Talk to any experienced risk consultant serving the global hotel industry, and undoubtedly they’ll tell you stories that would make any manager nervous.

“In regions where there are wars, it’s pretty much an iron camp,” says crime and risk consultant Chris Mathers of Toronto-based, Chris Mathers Inc. “Every piece of baggage is x-rayed — metal detectors, armed soldiers and bomb dogs are everywhere.”

While these sites may use security technologies and practices to the nth degree, that won’t cut it in Canada and the U.S. “Innkeepers are supposed to be welcoming people. It’s difficult to welcome someone if you’re frisking them like a bouncer in a nightclub,” Mathers jokes.

Geography plays a huge role in security planning, says Sean Ahrens, practice leader for Chicago-based Aon Risk Solutions, a security consulting and design service. “North American operations don’t have the same type of security concerns you might see in Africa. They don’t have a 500-member Al Qaeda group just down the street,” says Ahrens. “Or loose border controls that facilitate the transfer of weapons. We don’t have the components that equate to that type of threat.”

However, all hotels are vulnerable. “Wayward livestock could be a threat for a hotel located in the country; in a city it could be drug dealing, robbery or theft. If your hotel is located next to an embassy, you have much bigger threats and exposure. Put that hotel near a casino, and you have to start thinking about drunken people getting into fights,” says Ahrens.

The security story on North American grounds is about maintaining guest/ employee safety in terms of fire, theft and assault prevention, Mathers says. “The technology used is pretty much the standard stuff: CCTVs, panic alarms, locking systems, room safes, sprinkler systems, not things like facial recognition and IRIS and fingerprint readers, which can be very intrusive.” The big threats to North-American operations are incidents such as rapes, thefts, assaults and workplace violence, Ahrens notes. The key is learning how to control the largest number of threats that pose the greatest risk, thereby eliminating vulnerabilities.

The tricky part about justifying a security investment is there’s no measure of success, says Robert Mercure, GM, of Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City. “In this world, no news is good news. When nothing happens, that’s when you know things are going well.”

The biggest challenge is making security as seamless and unobtrusive as possible. “People want it, but when they see it they get spooked; but because they don’t see it, people don’t understand that it’s a big capital cost and requires ongoing investment,” says Mercure.

At the Frontenac, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent annually on everything from audits and emergency preparedness to upgrading systems and staff training, Mercure reports.

“Security is constantly evolving; systems are always being tested, and equipment such as alarm and sprinkler systems, require non-stop upgrades,” Mercure says. “We also work extensively with auditing firms to review systems and everyday procedures as well as conduct drills several times a year. And you can never repeat emergency procedures and safety training enough. It’s part of the orientation for new hires as well as ongoing departmental training,” he says. Additionally, the Emergency Preparedness Committee, comprised of representatives from different departments, meets regularly to review feedback from staff and guests.

Systems maintenance is absolutely critical in any security plan, asserts Mathers. “They don’t have to be state of the art. They just have to work. If you’re not spending money to maintain systems, then you’ll have liability issues if someone is assaulted and the camera is offline.”

An even bigger part of the security puzzle is the human factor. At the Frontenac in Quebec City, for example, staff training includes sensitizing employees to note and report unusual behaviour, such as guests checking in without luggage, paying cash for their rooms or wandering in areas they shouldn’t. “Every staff person should be trained to become your eyes and ears and be tuned in to what people are doing,” notes William H. Nesbitt, president of Security Management Services International in Newbury Park, Calif. “I always say, what’s better security — 100 cameras or 500 sets of eyes and ears … or both?”

Alternatively, Nesbitt says a significant portion of risk comes from employees, so hoteliers need to be just as concerned about securing their bar, loading areas, restaurants and gift shop operations, not to mention rooms accessed by maintenance and housekeeping personnel. Advanced camera technologies, with time and date stamping, and network card systems that allow hoteliers to investigate every door’s locking system are important, Nesbitt says. Yet even the best technologies can benefit from human reinforcement. “Technology should be an extension of your security [team]. Any cameras for common areas should be watched live, for example, so you can identify suspicious behaviours and be proactive.”

From the early days of the first digital alarm systems, technology was designed to minimize staff requirements, Ahrens says. “There have been phenomenal developments in [areas] like Internet protocol-based cameras, digital safes and electronic keys. But, in reality, they’re value-adds. Technology is only one part of a program that encompasses physical, operational and technical security,” Ahrens emphasizes. “The best sensor on the planet is one that has the capability to detect when something is not right. And that’s a human being.”

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