Following the attacks of 9/11, Capt. Dave Leonardis, who was Commandant of the New Jersey State Police Academy at the time, instructed his cadets to make their way to the hotels near Newark Liberty International Airport. He took the unprecedented step when law enforcement officials obtained information indicating that the suspected terrorists may have stayed in hotels in the Newark area. Thirty-six cadets investigated garbage dumpsters, the areas outside the hotels, and several other places. Within moments, they retrieved critical evidence that allowed law enforcement officials to better understand what had just happened. The critical evidence recovered in the dumpsters had been placed there by unknowing housekeeping personnel who had discovered it in hotel rooms they were cleaning. Had they received the proper training, they might have reported these suspicious items to their supervisor rather than throwing them out.
Leonardis tells the story in the opening of a video, which opens the “Eye on Awareness—Hotel Security and Anti-Terrorism™” online training course. The American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI) and Cardinal Point Strategies created the online training course for hotel employees. In the video, Leonardis tells how the investigation at the hotels turned up plans, diagrams, and other pieces of information that were critical to the investigation.
“We open with Capt. Leonardis’ story because it shows why it is so important that people are trained to see something to not only report it, but also to understand that what they see may be something that is critical to a larger event,” says Paul Goldenberg, CEO of Cardinal Point Strategies.
The Eye on Awareness™ training course focuses on “awareness level” and provides hotel employees with a premier set of skill and knowledge components, including, but not limited to, housekeeping, maintenance, front desk, guest services, food and beverage, transportation, and parking departments. The training program focuses on the front line staff at hotels, who are considered the front line observers. It is intended for everyone from concierges to front desk staff to parking lot attendants—anyone who has contact with guests. The course provides hotel employees with the knowledge essential to recognize, report, and react to suspicious situations at their property. It is designed to teach lodging industry employees how to understand those activities and report them.
Goldenberg says that the training course content comes from experts in homeland security. “That’s really what makes it quite remarkable,” he says. “It tells the story of what the federal agencies need people to understand to report suspicious activities.” He credits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Infrastructure Protection with doing a remarkable job in putting together information.
The course focuses on suspicious activity reporting, what makes an individual suspicious, and what types of activities are suspicious. It also focuses on recognizing suspicious packages. Goldenberg says that the training course also instructs people on what to do in an active shooting situation and how to stay alive and to assist others.
The course complements an awareness campaign developed by DHS, which has partnered with AH&LA, to bring its “If You See Something, Say Something™ campaign to the lodging industry.
Goldenberg says that the training course and the awareness campaign are designed as a preventive action and not a response to events that have already happened. “Unfortunately, when people hear or see the Department of Homeland Security they think it’s in response to a particular activity, and what a lot of people don’t see is the good work of DHS in providing resources to empower industries to understand threats and vulnerabilities.”
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano started the “If You See Something, Say Something ™” awareness campaign in July. Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection Todd Kiel says Napolitano is a strong champion of the program, which was originally implemented by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and has since been customized and expanded for surface transportation (Amtrak), aviation, cities and states around the country, retail (Walmart and the Mall of America) and the lodging industry. It is designed as a simple program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism, crime, and other threats, and emphasize the importance of employees reporting suspicious activity to their supervisors and in turn, security or law enforcement authorities.
The department’s partnership with AH&LA is not new. “The engagement between DHS and AH&LA is not something that just started recently. Our active partnership with AH&LA began in 2005 so it’s been an ongoing collaborative approach, and we’ve produced a number of products, training course, and had information sharing,” Kiel says.
Expanding the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign to the hotel industry is intended as way to highlight the importance of hotel employees understanding suspicious activity and how to report it to proper law enforcement authorities.
With the assistance of AH&LA’s Loss Prevention Committee, DHS has created public education materials for industry employees, including posters, table circulars, and paystub inserts, available at www.ahla.com/dhs. Kiel says DHS will also continue its information sharing collaboration with AH&LA.
Kiel says that the hospitality industry plays a role in the safety of the country. “When you really look at it, Americans work hard and like to enjoy their free time. Travel and lodging are an ingredient of not only our personal freedom, but also our economic vitality,” he says. “I think the hospitality industry plays a major role in providing a safe, reliable and fun environment for families and business persons—and not only for Americans, but also our visitors.”
Kiel emphasizes that the awareness campaign is focused on overall suspicious activity and not only terrorism issues. “It’s suspicious activity that could be indicators of terrorism activity obviously, but it’s also crime and other threats,” Kiel says. “It highlights the importance of reporting suspicious activity.
“It’s kind of like a gut-check,” he continues. “You know something going on around you isn’t quite right. We want people to be aware and notice those things. The most important step is actually reporting it, so that’s a focus of the campaign.”
Kiel says the campaign not only facilitate a level of vigilance and awareness at work, but also vigilance and awareness as people go through normal day-to-day activities. “The more people who have exposure to the campaign, the more that take that training with them when they go into their communities,” he says. “They are the people that we want to be the eyes and ears of the campaign and in keeping our country safe.”