Although no one wants to think about catastrophic events, it is a topic that should be at the forefront of every hotel discussion right now. No matter what the nature of the disaster, every event represents a significant risk for a hotel’s ability to continue ordinary operations. If you don’t have a plan in place when disaster strikes, you put your staff, guests and your reputation at “increased” risk. Every hotel should have a comprehensive crisis plan that includes pre-event, real-time, and post-event procedures. Communication and training are key elements that contribute to the success of the plan. Lodging Magazine, Ellen Meyer, shares hotel disaster preparedness tips from Bob Rauch, CEO and president of RAR Hospitality, below.
Now chief executive officer and president of RAR Hospitality (RAR), a hotel management and consulting company, Bob Rauch is an internationally recognized hotelier with over 40 years of hospitality-related management experience. During those years, he says, he has been through nearly every type of crisis that can confront hotel management and staff—fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, power outages, etc. But he says, like the country and the rest of the world, the hotel industry reacted with helpless shock and horror to the news that a guest at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas had—from his hotel room—shot hundreds and killed at least 58 people gathered for an outdoor country music concert.
Rauch was in the process of finalizing content to address crises—including previously unimaginable ones such as that—for the 17 hotels managed by RAR when he spoke to LODGING about how all hotels can attempt to prevent, but mostly be able to respond expeditiously, to disasters of that type.
He says most hotels already have mechanisms in place for coping with the more predictable crises. “There are fire drills for employees, which include an identified place to assemble, and there is information on evacuation on the back of guests’ doors. Fire exit signs are visible both high and low on the ground. There are also backup generators and candles for lighting during power outages.”
In addition to these systems, he says, regular staff training “akin to muscle memory” is needed for them—and other measures—to be effective when it matters most. “Training should be done on CPR and first aid, fire drills, proper ways to do each job, and more. It can be web-based or classroom style.” For information and support on designing the program, materials, and implementing the needed training, Rauch suggests perhaps looking beyond the local police department and turning to the “pros” such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and consultants such as those who created ALICE training, which stands for Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate.
Where does this fit into other emergency preparedness protocols? “All crises need one person who is a spokesperson, calm leaders, and decisive team members who can assure guests of what is going on,” says Rauch. There should also be a plan of action, depending on the type of crisis. “Everyone—staff and guests—should have concise and consolidated information provided to them on what is happening, what to do, and where to go.” Rauch suggests that an app to text guests, whose cell numbers are routinely collected, could be used in emergencies, just as they are for information on hotel and community activities.
Rauch says everyone on staff should have access to resources and information, including emergency phone numbers such as poison control, 911, the local police department, and DHS. “There should be a very handy list of emergency phone numbers at the front desk—not in a manual in a locked office.” This list, he says, should be made available to guests, too.
Rauch admits that dealing with intentional criminally motivated catastrophic events such as the Las Vegas massacre takes a different kind of training. “We all need training we hope never to need to use. There’s no easy answer, but being alert/aware is critical.”
Rauch recognizes that hotel guests—whether on business or pleasure—should not be unduly burdened by fears of previously unimaginable acts of violence, but maintains that everyone has a role to play in efforts to prevent such tragedies—and when that fails—respond quickly and effectively, especially when the site of the disaster is a hotel or its surrounding community. For employees to a great extent, and guests to a lesser one, it boils down to the DHS campaign: “If You See Something, Say Something™.”
“Some red flags include paying with cash, refusing housekeeping services, or otherwise acting abnormally. The fact is, the Las Vegas shooter had to have had a lot of suitcases. If you were the check-in associate, you might wonder about that, even if he looked and behaved normally. And, it turns out, he displayed his ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for his entire stay. The key is empowering employees to talk, to mention if they think something is amiss, to make management aware so they can be watching.”
He says an electronic boon to having alert employees and guests is video surveillance videos. “This is huge. It’s amazing what you can capture on surveillance footage with good imaging.” He explains that large obvious cameras outside the hotel are meant to act mainly as a deterrent, but small hidden cameras inside the hotel except in guest rooms, can catch both employees and others in the act of illegal activity.
Rauch says some of the popular wisdom about how to respond to an emergency such as the active shooter in Las Vegas has changed slightly. “We used to say, hide first, run second, and fight third, but, unless the hiding place is truly secure, it can act instead as a trap that increases vulnerability. That is why we now say, run first to avoid, hide second, and fight for your life if you must, using whatever is at hand—a gun, knife or fire extinguisher.”
Although attention is particularly focused on this topic in the aftermath of this latest tragedy, Rauch says, this is also the time of year when hotels plan for the year ahead. “General Managers are now developing their annual business plans and budgets, so there is no better time than now to include content on what to do in any kind of crisis. Only good prevention and preparation strategies will ensure an appropriate response with the best possible outcome.”
When the Crisis Involves an Active Shooter or Terrorist Attack
In light of the tragedy being called the Las Vegas Massacre, Bob Rauch quickly dispatched guidelines to his general managers for dealing with situations they hope never to face. However, he says, hotels should first do all they can to avoid becoming a target for such acts. “A good security posture will decrease the probability of an attack, as terrorists will be more likely to be deflected towards more vulnerable targets.”
- Ensure that team members understand the RUN / HIDE / FIGHT approach to countering these types of assaults
- Pre-identify the best escape routes and hiding places
- Have on hand a “first responder pack” with
- Hotel plans or detailed descriptions of the hotel and likely occupancies for each area
- Details of all entrances and exits, including all final fire exits
- Details of critical infrastructure
- Copies of the master keys, both swipe and metal keys
- Details of access control codes
- Details of identified secure hiding areas
- Hotel telephone directories
- Cell phone numbers of team members still inside
- Access to the closed-circuit television room and imagery
Possible actions during the crisis
- Identification of an immediate secure control room from which guests can be given direction by the use of a PA system, if safe to do so.
- Implement rapid hotel evacuation, if safe to do so.
- Implement rapid retreat to safe areas, if possible.
- Practice emergency lock-down of hotel or areas of the hotel to limit the shooter’s movements, if safe to do so.
Information to provide to first responders on the scene, if available:
- Location of the active shooters
- Number of shooters
- Physical description of shooters
- Number and type/description of weapons held by shooters.
- Whether the shooters have explosives.
- Number of potential victims at the location.
- Numbers and locations of hostages
- 911 for nearly all emergencies, as well as local police, fire, and medical access, and Department of Homeland Security
- FBI: 1-800-225-5324 (1-800-CALLFBI)
- Poison Control: 800-222-1222
- Video Clip: “Suspicious Behavior in Hotels”