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Always Room for Improvement

​HOTELS ARE MEANT TO BE welcoming homes away from home, luxury getaways, or ports in the storm. But some of the people who come to hotel properties are there to prey upon or victimize guests. Hotels have to find ways to address these risks while still meeting their goals as hospitable venues.

The risks are wide ranging. Apart from petty theft, a constant concern for hotels is whether their sites are being used for illicit activity, such as prostitution, drug dealing, or worse. Particularly challenging are cases like the Craigslist killer, Philip Markoff, who lured women to various New England hotels in 2009.

“The victims in the incidents had all rented their hotel rooms legally,” says Michael Soper, director of security for Radisson Hotel Boston. “The victims knowingly placed ads online, solicited business, and provided their attacker with their hotel location and room number, and then opened the door to him when he arrived. No rules had been broken.”

Another notable security incident involved a stalker who tampered with a hotel-room peephole so that he could take nude pictures of sports journalist Erin Andrews. The perpetrator was able to get hotels to reveal to him when Andrews would be a guest and what room she would have. He was also able to book an adjacent room without raising suspicions. That case raised a host of privacy and security issues.

Then there is the ever-present terrorist threat. Hotels have been the target of many violent attacks worldwide, including most notably the Mumbai incident, where two hotels were among the sites terrorists took over during their rampage.

Hotels have made an effort to learn from all of these incidents and to adjust policies and procedures. Experts agree that the most important measures include constant awareness training, good use of security personnel, properly maintained cameras, appropriate intelligence collection, and consistent outreach to law enforcement.

Awareness Training
Awareness training for staff is possibly the most cost-efficient way to ensure a safer hotel. Many of the issues highlighted in training today arise from lessons from past incidents. Key points include the importance of not sharing guest information and of being on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Data protection. Prior to the Andrews case, most hotels had policies against giving out guest information, but that incident revealed that the policies were not being followed or enforced. Afterward, hotel management recognized that they needed to go back to basics in training reception staff on guest privacy and security, says Soper.

“This includes never providing guest room numbers to third parties, not providing the names of guests in particular rooms either directly, indirectly, or inadvertently—and absolutely not allowing persons without room keys or proper identification to enter guest rooms. It now also includes being wary of requests for adjacent rooms, especially when guests are not part of an organized room block or corporate account,” says Soper.

Any request for an adjacent room is an automatic red flag, say the hotel consultants and security managers interviewed for this article. Until it can be proved that the guest is aware of the request and is authorizing it, no such requests should be granted. Darrell Clifton, CPP, director of security for Circus Circus Reno in Nevada, says that his hotel clerks are now frequently tested on whether they’ll give out keys or room numbers to any random individual who asks.

Suspicious activity. Housekeepers, engineers, and other staffers are being taught to take note of anything unusual in guest rooms and corridors.

Following the Markoff incidents, hotels have increased “employee awareness of certain activity that was observed,” Soper says. For example, room attendants, who are the eyes and ears of every hotel, are now asked to be “hyper aware” of rooms frequented by a number of lone male visitors. They are encouraged to actively report those rooms to security for investigation, he says. In that way, Soper and his staff, working with Boston Police, have been able to “identify and remove many of these guests who had set up shop in various hotels.”

Soper says the housekeeping staff at his hotel is also now trained to inspect peepholes. Some hotels are installing peephole covers, says Joseph McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA). Cunningham says that his hotels reviewed their peepholes and resecured them so that they could not be tampered with.

But many of the activities that occur when tampering with peepholes are actually things that should be noticed by a vigilant staff, says Alan Zajic, CPP, chairman of the ASIS International Hospitality, Entertainment, and Tourism Security Council. That is why training of hotel personnel is so important.

Hotels do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to training. There are training programs provided through many private and public organizations. For example, Soper says that his staff has participated in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) training programs such as the “Surveillance Detection Training for Critical Infrastructure and Key Resource Operators and Security Staff” program.

“The comprehensive training explains how these protective measures can be applied to detect and deter potential threats to hotels and other targets, as well as the fundamentals for detecting surveillance activity,” Soper says. “We learned from Mumbai and past terror attacks that preoperational surveillance and planning has been extensive. If we can detect the threat in its planning stages, we’re ahead of the game,” he adds.

