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Hotel safety and security: managing risk at a home away from home

Recent high profile attacks on international hotels in Mali and Burkina Faso highlight the severe and persistent threat of terrorism for those staying in hotels around the world.  Beyond these high profile events, fire, natural disaster and crime are also potential risks globally.  For today’s global workforce, using hotels for overnight stays, meetings and events is a necessity, so it’s important for organizations and travelers to put in place the measures and resources to manage the risks.

Specific risk management strategies will vary based on location and risk, but some general best practices include:

  • Limit time — to the extent possible — in the lobby or near the entrance. These are o
  • ften the first areas impacted by any terrorism and are areas targeted by criminals.
  • Be discrete in sharing information about where you’re staying, especially hotel room number.
  • Keep valuables out of sight and secured.
  • Know the rooms numbers of other travelers in your group.
  • Lock the deadbolt and chain or wishbone mechanism whenever you’re in the the room.  In areas with a greater risk of forced entry, consider using a wedge doorstop to prevent someone from entering — but remember to remove it in the event of an emergency exit.
  • Use the peephole to screen anyone at your door. Call the front desk to confirm any unexpected maintenance or other visitors. Avoid meetings in your room.

While precise emergency response will depend on the details of an incident, anecdotal media reporting highlights two best practices following the attacks in Ouagadougou and Bamako:

  • Identify location of emergency exits — from overnight rooms, restaurants, gym, meeting space, etc. If traveling in a group select a meeting point outside the hotel in the event of a building evacuation. During the attack on the Radisson Blu in Bamako, a hotel visitor leaving gym was starting to enter the lobby when he realized an attack was ongoing. Remembering an exit from the gym, the visitor was able to escape the hotel unharmed.
  • In the event of explosions or small arms fire, move away from windows and put as many walls between you and the outside.  During an “active shooter” type event, if in your room, lock the door, move to the bathroom, silence phone and communicate with emergency point of contact. Several media reports tell the story of a US development worker at the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou who followed that guidance upon learning of the attack.  In both that attack and the 2014 attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, communication with professional security emergency contacts ensured information about the status and location of those trapped inside the hotels was passed along to security forces on the scene.

For those looking to more systematically assess safety and security at hotels, the Hotel Security and Safety Assessment Form developed jointly by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) is a valuable resource.  Designed largely for use by management (esp security, operations or event managers), the comprehensive form provides background on context along with a series of checklists for evaluating key safety and security elements.

And for those who haven’t heard of OSAC, it’s an incredible resource for information and peer networking on safety and security, with a wide range of reports, analysis and incident data.  Sector specific working groups provide opportunities for focused discussion and info sharing.  A public-private partnership between the State Department and the private sector, OSAC membership is free to any US based company or organization.

Hotels are an integral part of the global travel — home away from home, temporary workspace and event venues. Managing risk at hotels is essential for global travelers, from initial assessments and decisions where to stay, to day to day security and emergency response. Travel safe.