Ensuring an Uneventful Stay

By Laura Spadanuta

Liaise with Responders

Another lesson from Mumbai is the importance of making sure that local first responders know your facility. The Mumbai terrorists, who had done their homework and were aided by GPS, had a much better working knowledge of the hotels than did the responding commando teams. This should not have been the case, and there are steps hotels can take to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Hotels must reach out to responders to ensure that they have up-to-date floor plans and information about the properties they will respond to. Hotels in the United States address the issue by ensuring that there are up-to-date copies of floor plans and other important hotel information at an accessible location off-site.

Some states mandate that this be done. For example, Nevada state law requires that various hotels provide the state repository with a copy of their floor plans and operation and response plans in a state repository, according to Baker. Hotels in high-risk locations must be proactive about this.

In response to the lessons learned from the Mumbai attacks, the New York Police Department has been touring various hotels and videotaping entrances, lobbies, and certain rooms, to use as training tools, according to congressional testimony by Commissioner Raymond Kelly. It behooves other high-threat hotels to invite their local police in to do the same thing or to do it for them. This information should be kept on file in a safe location.

Hotels should also explore opportunities for other productive partnerships with law enforcement agencies. Firmani’s group has a public-private partnership with police. This partnership facilitated the establishment of a surveillance network in and around his company’s principal property.  Partnering with law enforcement can also help cement relationships that could be helpful if an attack or other emergency occurs.

Adapt to Circumstances

There was confusion when the terrorists first entered hotels with regard to whether to tell Mumbai’s guests to evacuate or shelter in place. Apparently hotel staff told guests to stay in their rooms when they might have been better off exiting the building if they could have found a safe way out. That’s a tough call, but the main issue is for hotels to have a set of plans that can be adapted to various threat situations and to have someone in charge ready to make those tough decisions based on the best available intelligence at the time.

Train Regularly 

A crisis management plan is only useful if staff know how to carry it out. That means the entire work force must be well versed in its details and their responsibilities. Training can include anything from tabletop exercises to actually evacuating staff to ensure that they’re familiar with fire doors and routes they would take in an emergency.

When a drill or exercise is completed, management should speak with employees about how the training went. Those discussions will help the hotel assess what needs improvement.

Drills and training exercises should be conducted on a regular basis. Disaster response and recovery plans should be tested quarterly and supplemented with tabletop exercises, recommends Philip Farina, CPP, CLSD of Farina Associates, Ltd. But he acknowledges that it’s rare to find hotels doing such drills more than once a year.

Baker says that the hotel security industry doesn’t have the training infrastructure it needs. He says the training compares unfavorably with that of, say, law enforcement officers.

“We’ll do a three-or-four-hour training program and think that it’s…done. And it’s really just the start of that,” Baker says.

Garely agrees. Although most hotels do run training programs, she notes, “You can’t learn enough or become vigilant enough in an hour or two, or even a week or two, of training. It has to be an ongoing ever-present reality in your job.”

The training needs to be more than just one-time lectures and must be followed up and evaluated to ensure that goals are being met, says Baker. One way to improve training is to cut programs into shorter snippets and have supervisors reviewing those points during preshift times or during slow times, he suggests.

Terrorism expert Brian Jenkins said in testimony on the Mumbai incident that attacks on flagship hotels are increasing in number and that the success of Mumbai is likely to invite others to try similar operations. He warned, however, that terrorists frequently change tactics. Therefore, security professionals must learn from Mumbai but be quick to adapt as terrorists alter their mode of attack.

What is unlikely to change is the attractiveness of hotels as targets. “Terrorists will continue to focus on soft targets that offer high body counts and that have iconic value,” said Jenkins.

While no one can remove the threat, the hotel industry can take reasonable steps to minimize the risk.

Laura Spadanuta is an assistant editor at Security Management.

Go to and click on “Beyond Print” to find additional resources, such as the OSAC checklist for enhanced hotel security.



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