Among the areas where vigilance can pay off is in the parking lots and garages. Soper says that his hotel “trained our staff on what suspicious items [in the parking areas] look like and how to report those as well.”

Clifton says that his security staff runs through some sort of scenario, such as a mock robbery, almost daily to practice what they would do in the situation. He stresses that workers must know that you appreciate their efforts. If a worker reports a suspicious item, for example, security responds back to that employee to say, “Hey, we really appreciate your notifying us about that. It turned out to be nothing but ‘keep up the good work’ and that kind of thing,” says Clifton. That type of feedback “gives them some satisfaction…. And we always tell them we’d rather have way too many false alarms than one that we miss,” he says.

Philip Farina, CPP, of consulting company Farina and Associates, Ltd., advocates rewarding workers with a gift card or certificate that can be hung up on the office walls. Security Officers Most hotels use unarmed security officers. Farina says he’s seeing a slight uptick in the use of armed guards in the hotels he works with, but he notes that hotels are still reluctant to use this approach for fear of putting off patrons.

Another concern is that armed guards on the property could increase a hotel’s liability. Additionally, in some cases such guards can be a hindrance or cause confusion, says Anthony DiSalvatore, CPP, PCI, PSP, director of security for the recently opened The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “If SWAT comes on the property, in event of an active shooter or something to that effect, if they see someone with a firearm, they really can’t take the chance to process that and see if that’s a good guy or a bad guy. Their [aim] is to stop the event,” says DiSalvatore.

Hotels also ask guards to focus on hospitality issues, says James Cunningham, past president of the AH&LA loss prevention committee. The guard is “primarily an ambassador of the hotel to the guests,” says Cunningham. Soper agrees. “Officers posted in the lobby can assist and supplement the concierges by handling basic guest questions, providing directions, and other traveler information,” he says.

Hospitality does not detract from security. In fact, by interacting with guests as part of their everyday jobs, guards can become more familiar with who belongs in the hotel, which may help them spot suspicious persons.

In addition, security officers are asked to carry out some ancillary duties as they do rounds or patrols, says Soper. “Security officers can monitor environmental systems, shutting off lights, heat, and air conditioning in areas of the building not in use,” he explains.

“Security can also be important to a guest’s overall opinion of a hotel after they depart with regard to a common hotel issue: lost and found. Having an efficient means of handling these ‘after stay’ problems really can affect a guest’s opinion of the hotel and their decision to ever return to [it] or their likelihood to recommend a property to friends or colleagues,” says Soper.

Many hotels also protect their property with surveillance cameras. The cameras generally are set to record around-the-clock, but it is less likely that they are monitored live, and it is also unfortunately the case that some camera systems are not well maintained once installed.

Farina cites a hotel in South Florida that he has worked with that has about 80 cameras, but 61 of them were inoperable on last check. Cameras are most often not preventive, but they can be useful after the fact if properly maintained.

For hotels that don’t watch the video continuously, John Strauchs, CPP, principal of Strauchs LLC, says that he often advises them to install fewer cameras to streamline the review process. However, he says, most hotels fail to heed that advice because they like having the guests see a plethora of cameras.

Whether or not a hotel monitors cameras live is likely driven by the size of the hotel, says Zajic.

Cunningham concurs. “If you have a small hotel…they don’t have the manpower to be able to sit and watch the monitor. It’s just not possible.” He adds, “In some larger hotels, you do have the manpower to have a full-blown surveillance department where they will have people that will sit and watch monitors.”

DiSalvatore says that his large hotel does conduct 24/7 camera surveillance, and it uses the cameras to assess situations in real time. In that sense, the surveillance system has been a workforce multiplier for him. Instead of sending more guards out on patrol, the guards can use the thousands of cameras that are located throughout the buildings and grounds to check out an area alarm to see whether they are needed there. Some hotels, like other businesses, use third-party services for virtual patrols and general surveillance and alarm monitoring.

Camera locations. Cameras traditionally have been at entrances and exits and in the lobby and parking lots—basically the public areas. While Strauchs recommends fewer cameras, others think that hotels could use more cameras, including in hallways.

