Even when hotels have strong security policies and procedures in place, they are still vulnerable to cyber attacks, break-ins, theft, fraud, and other crimes. That’s why it’s vital to take precautionary measures and continually evaluate security programs. “Having robust security in place means a better, safer, guest experience,” says Chad Callaghan, principal of Premises Liability Experts and AH&LA security consultant. “When department managers and other employees think more about safety and security, you can prevent a lot of theft and minimize dangers.”
Inadequate security has repercussions beyond guests losing belongings to theft. Hotels can be held liable for the criminal acts of third parties. Civil litigation against property owners and managers has become commonplace ever since Garzilli v. Howard Johnson. In this 1976 court case, the jury ruled in favor of singer Connie Francis, who had sued a Howard Johnson in New York for negligent security after being assaulted by an unknown man who entered her room through a sliding glass door. And hotels are still targets of lawsuits because of theft and injury.
Before becoming AH&LA’s security consultant, Callaghan spent 35 years with Marriott International. As the vice president of global safety and security for the Americas, Callaghan was responsible for Marriott properties throughout the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. During his more than three-decade career, Callaghan has managed everything from the integration of new technologies such as electronic locks and computer surveillance systems to implementing anti-terrorism procedures. Here, Callaghan shares expert tips on guest safety, internal theft, and cyber security that can help owners and operators avoid down time, reputation loss, liability, and lawsuits. To ensure your property is secure and able to face the latest threats, here’s what you need to know:
Guest Safety: Ensuring Return Stays and a Good Reputation
When guests check in, they’re likely more concerned about making a meeting or going sightseeing. Security shouldn’t be on their minds during, or after, their visit. In summer of 2012, security researcher and software developer Cody Brocious exposed a security flaw in certain Onity door locks and revealed a lock-hacking technique that received widespread exposure in the news. Since then, dozens of guestroom burglaries at hotels in Texas and Arizona have been linked to the hacking technique. Although Onity announced a fix for the security flaw, hotels that have not taken the appropriate steps to mitigate risk posed by this threat are still vulnerable.
With social media and review sites spreading negative sentiment like wildfire, it’s more important than ever to amp up guest security¬—your reputation and bottom line depends on it. Here’s how:
1. Update locks. Locks that can track who goes in and out of rooms can serve as a deterrent to theft. “When employees realize there’s an audit process on door security, it makes rooms less prone to theft,” Callaghan says. Other upgrades include automatic deadbolts, which can better prevent external threats from thieves, or systems that eliminate the need for master keys.
2. Make time for safety meetings. Perhaps as part of a regular meeting, schedule time to talk about guest safety. Part of this time could also be spent watching training videos, such as those produced by Safety Source Productions. These videos, accompanied by handouts, are a low-cost way to share information about guest safety and can train employees about how to spot suspicious behavior.
3. Monitor activity with software. Having closed-circuit television to monitor the property doesn’t matter too much if no one is looking at the monitors. Recent innovations in software have solved that problem. Coupled with software, video cameras can now recognize activity in an area and provide an alert. One example: the system can alert when there is activity in a valet parking area. Other options include using a third party to monitor the exterior of the hotel. Some of these systems have voice command capability, where operators can see and warn off people captured on surveillance.
4. Evaluate and improve—quickly. Darrell Clifton, director of security for the 1,572-room Circus Circus Reno Hotel and Casino in Nevada, conducts weekly reviews of the property and even has checklists for staff to ensure areas, such as stairwells, are clean, safe, and well lit. “We concentrate on our liability,” Clifton says. “If we know of something that’s happened, if someone was robbed or there was an accident, that area is quickly addressed. We can’t ignore it. We do something immediately to protect from another event happening.”
5. Meet and greet. One of simplest, but most effective, ways of securing a property is to provide excellent customer service. “Engage customers you encounter,” Clifton says. “Ask them about their stay and if there’s anything you can do to help. You don’t have to throw more labor at security. Just make employees a little smarter.” By talking with people on your property, staff can determine if there’s a non-guest who may intend to commit a crime. Employees should also look out for people who don’t fit the profile of the hotel’s typical guest.