Hospitality Risk

What the Vegas Shooting Means for Hotel Security

Hospitality may eventually be compelled to adopt airport-style security measures, but for now training is key to prevention.
By: | October 19, 2017 • 6 min read

Movie theaters, schools, nightclubs, work functions… these are places where no one expects violence to break out, but where mass shooters chose to carry out their crimes. With the shooting in Las Vegas, executed from a suite in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the hotel industry now joins that list.

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The hospitality sector has long been acknowledged as a soft target, relatively unprotected from shootings, terror attacks and other types of violence. To some degree, that’s not likely to change. Hotels face unique challenges in crafting security plans. They need to have enough visible security to make guests feel safe, but not alarmed. They need to identify and investigate suspicious behavior while respecting patrons’ privacy.

“There’s a fine balance between having security onsite at a hotel and invading guests’ personal space or causing concern,” said Christian Ryan, U.S. Hospitality and Gaming Practice leader, Marsh.

However, some believe that the latest incident, which claimed 59 lives, will spark a culture change. Guests may become more comfortable with and even expect armed guards and metal detectors. They may not mind having their bags scanned if they recognize it could prevent another attack.

Lance Ewing, EVP, Global Risk Management at Cotton Holdings Inc., said that Americans tend to see safety as a right and often take it for granted.

“People in other countries don’t necessarily take safety for granted. In some European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries, hotels are already using armed guards and metal detectors. Some have bomb-sniffing dogs in the lobby. Some take your bags when you arrive, scan them and deliver them right to your room so you don’t even touch them once you enter the building,” he said.

“Are we ready for those measures in the U.S.?”

Ryan said that scanning luggage could be the “next evolution” of hotel security.

“People in other countries don’t necessarily take safety for granted. In some European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries, hotels are already using armed guards and metal detectors. Some have bomb-sniffing dogs in the lobby.” — Lance Ewing, EVP, Global Risk Management, Cotton Holdings Inc.

“Some propositions are in the works for hotels to start scanning bags, though it’s not likely in the near future,” he said. “The public may demand some extra security in light of the events in Las Vegas, and there could be legislation down the road.”

Christian Ryan
U.S. Hospitality and Gaming Practice Leader, Marsh

Advanced technology like facial recognition software may also play a larger role in threat identification. So far, development of that technology has focused on making the travel experience more pleasant for hotel guests. Recognizing and keeping tabs on a guest tips the hotel off to his or her particular preferences — what type of drink does he like; what kind of amenities might she be interested in?

But it could also be used to “cross-reference databases to conduct background checks and look for criminal histories,” Ryan said. That could help to counteract the fact that express and mobile
check-in capabilities — also a product of technological advancement — reduce interaction between hotel staff and guests, making it tougher to spot suspicious behavior.

Of course, not every person looking to cause harm will have a criminal history, or at least not one that will raise red flags at the front desk.

Bo Mitchell, founder and president of 911 Consulting, said that often the perpetrators of mass shootings and other high-profile attacks “look like your uncle, your cousin, your sibling,” and that facial recognition software “can’t recognize crazy.”

“You can’t stop these attacks committed by unstable people. Your obligation is to respond to them,” he said.

Adoption of tougher security will depend on a hotel’s type, location, and clientele. Resorts and casinos that aim to entertain as much as to provide accommodation will draw larger crowds than simpler hotels that primarily serve business travelers, airport layovers or people en route to somewhere else.

Current Practices and Challenges

None of this should suggest, however, that hospitality companies haven’t already invested heavily in security and crisis management.

“Safety and security have always been a linchpin of hospitality, and the majority of hotels are extremely safe places,” Ewing said.

Most security planning is and will continue to be focused on training staff to identify suspicious behavior and respond appropriately — though it may be kicked up a notch.

Bo Mitchell, founder and president, 911 Consulting

Housekeeping staff plays a key role in noticing anything suspicious in a guest’s room, including weapons, drugs, extra wires, signs of human trafficking, or an unusually large amount of luggage. They can also keep tabs on how long a guest has kept their ‘do not disturb’ sign on the doorknob.

“How long can someone leave up a ‘do not disturb’ sign? If they’re staying for a week and no one’s been in the room, that should be a red flag,” Ryan said.

Active shooter training is also a mainstay of hospitality risk management, and has been since Columbine put mass shooting on everyone’s radar.

“Chances are if someone notices something suspicious, other people have too. But you can’t put those pieces of the puzzle together if you haven’t trained employees to say something.” — Michelle Colosimo, director, BlackSwan Solutions

High turnover rates make it difficult to get that training to stick, however, and hotels have to continually bring new employees up to speed. Ewing also noted that at some franchise hotels owned by flagship hospitality companies, training doesn’t always “trickle down” to the housekeeping and food and beverage staff as it should. Mitchell has also observed a lack of emergency training among hotels employees, even though such training is required by OSHA.

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“The leadership level might know what to look for and what actions to take, but that needs to be pushed down through the ranks,” said Michelle Colosimo, director, BlackSwan Solutions. “And people need to comfortable airing their concerns, without worrying if they’ll be perceived as overreacting or be retaliated against. Chances are if someone notices something suspicious, other people have too. But you can’t put those pieces of the puzzle together if you haven’t trained employees to say something.”

Hotels typically work closely with local police departments, who in many cases will provide active shooter training for free if requested, Marsh’s Ryan said.

“The magnitude of people that come in and out of the casinos and hotels in Las Vegas requires a robust security force, and heads of security are in close contact with police,” he said.

Open carry laws that vary state by state have always posed a challenge, but could complicate security policies going forward.

What Lies Ahead

Las Vegas police have generally been credited with good instincts and fast response in locating the shooter on the 32nd floor. But other reports cite slow communication between hotel staff and officers. Could better planning have prevented loss of life?

Michelle Colosimo, director, Black Swan Solutions

“Security in some ways runs counter to the culture of a hotel. They want to embrace, nourish and nurture their guests. No one wants to think about bullets and bodies,” Mitchell said.

“Active shooter scenarios are not necessarily the types of events venues are preparing for. It’s a risk you take on that you expect to be small, but that can have huge implications,” Black Swan’s Colosimo said.

High profile locations with casinos and entertainment venues, or those close to concert halls, arenas, parades or other gathering places will need to expand their security scope to include non-traditional threats.

Hospitality companies can look to other sectors for lessons learned. Universities, for example, have been targeted in several shootings.

“They have the job of training students, staff and security police, but it’s not invasive. You don’t see armed guards standing at the entrance of every lecture hall. They’ve developed some best practices that could be introduced into the hospitality space,” Ryan said.

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One of those best practices is a mass alert or notification system. Universities can notify students and staff of everything from a school closing to active shooter or shelter-in place situation via text message. Likewise, hotels could employ such a system to remind employees what to do in the event of an emergency – whether they should shelter-in-place or evacuate and where to go.

“You don’t think as clearly in a crisis situation as you do when you’re calm. Having that alert that tells you what to do or where to go can help you make a decision,” Colosimo said. “You can also segment those messages to send different communications specifically to your crisis response team if you want to. Managing your communication channels is key.”

Some industry experts compared upcoming changes in hospitality risk management to the response by airports after the 9/11 attacks. Security got noticeably tighter, and has become a fact of life. But the changes were not always made quickly, and it took time for the public to adjust. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

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R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

Autumn Heisler is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]