The victimized sports journalist Andrews called for hotels to install hallway cameras after she realized what had occurred, the theory being that the hallway cameras would have caught the stalker in the act of altering the peephole or in the act of using it. But hallway cameras would be expensive and not necessarily effective, say hotel security professionals.

One issue is that “hallways are not straight,” says one director of security at a major hotel chain who wished to remain anonymous. Another consideration is that some guests might consider hall cameras intrusive. The primary objection, however, is that they would still not prevent incidents unless monitored or reviewed regularly, which would require considerable staff time.

If the cameras are not being monitored 24 hours a day, then having them in places like hallways might provide a false sense of security to the public, which could open the hotel up to additional liability. “If something happens, and there happens to be a camera there, and it’s a real incident, then it’s very easy for a trial attorney to make an argument that the security was negligent because [they saw the incident] yet failed to stop it,” says Strauchs.

Integration. Another issue is the integration of video and access control systems, which allows a hotel to get a visual in addition to data to ensure that someone using a keycard in a certain area, such as a parking garage, is the person authorized to do so.

At Cosmopolitan, DiSalvatore says that the property uses cameras with guest assistance boxes in elevators and in parking garages. The guests can press the button for assistance and the guest’s voice and video image are fed to the security surveillance center, where operators can answer questions and assess whether they should dispatch an officer to the scene for assistance.

Intelligence Collection 
Hotels have stepped up news monitoring as well as monitoring of the Internet to detect cases where their hotel is being referred to in connection with illicit situations. Investigators also monitor local news for mentions of the company’s hotel chain, and they follow news of hotel crime in general.

Sometimes hotels employ clipping services that also monitor crime waves in other locations so that they can be on the lookout for criminals who could target them. “There are itinerants, for example, [who] habitually prey on hotels and resorts that are seasonal. They work the winter in Florida, and then in the summer, they’re all the way up to the Poconos and Catskills,” says Strauchs.

Through clipping services, “they can actually see the crime wave coming up or down the coast, and they prepare for it,” he explains.

Public-Private Cooperation
In an active-shooter situation or other emergency, hotels will need to call on law enforcement for help. That’s why it’s so important to lay the foundation of those relationships while times are good, says DiSalvatore.

In Mumbai, SWAT team members had to get into the hotel. It would have helped if police had been more familiar with the hotel layout. That type of experience underlines how important it is to cooperate with law enforcement.

It is also useful for hotels to reach out to government agencies and to get involved as regulations related to security are drawn up. Cunningham says the AH&LA has provided recommendations regarding hotel security to DHS.

The hotel industry is also working through city fusion centers, such as the Las Vegas Counterterrorism Fusion Center, which connects hotel security managers and law enforcement officials on a more local basis. DiSalvatore says that he is in continual contact with the fusion center. He says the fusion center has distributed a list of the seven signs of terrorism for hotel employees to be aware of. It also provides training materials to Las Vegas hotels.

DiSalvatore works with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to remain aware of any threats. He says that the SWAT team even practiced active-shooter drills in his hotel to prepare for an emergency. Of having such close ties with law enforcement and DHS, DiSalvatore says, “It’s about being part of the community. And…if you don’t participate, there may be things going on in your own backyard that you’re maybe not familiar with.”

Clifton also works with law enforcement when it needs the hotel’s help in stopping illegal activity. “Our local police department uses Craigslist to do proactive things like prostitution stings. They might set up something on Craigslist to attract prostitutes and then make arrests…and we cooperate fully with them,” he says. “Not all hotels do, but I think it’s a good thing to do that; it kind of gets the word out that you don’t want to do that activity here.”

Hotels have also taken up the “If You See Something, Say Something” initiative launched in New York City after 9-11. The campaign has been spreading and is now part of a collaborative effort between AH&LA and DHS.

That’s just one of the initiatives that hotels have as part of their overall security program. It’s a never-ending process, says Cunningham. “Anytime that there’s a high profile incident…that provides a roadmap for us to review our practices to make sure that the practices and policies and procedures we have in place are solid and that there are no blind spots. However, when there is a blind spot that we identify, then we go back and we try to close that loop.”