Boosting Travel Industry Security

Travel industry experts helps businesses learn how to prevent and manage crises.

By: Amy Langerfield

In an age of heightened risks of terrorism and a recent warning issued specifically for “soft targets” such as restaurants and hotels, leaders in the travel industry have set out to help businesses learn how to prevent and manage crises.

Hotels, for example, should have a crisis management team, routinely inventory their emergency supplies, know how to evacuate if fire or police are unavailable and educate staff to recognize indications of a potential problem.

That advice is among information distributed to New York City hotels, which have gained experience and refined their methods since the Sept. 11 attacks, anthrax scares and the massive August blackout.

Through seminars and its publication, Newsline, the Hotel Association of New York City has provided members with information on preventing incidents on property, handling problems if they arise and coping in the event the entire city is affected.

The National Restaurant Association also has increased efforts to protect the safety of food since Sept. 11 and reminds members that the things they would do to discourage an act of terrorism could also prevent things such as employee violence.

“Know your employees. Know who you’re hiring. Make sure the IDs are valid and do check references,” said Steven Grover, vice president of health and safety regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. “Limit access to the back rooms to the employees who do need access. ... A lot of these are common sense,” Grover said.

In October, the Washington Post reported on new threats to “soft targets” in the United States, including hotels, airports and restaurants.

The restaurant association is encouraging businesses to create security awareness around their building, install video cameras and good lighting and maintain clear visibility.

Following the August blackout, Jimmy Chin, chairman of the HANYC’s security and safety committee, advised members to review their emergency plans and focus on the basics.

Chin, who is also director of risk management for The Peninsula hotel, advises hotel officials to know who is on the property’s crisis management team and meet with them regularly as well as update mutual-aid agreements with other hotels.

Among advice: During an emergency, gather facts first and deliver the information to staff, guests and the hotel operator; be prepared to make decisions about shutting down the heating and air conditioning systems and whether to close the hotel to the public.

Also on his list, published for HANYC members in Newsline, is to “think out of the box.”

For example, when the blackout started it was unclear if the city was again under attack.

“One security director, in the absence of TV, used his Nextel phone to call the company’s Chicago hotel,” Chin wrote. “The Security Director there then confirmed that the blackout affecting NYC was not terrorist related.”

The hotel organization has advised its members to hold drills to be able to quickly lock down the hotel and shut down the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

The door staff should also be trained to recognize anything out of the ordinary.

Other members of the hotel staff should have enough training to help minimize panic during a crisis.

The New York hotel association has also offered meetings with leaders of the fire and police departments to understand their needs during an emergency.

Ideally, hotels should have a summary guide at the fire department and at the hotel that includes the population of the building, a site plan and floor plans with all stairwells marked in yellow, the location of standpipe risers, elevator risers, stairwell risers, ventilation risers and their configurations. The location of utility disconnects should also be marked.

Security advice for small business owners is available online from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at www.ready.

gov, but it does not yet have specific advice for the travel industry except for the airlines.

Since the DHS was created in March, its main priority has been the protection of critical infrastructure, which includes the airlines, said Donald Tighe, the DHS’ director of communication for information analysis and infrastructure protection.

The DHS has been meeting with the leaders of some travel industry groups to develop specific security guidelines, but that advice has not yet been completed.