Preparing for the Worst: Active Shooters in Hospitality

    As we begin to approach the one-year anniversary of the October 1st incident in Las Vegas, the concern of mass acts of violence in hospitality venues continues to increase. As we’ve seen across the world, hotels have been, and will continue to be, targets of opportunity for those looking to seek media coverage and fame at the cost of numerous lives.

    What has your hotel or venue done in the months since October 1st to increase security; both in preventing these incidents, as well as responding to them? When was the last time the emergency policy and procedures were reviewed? The last staff training to recognize pre-incident signs? Take a few moments to consider some of the following as it relates to your property:

    Policy and Procedures: An annual review of the emergency policy and procedures plan should be conducted and noted within the policy as “last reviewed.” Ensure there are policy exemptions for breaking windows or damaging property if employees or guests need to escape a room, allowing for physical violence in the event an employee may need to physical overcome an attacker by throwing items, using a fire extinguisher, etc. and have multiple rally points around the property in the event of an evacuation. Identify more than one area surrounding your property that may work best to evacuate guests and take into consideration the needs of ADA guests who will need to have assistance.

    Notification: Identify and test “all-call” systems to ensure speakers work throughout the property. Have scripts prepared ahead of time to notify guests of the situation. The use of codes or anything other than plain language should be avoided. A notification similar to:

    “Attention! Attention! There is an emergency situation (at/in the/near) _________. Stay away from the area!”

    Do not add verbiage such as “This is not a drill” or give detailed instructions. This often can be muffled, and people may be confused. All they may here is “This is… drill…shelter…” Short, simple and concise alerts should include location of the incident, so guests can best determine their response. Staying in a guest room, escaping from a meeting room or finding their way to the back-of-the-house may all be appropriate depending on the location of the threat and the guest.

    Training: Ensure ALL staff have been trained in how to respond to violent situations, as well as the signs leading up to an event. Any employee could be the first to overhear, see, or encounter a violent individual. Guests will be looking to anyone in a uniform or with a nametag for direction.

    Guest Movement: Containing or collecting numerous guests into a meeting or ballroom may not be the best response in a violent situation inside of a hotel. Allowing guests to scatter, evacuate or hide in various areas is safer than having a large number of people in one confined area. The overall safety of guests confined in one area now relies on that room’s doors, locks, barricade, or security officers protecting the area. Failing to property secure ALL entry points to that room allows for the possibility of mass casualties in the event the perpetrator is able to gain access to the room, as everyone is in one place and may not be able to get out. Have large signage or arrows in the back-of-the-house pointing to the nearest exits. Guests who may find themselves in these areas after escaping violence will be confused in the maze of hallways.

    Practice: The importance of practicing the policy, procedures, and training cannot be emphasized enough. This is often the critical missing component of most emergency plans. Walking the property and checking doors that may be locked preventing escape, discovering a table is too heavy to be moved to barricade a door, and numerous other issues can be discovered in a controlled environment, rather than during a crisis. From tabletop exercise discussions to physically practicing on a floor or area of a property, practice a response! Simulate a guest who is wheelchair bound and needs assistance leaving a high floor ADA room, attempt to escape out of a meeting room solely through the back-of-the-house or try to move a desk in front of a door in a confined office, all of these scenarios offer the chance for learning and to reinforce skills. The use of surprise drills is not recommended nor should be conducted for safety reasons. Ensure there is discussion before and after the drills of everyone involved to receive feedback and make any changes necessary to the policy or the property. Also, remember to record all trainings and drills with who participated, date and time, area of the hotel, and also any issues discovered during the drill.

    While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should begin the conversation of what is currently being done and what still NEEDS to be done. As hoteliers and hospitality professionals, there are already a million things on our plate that take up our time on a daily basis. Engaging in safety and security planning quite often falls to the bottom, that is, of course, until there is an emergency. Just as we prepare for our guests, we also need to prepare for their safety, as well as our own.