Hotels and Violent Protest – An Intelligence-led Approach

External events can turn guests into threats Major events are often scheduled in advance A major event plan that includes threat assessments, mitigation measures, and training helps ensure a safe, secure, and comfortable operation

In the aftermath of the dramatic events that unfolded in Washington DC on January 6th, images emerged of unmasked, flag-waving guests in the public spaces in a hotel from a major chain. The hotel faced a backlash on social media, with postings accusing them of comforting persons who participated in the Capitol Hill protests, and for not enforcing mandated face masking and social distancing requirements.

As private businesses, hotels are, for the most part, free to choose who they allow on their premises and most have “house rules” that guests and visitors are obliged to follow. In their statement following the online attention, the hotel mentioned they were in contact with local authorities and followed up on their protocols including reminding people to wear masks, providing masks to those who didn’t have them, and requiring those who didn’t want to comply to remain in their rooms or to vacate the premises.

A number of social media postings urged the hotel to remove the people that were shown in pictures on the internet, but, what opportunities do hotels have in circumstances like those we saw in DC last week apart from what was mentioned in the hotel response?

3 Keys to Preparation for Large Events

As with all security measures, preparing for events like the ones that took place on January 6, starts long before the event is scheduled. In order to have access to accurate and timely threat assessments, hotels need to have:

  1. A good liaison program centered on industry colleagues, law enforcement, and others that can help them keep their fingers on the pulse and detect emerging issues that could threaten their safe operation.
  2. An assessment system that needs to be reviewed critically in the lead up to major events, so scenarios can be evaluated, and mitigation measures put in place and tested.
  3. Mitigation measures that go far beyond hiring an extra security guard or two and that can include physical upgrades, adapting staffing levels in all departments, as well as changing internal policies and house rules.

Look to Other Events for Examples of Successful Mitigation

A situation that is less of a threat against a country’s government, but that can be personally almost as frightening when you’re in the midst of it, is something I experienced during my early days in hotel security when rival teams of soccer hooligans would show up for cup final weekend. Fights between rival gangs could erupt on short notice in public spaces, bars, restaurants, and guest rooms, and as responding security officers we’d be met with flying bottles, chairs, and sometimes teeth when we arrived to intervene.

A measure that was later implemented and proved successful in mitigating potential altercations was to adapt the hotel’s guest care guidance to embrace measures to mitigate escalating boisterous guest behavior, group rowdiness, display of banners, flags, etc. It had a measurable and calming effect.

  • If violence is expected in the vicinity, removing things that could be used as weapons or to cause damage from the immediate area around the hotel can help limit risk.
  • When chaos erupts outside the hotel premises, being able to swiftly lock the property down and restrict access to employees and registered guests only is another measure to consider.

In short, awareness of emerging risks and advance planning for expected events are always critical components of preparedness. Many times, events that could pose an increased threat to people and operations are known long in advance and they bring with them a rise in some specific risks.

A couple of examples from my own career include knowing that the risks of bomb threats and property damage increase when contentious political protests or events are expected. This was included in our major event planning package and allowed us to review bomb threat procedures, ensure they were up to date, and train the staff. The event plan ensured that an agreement was in place for safe evacuation to a secure location nearby. At one hotel a threat came in and led to a full evacuation of the premises. Afterwards, staff expressed gratitude because they had been well-prepared, unsurprised, and able to calmly and confidently carry out their procedures. 

In a separate event, we determined the location of a hotel to be in an area where property damage was a risk because it was along a likely route for protests and demonstrations. Because planning started early, protective shutters could be installed for quick release in front of street-facing windows, a plan to close the outdoor patio and remove furniture and other items was in place, as was a plan to use a side entrance and shutter the main entrance at short notice if necessary. The hotel was one of the few buildings along the protest route that was undamaged and back in full operation, including the patio, less than 24 hours after violence and destruction ravaged the city centre.

Intelligence is Critical

Intelligence is key to good threat awareness and thanks to technological advances, affordable platforms are increasingly available that can provide real-time reporting on developments in proximity to the hotel, by enabling live monitoring of fast-breaking, dynamically developing incidents such as demonstrations, protests, and riots that are in proximity to the hotel or a geographically defined perimeter around the hotel.  Such tools can be especially helpful in such situations – by enabling the timely activation of lock-down and other protective measures when potentially dangerous activity moves in closer proximity to the hotel.

A Trained and Professional Staff Can Overcome Negative Events

The journalist who was harassed and threatened in the hotel on January 6th commended the staff for intervening, preventing harm, and managing the situation in a very professional manner. It’s very likely the hotel was well managed, had a trained staff, and a plan tailored to what they could expect to face. 

Armchair experts on social media base their judgements on a limited number of pictures and posts. While it may seem a simple solution to cancel bookings, shutter your doors and hope for the best, in many cases involving major events, that’s not a viable or desirable option for hotels.

Having a major event security plan that can be activated as soon as an event is scheduled allows you to make the most of the time you have available to prepare and maintain safe, secure, and comfortable operations for guests and staff even during extra challenging days. 

Questions for Consideration

  1. Do you have a major event security plan that includes all departments?
  2. What liaison with local authorities and hotel industry colleagues do you have to keep abreast of planned events, emerging threats and ongoing incidents?
  3. Do your evacuation plans end on the street or do they include the possibility of safely moving evacuees to a secure location?

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