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

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

As a professor of business, Jack Hampton knows firsthand the positive impact education has on risk managers as they tackle growing risks.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Ellen Thrower, president (retired), The College of Insurance, introduced me to the importance of insurance as a component of risk management. Further, she encouraged me to explore strategic and operational risk as foundation topics shaping the role of the modern risk manager.

Chris Mandel, former president of RIMS and Risk Manager of the Year, introduced me to the emerging area of enterprise risk management. He helped me recognize the need to align hazard, strategic, operational and financial risk into a single framework. He gave me the perspective of ERM in a high-tech environment, using USAA as a model program that later won an excellence award for innovation.

Bob Morrell, founder and former CEO of Riskonnect, showed me how technology could be applied to solving serious risk management and governance problems. He created a platform that made some of my ideas practical and extended them into a highly-successful enterprise that served risk and governance management needs of major corporations.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

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From a background in corporate finance and commercial banking, I accepted the position of provost of The College of Insurance. Recognizing my limited prior knowledge in the field, I became a student of insurance and risk management leading to authorship of books on hazard and financial risk. This led to industry consulting, as well as to the development of graduate-level courses and concentrations in MBA programs.

R&I: What was your first job?

The provost position was the first job I had in the industry, after serving as dean of the Seton Hall University School of Business and founding The Princeton Consulting Group. Earlier positions were in business development with Marine Transport Lines, consulting in commercial banking and college professorships.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Creating a risk management concentration in the MBA program at Saint Peter’s, co-founding the Russian Risk Management Society (RUSRISK), and writing “Fundamentals of Enterprise Risk Management” and the “AMA Handbook of Financial Risk Management.”

A few years ago, I expanded into risk management in higher education. From 2017 into 2018, Rowman and Littlefield published my four books that address risks facing colleges and universities, professors, students and parents.

Jack Hampton, Professor of Business, St. Peter’s University

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

The Godfather. I see it as a story of managing risk, even as the behavior of its leading characters create risk for others.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Jameson’s Irish whiskey. Mixed with a little ice, it is a serious rival for Johnny Walker Gold scotch and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Mount Etna, Taormina, and Agrigento, Sicily. I actually supervised an MBA program in Siracusa and learned about risk from a new perspective.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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Army Airborne training and jumping out of an airplane. Fortunately, I never had to do it in combat even though I served in Vietnam.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

George C. Marshall, one of the most decorated military leaders in American history, architect of the economic recovery program for Europe after World War II, and recipient of the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. For Marshall, it was not just about winning the war. It was also about winning the peace.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Sharing lessons with colleagues and students by writing, publishing and teaching. A professor with a knowledge of risk management does not only share lessons. The professor is also a student when MBA candidates talk about the risks they manage every day.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

Sensitizing for-profit, nonprofit and governmental agencies to the exposures and complexities facing their organizations. Sometimes we focus too much on strategies that sound good but do not withstand closer examination. Risk managers help organizations make better decisions.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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Developing executive training programs to help risk managers assume C-suite positions in organizations. Insurance may be a good place to start but so is an MBA degree. The Risk and Insurance Management Society recognizes the importance of a wide range of risk knowledge. Colleges and universities need to catch up with RIMS.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk and its impact on hazard, operational and financial strategies. A terrorist can take down a building. A cyber-criminal can take down much more.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

My family members think I’m a professor. They do not seem to be too interested in my views on risk management.




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