Hotel and Large Venue Security: An Evolving Threat Environment Requires Innovative Practices

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Much has been said and written of late with regard to the need to address hotel and large venue security, like sports stadiums, in the aftermath of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting in the vicinity of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.  But six months after the attack, in which 58 people were gunned down by sniper Stephen Paddock through a broken window in his hotel room, many hotel brands are struggling to find the right mix of security measures and simultaneously maintain a welcoming atmosphere for guests.

The details of the horrific Mandalay Bay attack offer a clear example to the hospitality industry as to just why proactive – and often covert – security standards must be tested and implemented.  The name of the game is to detect, deter or neutralize an attack before it takes place. In order to do this, smart technology and keen intelligence gathering techniques must be deployed. Well-versed analytical personnel must have unfettered access to the intelligence and offer management their professional assessment as to the threat at hand.

We note here some of the suggestions we have provided in recent conversations with hotel security personnel or in hospitality sector security associations or meetings.  If implemented, these revised or updated protocols could further enhance security for guests and employees. But to be effective, they each must be studied by the hotel operator, assessed for potential legal challenges and training must be provided to employees.

Again, with the emphasis on being proactive and getting out in front of potential threats, consider the following measures:

  • Ensure your hotel security personnel participate in any local or regional periodic security meetings with their peers from other hotel chains.  That is a great way to share intelligence on criminal or extremist trends affecting the tourism sector and hotels in particular. Even though a particular crime trend may not have reached your geographic area or if it is affecting only brands that do not reflect your  demographic, you still need to be aware of it and prepare for it. And don’t keep the intel to yourself-your staff needs to be aware and that includes employees at the worker-bee level.
  • Ensure to provide meaningful and recurrent training to staff with frequent guest interface regarding possible indicators of suspicious activity.  Probably the most important line of defense here is the housekeeping staff, which enters guest rooms on a daily basis, often more than once. Staff should be trained to recognize the signs of potentially unsafe or illegal activity, such as telltale signs of human trafficking or prostitution.  The accumulation of several unmarked boxes, bags or suitcases inconsistent with the number of guests assigned to the room is something noteworthy as well. Any unusual or foul odor or the presence of an unknown substance in any area of the room should trigger a notification to security personnel.  Again, we are reminded of the saying “see something, say something”.
  • Room entry when the “do not disturb” sign hangs on the outside of the guest room should not be interpreted as a mandate not to enter.  Each hotel operator will have to establish its own policy with regard to periodic staff entry and as to how long is too long before a knock or a call from the front desk is made.  Entry policy should be closely coordinated with the hotel’s legal counsel.*

*Key Point:  Consider adding a waiver or consent clause to your guest registration paperwork in which the room occupant specifically agrees to periodic entry by hotel staff to ensure the safety of all guests and employees.

  • A clear “know your customer” policy should be established.  In other words, hotel security staff or employees at the operator’s corporate headquarters need to implement a cursory background check of certain arriving guests who may seem out of place in the establishment.  For example, if you are welcoming a 20 year old man or woman into your hotel and if the room is in the $400-$500 per night category, you may want to do a “Google” check or similar check on the name. The person has done nothing wrong so far and possibly never will, but in general, a 20 year old does not fit the demographic of a hotel charging that amount of money per night.  You may find nothing, but you may find that the person has had a series of run-ins with the law. That of course does not necessarily mean he or she should be excluded from the premises, but it’s a nice heads up to the staff.
  • The use of check-in/check-out apps has to be the most frustrating technology out there for hotel security personnel.  It allows the guest to have virtually no interface with the hotel staff in that check in and out is performed electronically and billing is automatically charged to the credit card on file.  Room entry is achieved with a downloaded code or barcode, which the guest holds in proximity to a reader made a part of the exterior door lock. If you use this technology at your hotel, ensure that you DO have interface with the guest during his or her stay by knocking on the door occasionally or by placing calls to the room.

There are many other proactive ways to enhance security at hotels and large venues.  Various technologies are commercially available which permit iris scanning or facial recognition.  Of course, with the adoption of new techniques, some privacy is given up. Individual brands and properties will determine the right mix for their locations, based on customer demographics, prior incidents, crime and terrorism trends and importantly, the law.  Privacy cannot and should not be total in a hotel as guest and employee security and safety must be taken into consideration.

Steve Cocco

Security Strategies Today is a private investigations firm offering services to the private sector, NGOs and government agencies as well as to individuals and businesses. We focus on litigation support, employee fraud and misconduct, theft and misappropriation as well as in brand and copyright protection. Our consulting services specialize in critical infrastructure protection, crisis management, risk assessment and threat mitigation. We offer comprehensive, high quality services and take pride in offering a tailored approach to our foreign clients as well as those in the United States. The firm has developed partnerships with international and domestic security firms and also offers maritime security services for ships transiting high threat zones. Finally, the firm offers advisory services to art collectors, researchers and archaeologists, as well as museums, to prevent the unlawful export, trafficking and possession of items of cultural heritage.

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