Security challenges: A hotel is not an airport

Metal detectors in an airportIn an effort to create a safe and secure environment for guests and hotel employees, some hotels are installing screening devices like you find at airports for screening passengers and suitcases.

When a hotel decides to protect their property with an X-ray machine and metal detector gate at the main entrance, it does not guarantee protection from terrorist attacks and it comes at a high cost to the hotel.

A hotel property is significantly different to an airport terminal. The main difference between the two is that the airport draws a clear line between the GAT (air side) area and the passenger side. All access points are secured and monitored 24 hours. All cargo, vehicles, luggage, crew and passengers are screened when crossing the borderline. Access to the GAT area is only possible with permission and every person is verified. Separate screening for guests with disability is arranged and is carried out by professional teams.

Securing a zone of a hotel

Hotels may host high profile events in a conference area, for example. Prior to such an event, security specialists can undertake physical security surveys of the event zone and together with local law enforcement identify weak areas and recommend solutions to create a security zone. Security specialists have the experience in how to secure a particular area in a building and make it a safe zone.

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Once all access ways to the security zone are locked down, canine units sweep the area before it’s given the all clear.

Screening devices that detect guns and explosive substances, located at the entrance or entrances to the security zone, make sense and are indispensable.

The complexity in securing a hotel

Securing the whole hotel property is far more complex then it seems at first sight. Screening in a hotel, like an airport terminal, is not practicable for several reasons and, therefore often incomplete. The following needs to be considered:

  1. There is often more than one access route into the building. While this can be reduced to a minimum, all entrances will require manned screening devices. The screening devices require specially trained security staff to conduct the screening and would need to be manned 24/7.
  2. Without exception, all hotel employees and contractors, and any bags they carry, should be screened whenever they enter the hotel property.
  3. Suitcases are just one item on the list that need to be screened. To properly secure a hotel, all goods coming into the hotel through the loading bay need to be screened as well. This includes the laundry, beverages, food, parcels and other delivery items that are necessary to run a hotel.
  4. When having metal detectors in use to screen guests before entering the hotel, it is important that a procedure for guests with a disability is in place.
  5. Screening devices and a complete lock down procedure can cause inconvenience to guests. If a hotel is located in a high-risk territory, then guests would understand the security measures.
  6. Is there a policy in place that details the procedure to follow when an explosive substance has been detected? Does the entire management team know this procedure?
  7. In some hotels today you can find bomb blast rooms where screening devices are installed. If an explosive device is found and goes off in this room it protects the rest of the building from an explosion.
  8. Metal detectors detect only metal and not explosive substances.

What must be additionally considered are the X-ray machines themselves. X-ray machines used in Hotels are usually not suitable for screening suitcases. They are built for carry-on luggage only.

Airports use much bigger X-rays, for example, the HI-SCAN 100100V-2is or the HI-SCAN 16580si from Smiths Detections, to X-ray suitcases. The weight of each of these larger X-ray engines varies between 650 kg – 1050 kg and the machine often does not fit through a regular door. Most X-ray machines of this size are made for static use only. Moving it to another location is not easy.

In many countries X-rays need to be licensed because of the radioactive material inside the engine. Should an engine be moved, it can result in the loss of the licence. A hotel should check with their local government for compliance requirements prior to installing an X-ray. However, even if registration is not required in a particular country, an X-ray is a potential radioactive risk. Hotels then have a duty of care to their employees to prevent potential harm from this risk.

Lock down

When there is an increase of the threat level, if hotel policy is to lock down and have X-ray machines and metal detectors in place instantly, it is often difficult to send in canine services in every room of the hotel and check every item/package etc. for explosive substances. This would lead to an intrusion of privacy of every checked-in guest in the hotel, if the guests have not yet been screened.

However, this is what is necessary to build a security zone in a hotel. For example, when setting up a secure zone, such as what happens when there is a high-risk conference or event, canine services sweep the security zone prior to allowing persons to enter.

While guest security is paramount, the inconvenience and intrusion into a guest’s privacy during a lock down may result in loss of business for the hotel. The guest may, in the future, book into another hotel.

The future of hotel security

Securing a whole hotel is complex and, with the philosophy of hospitality, difficult to combine and find the right balance. Security in a hotel should be of high importance and to a high standard. At the same time security measures introduced should be both effective and balanced so as to not lead to any loss of business for the hotel.

Consistency and process mastering make a security concept successful. I believe counter surveillance, covert screening and high-risk security awareness training as counter terrorism security methods that will replace the X-ray machine and metal detector in hotels in the future.

About the author

Stefan Vito HillerStefan Vito Hiller is the Founder & Managing Director of Sky Touch – Global Hotel Security Consulting. He has over 20 years international experience in the hotel industry, including five years specifically in security.

His hotel experience includes rooms division management, pre-opening, fire, health & safety, risk management & cost control. He has worked for leading hotel brands in Munich, Frankfurt, Bremen, Berlin, Cork, Edinburgh and Doha in the Middle East.

He graduated in 2002 as a Hotel Management Consultant at the Steigenberger Hotel Management School. He gained valuable experience as a Cost Controller at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers at Frankfurt Airport. He worked three years in Ireland where he built on his experience as a former volunteer fire officer and became a qualified IOSH Health & Safety Officer. He effectively combined the field of Health & Safety with his Assistant Manager positions.

Stefan now consults to hotels to implement innovative and affordable strategies to raise their level of security to meet growing global demands.

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