Securing High-Risk Hotels

By John J. Strauchs, CPP

Additionally, the A/E design plan can include thermal imaging cameras to view heavily foliated areas of the perimeter as well as to monitor the status of vehicles parked close to the property. These thermal cameras can monitor the temperature of the engine compartment to detect whether a vehicle has been there many hours or was recently parked. This technique was effectively used by the World Trade Center before 9-11.

Barriers. Barriers and other design features can be used to prevent vehicles from crashing through the perimeter. Any barriers should be matched to the likely weight and speed of the attacking vehicle. The highest rated barriers—for example, those that have earned a K12 certification from the U.S. Department of State—are expensive and not needed if the only vehicles that could possibly access the area are less than 15,000 pounds in weight or if they could not attain a speed of 50 miles per hour due to the design of the roads leading to the facility. Robust overhead physical barriers can also be designed to prevent large trucks from entering areas intended only for passenger vehicles.

Vents. A flexible HVAC design can be used both for quarantine and for venting contaminants. HVAC air intakes should be placed either high on exterior walls or on the roof to make it more difficult for a terrorist to use those openings to carry out a chemical or biological attack. Airtight smoke dampers should be designed to allow security to remotely shut down or change air circulation.

Water. Potable water systems should be protected and fire water storage should be tapped in a way that preserves enough water for fire suppression but also allows for emergency potable water. Enhanced protection of fire system controls can be provided so that an alarm is annunciated if attackers attempt to shut down sprinkler and fire detection systems. On-site fuel storage should also be protected.
Covert features. A high-concept idea is the use of concealed remote-control security doors to allow certain areas of the hotel to either lock out invading terrorists or to lock them in to prevent them from reaching other guest areas. Another is to install entirely concealed video cameras with audio capabilities to allow responders to view the actions and movements of any persons who have taken over the hotel and are holding hostages.


Whether the plot calls for a VBIED or an armed attack, terrorists usually spend many weeks, if not months, carrying out surreptitious surveillance and rehearsals beforehand. Terrorists use both fixed and mobile positions to watch the intended target. To possibly gain forewarning, static posts can be designed for use by hotel security officers trained to recognize such surveillance. If this is not possible, dedicated CCTV cameras with analytic software can be used to monitor contiguous areas that may be used by terrorists for surreptitious surveillance. Security could also use automated vehicle license plate reader cameras and intelligent video analytics to spot vehicles that repeatedly drive by the property.

Line of sight. Designers should avoid convoluted designs for the face of the building and for interior corridors and entrances. Each hidden alcove, kink in a corridor, and recess in exterior walls might require a video camera at an average installation cost of $5,000 or more. Moreover, security guards are more effective when they have an unimpeded line of sight and can view clean, clear areas.

Hotels will remain terrorism targets for the foreseeable future. But with creative design and careful planning, they can mitigate the risk without ruining the lodging experience that guests seek.

John J. Strauchs, M.A., CPP, owned and operated a professional security and fire protection engineering firm for 23 years before starting his current private practice. Strauchs helped develop the U.S. Department of State, Office of Diplomatic Security, Antiterrorism Assistance training program for foreign law enforcement agencies. He is a member of the ASIS International Council on Hospitality, Entertainment, and Tourism.


Narrow-minded view on counter terrorism

The respected author of the article concentrates on the technological part of the security when protecting high risk hotels.

In my perspective, the core of counter terror is in human factor. The main lesson of the Islamabad attack which was taken in the article as the example was not the weak technology but the catastrophic unpreparedness of the security team. The CCTV record available on Youtube clearly shows the wrong evaluation of situation by the local guards. They had more then 4 minutes to start evacuation to more protected areas of the hotel (safe haven), which can be simply improvised as any bigger underground rooms. No money needed for this, just think about this scenario in advance, involve it to your emergency planning and drill your staff. This solution cost zero and saves dozens.

See for example the case of the attack on Toulouse Jewish school attack from this March. The building was well secured, but the attacker didn’t need to breach the facility perimeter. Instead, he simple shot in front of the entrance. The crucial security element to deal with this attack is the manpower which could neutralize the attacker or mitigate the attack by simply closing the inner door.

Protecting soft target facilities or events against terror threats especially schools or places of worship which does not have big budget for security need different security approach. You must think out of the box and concentrate on suspicious signs detection and quick reaction of your guards. Rather then expensive and unrealistic technology, drill the guards in detection of suspicious behavior and emergency scenarios.

Technology can help, no doubts about it. But it is just a tool (often inaccessible) which needs brain to operate it. What I see in the comercial security world is the dominance of (costly but cool) tools over realistic overall concepts.


Zdenek Kalvach


The Magazine — Past Issues


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.