Venturing out of the protective enclave of a home into the temporary digs of a hotel – however luxurious and welcome a reprieve – can be scary. Aside from fears of ongoing global threats to security, the prospect of a fire or personal theft can also give guests cause for concern. It’s why today’s hoteliers need to remain vigilant about security within their hotels, assiduously creating and updating plans to safeguard guests.

Threats can come from any area of the hotel, but fires should be an ongoing preoccupation. “I think ‘fire-life safety’ is always the number-1 threat,” says Tim Terceira, GM of The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, using the term coined by Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International (whose brands include the Ritz) to describe the always-terrifying prospect of a hotel fire. “Hotels house laundries, restaurants, boilers, cooking stations, lots of people and events. And hotels that permit smoking in guestrooms always raise the possibility of fire.”

The foundation of a hotel’s precautionary measures against fire lies in its codes. Countries, provinces and cities typically have regularly updated fire codes and some hotels have fire codes of their own. Marriott International, which operates in 72 countries, has standards that comply, at minimum, with local codes so the company doesn’t have to make constant readjustments for each individual location’s requirements. Generally speaking, says Terceira, Marriott requires more sprinklers, more smoke exhaust systems and more access points into meeting rooms than municipal codes do.

In addition to the risk of fire, hotels are also prime targets for theft. Three variables thieves know, says Gordon Cook, Pan Pacific Vancouver’s rooms division manager, is that a parked rental car probably has luggage in it; that hotels — where people are on vacation and have likely let their guards down — contain bags filled with valuables; and special-event buffets practically invite women to leave their purses unattended at their tables while they fill their plates. With this in mind, the Pan Pacific has eight officers watching the lobby where thieves have been known to strike. Some maintain posts in the upper-level atrium, to watch below, and all are regular hotel staff. “We don’t hire outside security agencies that would give you different people every day,” says Cook, who oversees the property’s security team. Porters also fasten luggage to carts with cable locks to deter drive-by bandits.

Technology and Teamwork

Today’s safety-conscious hoteliers ensure their properties sport the latest security technology. For example, the newest heat-and-smoke detectors and sprinkler heads are more sensitive and respond more quickly than they did even five years ago.

Security cameras have also received meaningful enhancements. The quality of the equipment and the photos the cameras take has improved dramatically, which means a theft can be investigated more thoroughly thanks to crisper images. “Now if something happens, we’re able to track it,” says Terceira. “We can review the footage and see how it happened.” Indeed, agrees Ross Meredith, GM of the 496-room Westin Ottawa. “If we see someone in the building [who] we’re uncertain about, we can snap a picture and, within 30 seconds, 50 of our people will have a photo of this suspicious guest in their inboxes.”

Technology has also been ramped up in many hotel elevator systems. Keypads offer sophisticated access to designated floors, and iPads as well as iPhones serve as instant communication tools. Emergency-response equipment is receiving fresh attention, too. The Westin Ottawa has three defibrillator machines — in the front office, at security and in the health club — so if security is called for a medical issue, the team arrives with a first-aid kit, an oxygen tank and a defibrillator. “It’s almost like a mini [medical] clinic arrives in your guestroom,” says Meredith.

The same level of attention is applied during medical-emergency situations at the Pan Pacific, where the in-house security team is occupational first aid level-two certified, one step below the credentials of a paramedic.

Safety-conscious hotel operators also indoctrinate staff on preparedness and response. Marriott’s security and engineering employees are trained with frequent fire drills and emergency practices. And loss-prevention teams conduct regular tours observing people and spaces, ensuring equipment is up to snuff and access points are clear of hazards.

Marriott International maintains a separate fire-life-safety department, which is staffed by former firefighters, among others. The team reports directly to the CEO. Compliance is required prior to every hotel opening, and fire inspections are conducted annually by the municipal department and Marriott crew.

At The Westin Ottawa, six full-time, in-house security guards oversee the hotel’s safety committee. “We hire people as an extension of our guest service agent but with a focus on security and safety,” Meredith explains. They’re often individuals who want to learn loss prevention as a stepping-stone to another career in the hotel. These are not the guys with the biggest muscles, he clarifies. “It’s not our style. We’re all about taking proactive measures, about understanding where vulnerabilities are for the day and the week, planning on the types of guests that are coming and being aware of the potential risks.”

In a civic-minded city like Ottawa, says Meredith, the biggest threats a hotel should be protected against are political conferences on controversial subjects such as animal rights and sexual orientation. “We’re always aware of the potential for demonstrations or people trying to get into a closed meeting.”

That’s key. Always be prepared.


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