Ensuring an Uneventful Stay

By Laura Spadanuta

Make Security Visible

Hotels often try to maintain a low-profile security presence to avoid making guests feel uncomfortable. But in certain locations, as with the greeters at the lobby entrance or garage, visible security can thwart crime and provide a sense of safety for guests.

“I always use a dual approach,” says Duane Firmani, security manager of hotel group Sun International in South Africa, who employs both visible and undercover security. “I believe in high visibility at the boundaries and first points of contact,” he says, referring to it as a “tough outer shell protecting the sweet spot.”

But invisibility has its place as well. Firmani uses covert security to determine whether anyone is conducting surveillance by watching the uniformed security guards. The covert personnel also help with quality control of the security service and overall hotel operation.

Gather Intelligence

Preventing terrorists from gathering intelligence about the hotel site is only half of the intelligence equation; the other half is making sure that the hotel collects and receives the best intelligence possible about the terrorist threat. But it’s equally important to correctly respond to that intelligence once the information about possible threats is collected.

According to Allen’s testimony, intelligence gathered after a February 2008 arrest of a terrorist suspect in India suggested that the Taj Mahal hotel was the target of surveillance. The hotel was notified about the threat, and management increased security, only to decrease it again to routine levels by the time the attacks occurred, stated Allen.

That chain of events illustrates the importance of taking a longer term view toward threat. It is important to remember that terrorists themselves take the long view, planning months and years in advance and biding their time until the moment seems right. A similar situation occurred in the United States, where in July 2001 terrorist chatter led to a heightened sense of threat in the intelligence community but that level of concern had dissipated by September 11.

The Mumbai incident also illustrates the importance of having a good relationship with intelligence services. Fenton says that hotel security must be proactive on this front.

One example of a hotel operation that takes a proactive approach to intelligence is Marriott International Lodging. For example, Marriott was warned by Indian intelligence services in late September about a possible threat, according to congressional testimony from Alan Orlob, Marriott’s vice president of corporate security and loss prevention. The company acted on the intelligence by sending a regional security director to Mumbai to make an independent risk assessment. That assessment showed that the threat situation in India had escalated.

Harden Defenses

Based on that assessment, Marriott raised security to the highest level, which meant screening vehicles, inspecting luggage, and having everyone pass through metal detectors. It is possible that these measures led potential terrorists to choose a softer target.

“The tactics used against the hotels in Mumbai were not new,” Orlob told Congress. He noted that 16 years ago, Marriott began to address the threat of attacks worldwide by forming a crisis management program that includes training exercises and constant risk monitoring.

Marriott has added physical security, such as window film, bollards, and even explosive vapor detectors to properties in high-risk locations. While those measures protect mainly against explosions, in the wake of Mumbai, Orlob said, the organization has also developed an active shooter program. The company uses a color-coded threat program that allows it to ramp up security as concerns mount.

Some of the physical security enhancements, as well as the idea of setbacks (wider perimeters), are lessons from earlier car bomb incidents, such as the August 2003 attack on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.

As newer hotels in high-risk areas are being designed with more of an eye towards security, “many of the large hotel developers are going to the same kind of thing you see for U.S. embassies; that is, relatively remote sites with substantial standoff distances from public roads and heavily reinforced perimeter barriers,” says Thomas Vonier, FAIA, RIBA, Paris-based architect.

The farther away vehicles are kept from hotels, the less the chance for damage from a blast. However, Vonier points out that long setbacks can make deliveries more cumbersome and raise the specter of perimeter breaches. Additionally, parking becomes less convenient when any type of parking facility is located off-site.

Not every hotel has enough room for a long setback, but there are also barriers such as bollards and planters that can be placed around the hotel to ensure that no vehicle is driven into the building and to minimize damage from a blast. Such tools can only do so much if a bomb is detonated, however.

A more extreme barrier can be seen at the reopened Islamabad Marriott, which now employs what has been referred to as a “bombproof” wall; it surrounds the hotel like a fortress. Chad Callaghan, CPP, vice president of enterprise loss prevention at Marriott International, Inc., which has 3,000 hotels in 70 countries (although it does not own the franchised Islamabad hotel, which is actually a member of the Hashoo Group) says that it is not an attractive addition and would not be welcomed in most places. However, since that hotel has been the site of multiple terror attacks, property owners were forced to take extreme measures.

If there is a garage on-site or if vehicles are coming into hotel grounds, Callaghan advocates having an access control program in place, as well as visually inspecting the vehicles for explosives before allowing entrance. 

Car inspections may be essential in high-risk areas where the parking is underneath or close to the hotel. For hotels in less volatile environments, there are still mild inspections that can be done.

Building design can go a long way to limiting blast damage. Reinforced columns and blast-resistant windows are infrastructure choices that can help protect those inside a building if a bomb does indeed go off. Blast-mitigation on windows can prevent shards from hurting people, a top cause of injury in explosions. However, most hotels have already been built without these specifications and retrofitting is expensive. Still, says Callaghan, his company is retrofitting hotels where such action is deemed necessary, based on risk.



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