Any hotelier will tell you that safety is a constant concern. Hotels have regularly reviewed procedures in place to keep guests and employees safe. However, as the recent massacre in Las Vegas – in which Stephen Paddock used a 32nd-floor hotel room as a sniper’s perch, killing 59 people and inuring more than 500 – demonstrates, hotels need to direct more of their focus toward the potential for active shooters, terrorism and random acts of violence. Hotels take security seriously, but there is always more that can be done, and agents and brokers have a role to play in encouraging a proactive stance on security.
Random acts of violence have proliferated in recent years: The Heritage Foundation found that more than 60 terrorist plots were uncovered from 2001 to 2013. Between 2014 and 2015, more than 20 active shooter incidents resulted in 231 casualties.
To raise the bar on hotel safety, the hospitality industry must take a new approach to risk management. The industry must re-evaluate these acts locally and globally to determine what changes need to be made to protect a hotel and its guests, employees, and assets. Hotel owners can look to their insurers for guidance. Specialty insurers know the industry and its risks inside and out and can provide customized guidance. Their carriers can also offer insight.
For example, in a recent white paper, Zurich recommended considering security updates along with renovations in a building’s capital improvement plan. Specifically, the insurer advised “hardening of facilities, increasing redundancy, installing security systems, developing real-time access to local police, vehicle screenings, biometric scanning for building entry and implementing cybersecurity measures.” Zurich also suggested conducting frequent evacuation drills and designating meet-up locations for employees.
Risk management begins with identifying the problem; hotel owners should know their level of risk. For example, because the front doors of a hotel are open for members of the public to come in and out freely, Zurich pointed out that hotels in busier areas should raise their level of awareness during large events. The hospitality industry can work with security specialists and local, state and federal law enforcement to identify risks.
Additionally, a recent article in Hotel Management recommended developing relationships with neighbors and local authorities to better understand and prepare action plans, should an attack occur locally. Hoteliers already partner with local authorities on fire or hurricane disaster drills. Shouldn’t they do the same for crisis situations?
Other recommended measures include employee background checks, regular staff training (particularly around identifying suspicious activity), frequent security system and alarm maintenance, and screening systems for guest luggage.
Hotels currently spend on closed-circuit cameras, security policies and procedures, and security personnel. They need to complement those efforts with an educational component that teaches employees to identify suspicious behaviors and patterns. Security, the administration office, human resources, executives, food and beverage, maintenance, and housekeeping staff need to work individually and collectively to report suspicious activity. Consider this: Stephen Paddock had a do-not-disturb sign on his hotel room door for three days to keep housekeeping out. Should this have raised the suspicions of hotel staff?
Agents and brokers should talk to their hotel policyholders to suggest training, maintenance and more to supplement existing security efforts. According to the New York Times, the US lags behind our counterparts overseas when it comes to hotel safety. The paper noted that after the attacks in Mumbai hotels that killed more than 100 people, hotels in the region started using “explosive trace detectors and X-ray systems throughout.” In contrast, the article said, “even at major [US] hotels, security teams are often lightly staffed and poorly paid, with no more than a few dozen employees for more than 1,000 rooms.”
Though numbers on what a hotel might spend to get its security up to par are not readily available, consider the financial impact of an active shooter incident: According to Bloomberg, the insurance industry is expected to pay more than $1 billion in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre.
John Welty is the practice leader for SUITELIFE, an all-lines insurance and risk program for upscale hotels and resort properties administered by Venture Insurance Programs, a national program administrator.