Caring For Guests In Times Of Growing Terrorism and Active Shooter Threats
The TIX Group is composed of former high-level officials from Israel’s security community. The TIX mission is to share Israeli experience in dealing with terrorism and other security threats wherever they might occur. The group’s leader, Assaf Heffetz, is the former Commissioner of the Israel National Police. Assaf and other TIX professionals have hands-on experience in developing and implementing many of the policies and measures successfully used today in Israel. TIX is available to support business communities including the hospitality and travel industries with consulting services, seminars and training.
In recent years, it has become obvious that public places are no longer immune from violent incidents: the recent Jewish Community Center in Kansas shooting; the Boston Marathon; Sandy Hook School and schools across the country; the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater; Malls in New Jersey, Oregon, Maryland; and more. Public events, recreational travel, and tourism industries are potentially at risk since they are soft targets with high concentrations of vulnerable people. Soft targets already hit hard such as schools, movie theaters, and airlines have instituted dramatic increases in security protocols.
Yet is a hotel any different from a school? Couldn’t an active shooter or terrorist create more damage in a major casino, resort or multi-use complex that attracts annually thousands of visitors and guests? Wouldn’t a terrorist prefer to target a hotel rather than having to deal with stringent security measures in the airlines industry?
It is the legal duty of hoteliers to serve all those who are in fit condition and able to pay as guests. The dilemma is that guests themselves could be potential threats. What is to prevent a terrorist from easily bringing a 50 lb. suitcase full of weapons or explosives to a hotel room or in a vehicle in the underground parking garage? What about an active shooter attacking a highly crowded convention or expo? As horrible as this sounds, such attacks are within the realm of possibility.
The hard-hit Taj Hotel in Mumbai and other targeted hotels in foreign high-risk countries, as serious as they were, do not seem to be causing any alarm in the U.S.
Not only would an attacked hotel suffer following an attack, but also the entire industry would be affected due to the high degree of media attention received. The sensationalizing of a traumatic incident has shown in the past that the industry as a whole is collectively affected. Room cancellations, postponing conventions, reluctance to travel and other consequences can be dramatic across the industry.
In the hospitality industry, hotel companies have a duty to provide reasonable care for the safety and security of guests and must welcome all who wish to ‘pay to stay’. The relationship between guest and hotel is defined in common and statutory law, in which an innkeeper’s responsibility to the guest is defined as a Duty of Reasonable Care.
In this case, if there is an incident of a criminal or violent nature and it can be proven that it was a ‘foreseeable event’ then the hotel has a duty to have in place measures and proper security to prevent harm to guests.
Foreseeability is a tricky issue. Management should have the ability to foresee events based on previous events that have occurred. A thorough and properly researched risk assessment is needed to help provide the right security plan that is a key defense for any future court cases.
Hotels can be found liable if insufficient measures were not in place before the incident occurs. A ‘first strike’ event is easier to defend in court if it never happened before at the site. However, if no attempts to make any changes or deal with such threats were made to help prevent such an incident from recurring, then management would be more at risk of a court decision against them.
As public places become more and more vulnerable as incidents rise, it would be good sense to review assessments and upgrade security plans.
As ‘Soft Targets’ hotels and those facilities related to travel and tourism, e.g., restaurants, casinos, spas, must do more to limit threats and their fallout. Soft Targets are ‘high value, low profile’ sites which have been targeted in the recent past, such as malls, schools, campuses, hotels, tourism centers and the like. A new heightened level of awareness and measures to properly deal with this problem must be more accepted by hotel and travel owners and operators.
The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude among operators is driven by the need to enhance positive public image that they are providing a pleasant, comfortable and safe environment. Guests basically expect this ‘reasonable care’ as part of what they are getting for their money. But operators put too much emphasis on the security director or even local police for adequate protection. In times when things are running smoothly, it seems that not much needs to be addressed besides basic security procedures.
However, the threats faced today are not the same as the threats faced by the hotel and travel industries in the 1980’s or 90’s or even just after 9-11. With almost monthly active shooter events now occurring across the country, it appears that terrorism is only part of the problem. After 9-11 there was an ‘it won’t happen again or to us’ attitude. What could be the odds of another 9-11?
The active shooter phenomenon seems to be a growing threat. A disgruntled employee, customer, outsider, etc., proves the unpredictability of such an event and therefore such possibilities should be considered, in most cases, as a ‘foreseeable’ event.
In Israel, due to the nature of the high degree of risk facing travel and tourism there, the Hospitality industry is regulated and requires security measure compliance. Although the public expects high levels of security at the national level, hotel guests visiting that country will experience certain practices and measures that are visibly obvious yet do not impose any unnecessary hardships on the guests.
Permitting is required for visiting certain sections of the country, which require different degrees of compliance. Security guards are required at every hotel entrance. Even malls in Israel require guards and metal detectors at every entrance.
Hotel design, materials and other security-related regulations are tightly enforced. Although many operators complain about excessive costs (bomb-proof materials for example), the industry has adapted to this process and continues to grow and thrive.
In addition, other measures and programs are in place at a national level such as Public Awareness programs. This principle of awareness provides the most important ground source of intelligence and can be applied to hotels. Employees are properly trained and every hotel has a security director who is usually a former member of the military or law enforcement. Even the public at large is an active ‘partner’ in helping to be the eyes and ears on the street and be on the alert for suspicious individuals and packages.
Travel/tourism and hotel industries must take into account two major concepts to protect themselves from the damaging consequences of random violent events: They must acknowledge that the current reluctance to deal with the situation must be overcome, and that a meaningful discussion about the issue must be initiated.
In the US after 9-11, the airline industry and others suffered immediate losses due to bans on travel, cancellations, etc., even if financial markets suffered only temporarily. In Boston after the Marathon Bombing, the entire Greater Boston area was closed down for almost a week. Hotels and tourism-related businesses experienced huge downturns in business.
It is a well-know fact that after a major terrorist incident, travel to the attacked country tends to take a downturn. However, Israeli security is so well established that Israel is able to absorb these events and maintain business continuity with minimal losses. In fact, most would not realize that Tel Aviv, even with its lose proximity to Gaza, the West Bank and the Lebanon border, is considered the most popular gay-friendly tourist destination as indicated by a survey on the Gacities.com website. New York came in second.
Upgrading of current security plans must be implemented. Emergency Contingency Plans that include improving security training and adapting to the local and regional environment — which would fall under the category of ‘Foreseeable’ — are essential to avoid incidents themselves as well as future possibilities of costly lawsuits.
Emergency Contingency Plans:
For hotels and related facilities, security plans should be upgraded to meet today’s threats. An Emergency Contingency Plan can help limit and mitigate the effects of a successful terrorist attack as well as help protect a facility. Although there is no such thing as a fool-proof security plan, an ECP can help management in prevention and preparedness, as well as response.
An Emergency Contingency program can help an operator set in motion well-established, planned steps to immediately go into effect following an attack on the industry. The public will, in light of public hysteria, expect increased security compared with prior to the incident, when too much security can deter guests. Management must be ready to act, to assure and demonstrate to its clientele that they are in control of the situation and not reacting due to lack of planning.
In light of the growing security concerns of most public places, the hospitality and travel-related industries are prime soft targets for active shooters and terrorists. Awareness is the first most important issue that needs to be addressed. Now is the time to increase the level of expertise and knowledge required for improved security planning.
About the Author
James Braver is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.
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