GLOBAL REPORT—Spectators lined up around the marathon finish line at the Back Bay section of Boston, full of jovial celebration as Boston Marathon runners were completing the last leg of the iconic 26.2-mile trek. Tim Kirwan, usually dealing with the day-to-day operations at the 424-room InterContinental Boston on the waterfront, took a break after the rush of early morning marathon runners left for the race. He spent most of the afternoon along the marathon route, visiting with clients and watching the runners.
“We were in a holiday and relaxed mood all afternoon,” the GM said.
Kirwan headed back to the hotel around 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to avoid the influx of people coming in for the Boston Red Sox game later that night. At approximately 2:50 p.m. EST, everything changed.
The first bomb had gone off, followed by another 13 seconds later. Kirwan and his staff went into security mode, calling the manager on duty to ensure that safety procedures were in motion.
Located on Boston’s historic waterfront, the Intercontinental is about two miles from where two bombs, planted for motives not yet understood, took the lives of three bystanders and injured nearly 175 more. Out of the initial line of fire, Kirwan and his team took precautionary steps, calling in additional security detail in high-profile locations, shutting down the hotel to the public, going to valet-only parking and employing key-control access to elevators.
In the wake of the bombings, guests were panicking, frantically trying to find relatives or friends who were at the race. Cell phones went down and systems froze. Intensity levels were running high.
But calmer heads prevailed.
Kriwan and his team took to Twitter and Facebook to cull information about what was happening in real time and share it with guests.
“How we stay calm and informed and how we inform our guests” is part of how the hotel staff maintains its composure, he said.
“Up to that point four years ago, we had never factored in communicating via Facebook and Twitter during emergencies,” Kirwan said. “The public and guests were way ahead of us in that regard, and that was a big lesson that we learned. You need to have someone on the social networking team or public relations team factored into the safety response package that would go immediately and update people. We did it on a personal level so everyone knew we were OK and on a hotel level.”
The InterContinental security guards used their own internal security network, tweeting and texting with other hotel security officers in the area to help disseminate information. A third-party automatic call-out service was used to call staff to the premise. “You have eight people within five minutes,” Kirwan said, calling it a best practice in his hotel.
“When it hits the fan, having to manually make all of those calls is crazy,” Kirwan said. “It’s so much easier to manage the response process, and I believe it should be a requirement for all hotels to use a third-party communications tool.
“Emergencies are emergencies. You can only be so prepared,” he said.
The new normal
While hotels can be safe havens for guests, they can be the target of attacks as well.
Anthony C. Roman, president of risk-management firm Roman & Associates, said the hotel industry has suffered in the last decade. Hard economic times globally have caused hotels to cut back on security budgets. As more hotels are taking the appropriate preventive security measures, other hotel brands have not addressed the issue at all. “And yet other brands are subcontracting their security requirements to private security companies,” he said.
A special report from Austin, Texas-based global intelligence agency Stratfor titled “The Militant Threat to Hotels,” defines attacks as ones that involve one or more improvised explosive devices that have detonated; a hotel receiving rocket or mortar fire; an armed assault; or a non-IED or rocket attack that resulted in causalities. According to this definition, 62 hotels were attacked in 20 different countries eight years after 9/11 compared with 30 hotels in 15 different countries in the eight years before 9/11.
“Right now, we’re in a new normal,” said Victor Haley, partner at global law firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan. “I don’t see it changing unless something happens dramatically in geopolitics and terrorism becomes less of a threat.” With the next attack on a major hotel, “the new normal will ratchet up again,” he added.
The constant flow of large numbers of people in and out of hotels during daily business hours makes them vulnerable for attacks, according to global intelligence agency Stratfor. “There’s certainly fear,” Haley explained. “There are few targets that offer the potential awards for motivated terrorists that hotels do.” Those rewards are a large target with potentially massive body counts and global exposure.
The problem with hotels, he added, is “they’re open and inviting places.”
Hotels are a prominent target for attacks in areas of unrest and contentious political instability, and hoteliers need to be equipped with sophisticated security equipment to ensure proper preventive steps are being taken, explained Roman.
Hotels in these regions often will have thermal and infrared viewing for nighttime and low-visibility conditions, license plate readers, car counters, people counters, cameras with analytics that follow subjects automatically and alert critical areas of operation, he said.
As president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Jonathan Bernstein said a mistake hoteliers make is not checking for red flags. Vulnerability audits help find “weakness in the system that can be exploited or lapse during a crisis,” he said.
The audit shows some oft-forgotten measures, such as making sure the hotel’s website can handle a thousand times the traffic without crashing or that associates know appropriate protocols.
“Every employee is a crisis manager and a (public relations representative) for the organization, if you want them to be or not,” Bernstein said. “If you don’t teach them what they should and shouldn’t do, they’ll wing it,” and that can be dangerous to a hotel’s reputation.
“What (hoteliers) want to create is actual security and depth—layers of properly trained personnel to meet the risks that are known for the venue you’re in,” Roman said. “If it’s a high-risk venue, then overt paramilitary is appropriate. If you’re in Times Square, covert effort is more appropriate.”
Overlooking Olympic Park in London, the dual-branded 188-room Holiday Inn property and 162-suite Staybridge Suites was a central hub during the 2012 Summer Olympics. John Wagner, director of Cycas Hospitality, which developed the hotels, said vigilance was key during the Olympic Games, and snipers were stationed on the hotel roof during the 16-day event to monitor the high-trafficked area.
High-tourism areas require a much lower profile but no less effective and in-depth security, Roman said. Staff should be trained to notice unattended cars or packages. The addition of perimeter cameras at main entrances and collection points to upper floors can assuage some risk.
Large physical barriers out in front of the property helps limit access for car bombs or people who want to ram the building with a vehicle, Haley said, adding that hotels with more than two access points are easier targets.
Before the Olympics, Wagner’s staff went through rigorous security training, meeting with security people, the secret police and public police, enabling them to bring attention to anything and anyone suspicious. During the Games, only registered guests were allowed to come into the hotel. Additionally, guests had to have active and positive identification.
“There’s only one main entrance to the hotel,” he said. “That was by design.”
“People are more aware of the potential” for an attack, Wagner said. The wrong assumption hoteliers often make is that it won’t or can’t happen at their hotels. Brands are more aware and more conscious that public spaces, like hotels, are more vulnerable to an attack, and Wagner said taking “proactive steps so they’re not caught flat-footed” can make all the difference.
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