It’s not usually advertised on hotel websites as an added amenity, but crisis planning is a behind-the-scenes function that cannot be overlooked.
Leo Manos, director of Security at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto, explains that technology can help facilitate a safe and secure hotel. “I was really impressed with my initial introduction to the Trump Hotel because of the number of cameras, for starters,” Manos says. While most commercial buildings only have approximately 120 cameras installed, the Trump Hotel has 250. “They are all IP-based on a Lenal system with video analytics, which makes monitoring a lot easier.” The technology does not just rely on human observation, but enhances it. For example, if there is an “intrusion” where there shouldn’t be one, a camera will register that and ring an alarm. Manos currently works with 11 other security staff to monitor a control room where all cameras are viewed in real time.
“This level of surveillance doesn’t prevent every unforeseen threat,” explains Manos. “But it’s an excellent start, especially when managing VIP guests, such as celebrities or government officials.” The security expert has a long history with developing safety plans and policies. Prior to his current position at Trump Hotel, Manos worked at the buildings that housed CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and The Hazelton Hotel in Toronto’s Yorkville area, where he became familiar with the whims of the rich and famous. “TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) was an event that brought a lot of celebrity guests to the Hazelton, so we were always on high alert for trespassers,” he explains.
Manos insists that operational plans are key to guaranteeing the safety and security of any hotel. “It doesn’t have to be a thick document,” he says. “But it needs to be substantial and constantly updated to take into account possible new threats.” A strong relationship with local police can help hoteliers remain up-to-date on new or possible upcoming security threats, as well. For Toronto, this could include warnings about the Pan Am Games and the large population influx, and accompanying risks, the city will be facing this July.
When developing a comprehensive plan, Manos advises partnering with the hotel’s engineering team to find out where back-up generators are located in the building. “The director of security can’t know everything,” he laughs. “So it’s important to see yourself as part of a team. No one knows the building structure better than the engineers who devised it. So it’s essential you reach out for expert knowledge when required.”
Dr. Zhen Lu, associate professor, Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Toronto’s Ryerson University, and expert in strategic management, conducted a study (“Innovations in Hotel Administration in Canada,” The Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes Journal, 2013) on how Canadian hotels manage and prepare for various crises. There are a number of unexpected or unforeseen events that can impact a hotel, says Lu. “Just look at the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. But still, it is imperative that a hotel prepare for emergencies as much as possible.”
Lu’s research confirms those hotels with a thorough and evolving strategic management plan in place are poised to handle a crisis most efficiently. That is, only if it does not sit on the shelf collecting dust. “The only way that staff can become familiar with the document and the procedures within it is if they are trained on a regular basis. Training all staff is an essential component to risk management,” notes Lu.
Brian Campbell, director of Security at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, concedes. “I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to train your staff. I keep a spreadsheet of all staff to keep track of who I have trained and in what procedure or operational plan.” Campbell says every hotel should have a range of operational procedures based on the various threats posed — from the location of the particular hotel, a property assessment, a neighbourhood assessment, as well as a look at worldwide trends. “I may not have a terrorist plan, as these vary considerably, but I will have an evacuation plan, a lockdown plan — for example, if there is a gunman in the neighbourhood or another security threat — and a power outage plan.”
He recalls the November 2014 windstorm, for example. “It’s a totally new kind of natural threat and yet, we knew exactly what we had to do.” Campbell says on a building made of glass, there is always a risk of unsecured panels falling, so the property was under constant surveillance for this possibility. Furthermore, Campbell had staff remove all furniture and accessories from balconies, as well as relocate vehicles that were on the property. The wind was so strong, there was no predicting what might fall onto their windshields.
Extreme weather aside, something as simple as a missing child is a safety concern, which every staff member should know how to handle beforehand. “How often do you hear about a child and mother getting on an elevator when the mother turns to pick up her bags and the doors shut with the child on the other side?” exclaims Campbell. “Do staff know what to do in this instance? They should.”
To ensure staff competency, Campbell says every plan has to be drilled on a regular basis. When asked how often training occurs, he answers “literally every single day.” He says it’s also crucial to debrief with all staff after any disaster. “Whether it’s housekeeping or an executive manager, this is a team approach and everyone’s opinion matters. You want to ask, what part of this plan worked for you? What failed? Feedback will help to refine the plan you already have in place and make it even better.”
Campbell notes the Four Seasons is equipped with hundreds of cameras; however, the people on the frontlines and behind the scenes ensure the building and guest safety. “The burglar isn’t going to come in with a nylon mask,” he jokes. “He comes in a suit and takes a purse that’s left unattended. Theft has really changed since I started in the business in 1986.” Thieves are less easily identified and blend in more; they act and dress as if they belong in the hotel.
Campbell also says he has a separate security plan for single, female travellers. “We’re always in touch with local police on what’s happening in the local bar scene.” For example, police picked up on the trend of drink tampering and informed
Campbell of an increase in incidents. For this reason, it was crucial to train all wait staff to be especially vigilant when women are drinking alone. “I might train wait staff to look for altered behaviour in a female guest or if a woman is incoherent, for example. In this case, we would intervene and make sure no one was ushering her into a taxi or something of that nature.”
No staff member is dispensable when it comes to securing the safety of a hotel, just as each and every guest remains a top priority. “That one occasional staff [member] that has not yet been trained is your weakest link in the operational plan,” warns Campbell. Alternatively, it may be that one occasional employee who ends up saving someone’s life. “That’s why when it comes to safety, each staff [member] is equally valuable towards averting a crisis.”
Written By: Jennifer Febbraro
Volume 27, Number 5