Security Succeeds with Collaboration
Print Issue: April 2013
THERE WAS A TIME in Boston’s not so distant past when local law enforcement saw hotel private security as a nonprofessional group. Both groups suffered from “the Rolodex syndrome,” where one police detective or hotel security director had one or two of the other group to whom they turned for favors but they did not work well together outside of their trusted contacts. When law enforcement needed something, they showed up at hotels and demanded it without calling ahead. Security directors at hotels reacted by providing nothing that was not required by the letter of the law.
Today, that has completely changed. Skip Brandt, director of security at the Park Plaza Hotel and founder and executive director of the International Lodging Safety and Security Association Boston (ILSSA Boston), tells of a recent incident where a federal apprehension team descended unannounced on a hotel and “local law enforcement called their bosses and chastised them, saying ‘You can’t do that. There are professionals at the hotels who are our contacts; they help us with information; they’re good to us. You have to call ahead.’”
Brandt founded ILSSA Boston, a nonprofit association, in 1972. It is a public-private partnership between Boston-area hotels and dozens of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. It hosts educational seminars on various security topics ranging from detecting methamphetamine labs to credit card fraud to how to recognize suspicious materials and behaviors.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took advantage of the group’s ability to play host for one of its surveillance, detection, and countersurveillance training courses. ILSSA Boston was “able to provide the space for the program free of charge…and it was very well-attended,” says Brandt. “It was three days of hands-on training. Day one was classroom. Day two, we went out and did surveillance of a building, and on day three we had to identify suspicious individuals.” The group also presented active-shooter training in partnership with DHS.
ILSSA Boston holds a yearly program on suspicious package identification in conjunction with the Boston bomb squad. It is open to all levels of hospitality management personnel.
The group also held a special class for law enforcement on how to spot a suicide bomber. That class was given by representatives from the Israeli Consulate in Boston. “It was a three-hour program using examples from Israeli experience,” Brandt says.
An ILSSA Boston meeting earlier in 2013 included visiting representatives from the U.S. Department of State diplomatic dignitary security detail. They had come to discuss the then-potential nomination of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to the role of U.S. Secretary of State. “They wanted to make sure that their partnership with the hotels existed, because John Kerry lives in Boston, and if he was nominated, there would be lots of activity in Boston hotels,” Brandt explains.
The group has also participated in Urban Shield, a 24-hour training exercise that simulates large-scale public safety incidents in the Boston area and tests first responders’ ability to deal with the crises.
IntelNET. ILSSA Boston also operates the ILSSA IntelNET, a listserv e-mail alert system. It is used to notify member hotels and allied law enforcement agencies when an issue occurs, and it enables properties to communicate with each other to prevent repeated criminal activity at hotels. ILSSA develops alerts in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies, and state and federal officials. Thousands of alerts have been distributed through an extensive e-mail network, resulting in the confirmed apprehension or identification of criminals and prevention of fraudulent or criminal activities targeting hotels and tourists.
To overcome law enforcement’s initial hesitation to join the IntelNET, Brandt recalls, “I said to them, ‘It’s not perfect, but it’s vetted, and I control who’s going to see it.’” After that reassurance, “They really latched onto it, and it has taken down a lot of walls,” he says.
The IntelNET was used, for example, to disseminate alerts concerning Pranknet, a group of Canadians who have caused more than $60,000 in damage to various hotels and restaurants through prank phone calls that convinced the recipients to take destructive actions. One such incident occurred in July 2009, when a prankster from the group phoned a guest room at a Hilton Hotel in Orlando, Florida, telling the occupants there was a deadly gas leak in the building. The caller instructed the guest that the only way to save himself was to break the windows. Believing the caller, the guest did so, causing some $5,000 in damage.
In another case, a “skimming” theft device incident at a Massachusetts ATM led to a BOLO (“Be on the Lookout”) sent by the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, known as “the BRIC”, via the IntelNET. A hotel security director in New York City, who was a member of the listserv, saw the BOLO and realized that the same perpetrators had struck in his area in the past. The information he provided the BRIC led to their arrest.
Another triumph of the IntelNET happened in May 2010, when ILSSA Boston received emergency notice from the BRIC that the municipal drinking water distribution system had suffered a catastrophic failure, and a Boil Water Order was in effect. The fast notification via the listserv meant that the hotels could put their crisis management plans into effect, inform guests, keep everyone on the premises from drinking contaminated water, and make arrangement for a safe alternative water supply.
The listserv has now grown to include hotel security directors and law enforcement in Chicago and in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, hotel security heads in New York City have formed their own listservs, as have those in Washington, D.C.; Reno, Nevada; and San Francisco.
The BRIC. The BRIC was one of the first all-hazards fusion centers to emerge after 9-11, opening in Boston in 2005. A component of the police department, it works to analyze and share information to fight crime and prevent terrorism. It assigns liaisons to interface with private sector stakeholders, universities, and state and federal partners, among others. The BRIC has two staff members, both Boston police officers, whose job is to continually liaise with the hotels and other private sector areas. They made contact with Boston’s hotel security directors early on, says Brandt, to successfully forge a working relationship.
Today, whenever a hotel suspects that it may become the scene of protests or other possibly threatening activity, it proactively notifies the BRIC. In the old days, it might have called law enforcement only when a situation began to get out of hand.
