as though they are inside a fortress. But finding the right balance of security and coziness is tricky, as hoteliers do not want to turn off potential or current guests off. Consequently, hotels often sacrifice security in favor of curb appeal and comfort.

Hotel hazards

Myriad potential hazards threaten an individual’s personal security when they stay at a hotel; thus it’s important that travelers are as cautious as they hope their hotel’s security is. In turn, it’s vital to obtain as much information as possible about your destination prior to traveling or upon arrival.

“You can’t make over the hotel, but a traveler can make security a personal responsibility,” said Lynn Knapp Walters, an executive with Escape the Wolf, a preemptive security solutions company, told Homeland Security Today.

“Always be aware of your surroundings and, most important, vary the times and routes of your comings and goings in case someone is watching and plotting a crime or corporate espionage,” Walters added. “No matter the hotel, it pays to take a few minutes to learn the security features.”

Nevertheless, the list of potential hazards in a hotel can start with the mundane and quickly escalate to lethal dangers. Hotel robberies can be commonplace, especially when the location and type of hotel, the preventative measures in place and the traveler’s level of awareness are not optimal.

They usually happen when a room is unoccupied and the perpetrator is able to gain access unimpeded. Perpetrators can include hotel staff, maids, maintenance personnel and others associated with hotel activities. While reducing the ease of opportunity decreases the probability that a hotel robbery will occur, it does little to minimize the threat by individuals intent on stealing from hotel guests. Even the best preparations and efforts to hide or secure valuables may only delay a determined criminal from locating and making off with their loot.

A more serious threat comes from the possibility of hotel room invasions when they are occupied. Armed or overpowering intruders are less common in major hotel chains — domestically and abroad — but they do occur. In general, guests staying at smaller hotels in rural settings are more likely to encounter this situation.

In a hotel room invasion scenario, a criminal may be audacious and confrontational. By entering a room unannounced and uninvited, the perpetrator has the element of surprise. Robberies — even kidnappings — can occur in an ambush-style attack. Being vigilant and aware of people following or keeping close tabs on guests is vital to ensuring visitors do not become an easy target.

Another thievery situation can occur directly in a hotel’s lobby. Usually teeming with staff, the lobby can become a target-rich environment for a robbery or snatch-and-grab theft. Exit routes and transportation are feet away from the lobby, so a well-planned robbery has a good chance of success in this environment. This is especially true if security is lax at the point of attack and the assailants move quickly.

Terrorism

Moving into more severe waters, the danger of terrorism is a global phenomenon and is an exceedingly serious concern for travelers. In 2008, Islamic terrorists, supposedly trained by Pakistani intelligence and members of the Al Qaeda-tied Lashkar-e-Taiba, carried out a deadly attack against multiple targets in Mumbai, India. Over the course of three days, 10 terrorists armed with assault rifles and explosives wreaked havoc in the city, killing 164 people leaving more than 300 wounded.

Christopher Burgess, a CIA veteran with more than three decades of service and a recipient of the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, told Homeland Security Today, “While one will be hard pressed to individually determine whether a terrorist group targets a hotel, one can take some basic steps to be knowledgeable in advance. Critical information should be factored into your travel plans ahead of time.”

Now CEO of Prevendra, a security consulting firm, Burgess stressed the need for travelers to be cognizant of local conditions that may adversely impact the peripheral security environment of the hotel where they’re staying.

“Conduct a search for civil unrest, political disputes or the like,” he said. “Where are such events occurring or likely to take place in the city in which you are visiting? In many cities, the rabble rousing and crowd forming occurs in predictable and well-documented locales; choose a hotel that isn’t on this path. Travelers need to anticipate the potential threat before it appears, as an after-the-fact threat realization limits an individual’s options as well as their ability to identify the safest exit.”

The threat terrorism poses to travelers is perennial and widespread. Even so, there are some higher risk areas than others, and there are several mitigation strategies that can be employed to reduce exposure and avoid victimization in the event of a terrorist attack.

Analysis

Hopping on an airplane to travel across the country or getting into the family sedan to head on down the road is a normative routine for nearly 100 million Americans. So it’s no wonder that the issue of hotel security should always be at the forefront of industry leaders’ minds.

While hotel security may not be priority number one for travelers, there’s little doubt that it’s a dynamic concern for those in the industry and those who are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the security of customers and properties around the world.

Ultimately, hotelier satisfaction may be achieved when a traveler’s utmost gripe is only a horrid story about traffic jams and assorted travel delays. For security experts and hoteliers, though, there will be late nights as they strive to reduce, mitigate and rebuff the multitude of risks — all the while maintaining uncompromising service.

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