For example, there are many biotech companies located in the Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, area. Those companies sometimes garner the attention of protest groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Hotels now reach out when they are hosting an event involving those companies or when a company dignitary may be a guest at the hotels. “We [then] share that information with law enforcement so that they know there is potential for protest, rather than us picking up the phone and dialing 911 and saying we have 300 people outside the hotel and we need help,” he explains.
Another example of how the BRIC benefits from the partnership with the hotels is evidenced by the comparative ease with which law enforcement can obtain information and assistance from hotel security. Brandt says that he recently received a call from the Boston police asking for his help with an investigation into an accident. A woman had been struck by a car, and the police thought that the exterior CCTV cameras on the Park Plaza Hotel may have captured the accident. “Unfortunately…it occurred in a blind spot. But a few years ago, that call wouldn’t have been made,” he notes.
In 2009, the director of security for the Marriott Copley provided police with assistance in the aftermath of what came to be known as the “Craigslist killing.” Phillip Markoff, who found his victims through the online classified advertisement site, murdered Julissa Brisman at the hotel in the spring of that year. “The investigation went much smoother because [the security director] was well-respected and very active with ILSSA Boston,” says Brandt. The security director worked closely with detectives to supply CCTV footage and other information. “There were no roadblocks because of the relationships that existed,” says Brandt.
Information flow. The BRIC initiated a valuable communication vehicle—a daily activity report that is sent in redacted, nonsensitive form to Boston’s hotel security directors. This has led, Brandt says, to useful leads flowing back from the hotels. Additionally, every Friday, the BRIC sends out a “most wanted” list. “I post it at the employee entrance. Staff members stop and look at it and have provided tips, like ‘This guy lives in my neighborhood…. You might be able to pick him up there.’ It really works,” says Brandt.
AHLA. In addition to his role as executive director of ILSSA Boston, Brandt also sits on the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Loss Prevention Committee, a nationwide organization that works closely with DHS. Brandt says that through that agency, the committee received the funding to develop a poster program geared toward raising awareness among a hotel’s frontline foot soldiers— the housekeeping staff—alerting them about what to do if they came across anything suspicious in guest rooms that could be indicative of crimes, such as drug and human trafficking, the fencing of stolen goods, and prostitution.
“A lot of stuff happens behind closed doors in hotel rooms,” states Brandt, and a steady stream of intelligence has flowed back through the hotel security directors from these housekeepers. A success story took place several months after the poster program was initiated in Chicago, when one housekeeper entered a room to find it full of laptops, cell phones, and other equipment. She reported it to the director of security, who in turn spoke to law enforcement. As it turned out, there was nothing nefarious afoot. The housekeeper had strayed into a U.S. security agency’s operation. But it was a sign of progress that she knew to report it as suspicious.
Additionally, the AHLA’s Education Institute also runs the Eye on Awareness Hotel Security Training Online Program. Developed in partnership with security experts, hospitality leaders, and the DHS’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign, it teaches hotel employees to recognize, report, and react to suspicious situations at their properties. The training includes interactive, multimedia lessons enhanced by review questions assessing comprehension.
Hotels are an important segment of commercial real estate. In Boston, Alan M. Snow, CPP, director of safety and security for Boston Properties and a member of the ASIS International Commercial Real Estate Council, hosts joint public-private exercises that are held annually with commercial properties in the city and Boston’s first responders.
Snows says that there are “multiple benefits of the joint exercise for both sectors that cannot be gained during a typical individual exercise.” One of these benefits is meeting counterparts and working with them before an emergency occurs.
“I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to have an established rapport with local first responders,” he states. The exercises help to familiarize everyone with each other’s emergency response plans, identify inconsistencies and false assumptions between individual plans, and provide a way for lessons learned from the exercises to be reflected in those plans. And the relationships established lead to better information sharing on a day-to-day basis once the exercise has ended.
The joint exercises that Snow runs through the auspices of Boston Properties require only simple resources, including one or more people to act as facilitators, a conference room at a hotel or other meeting space, and other volunteers to handle invitations, RSVPs, refreshments, and other administrative tasks. Snow invites a broad spectrum of participants including, on the public side, fire, police, emergency rescue, and public health representatives as well as representatives from federal agencies, such as the FBI and FEMA. On the private side, Snow includes representatives from multiple industries from within the Boston geographic area, including hotels.
The exercises are usually a half-day in duration and they consist of a facilitated discussion of a simulated emergency as responded to according to the emergency plans of the public and private sector representatives in attendance. Previous scenarios covered in the exercises have included a hurricane hitting Boston, a power grid outage, multiple simultaneous explosions, a chemical release, and an active shooter incident where the private sector participants envisioned the incident occurring within a specific area of their own property, such as the hotel ballroom or lobby.
“Typically, it is a large roundtable-style discussion,” says Snow, that starts off with “situation briefing and a set of scenario facts…exercise facilitators present a question to the group and ask for feedback from the different agencies present,” as well as from the private sector representatives. The process results in an informative dialogue between the participants on issues such as evacuating rather than sheltering in place, protocols, stakeholder communications, damage assessment, and more.
Boston’s now tightly knit public and private security partnership is the result of an understanding that both sides are professionals and have common goals. “The private sector has so much to offer the public sector as far as information sharing and resources go,” says Brandt, “It was always there, but no one knew how to ask or offer. Now, it’s just a regular, ongoing thing.”