On October 1, police entered Stephen Paddock’s 32nd floor-room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and found at least 17 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The 64-year-old used the weapons to fire at a crowd of concertgoers below, killing over 50 people and injuring more than 500. The event became the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Among the many questions that this shooting rampage triggered was: How was the suspect able to bring an arsenal of weapons past security and into his room? And should there be more stringent hotel security measures in place?
Hotels in this story
According to Christopher Johnston, Attorney at Law & Certified Lodging Security Director, it’s extremely difficult to have standardized security measures in the hotel industry, due to the diverse types and locations of the properties, which range from mom-and-pop boutique hotels to 1,000-plus-room behemoths found in major cities.
Implementing X-ray machines, metal detectors, and other security equipment, like those in airports and concert venues, would require purchasing the equipment, training the current and new staff, maintaining the machines, and not to mention, buy-in from the guests. “I suspect it would be challenging for the first few handfuls of hotels who got into baggage screening to have guests accept this security measure,” says Johnston. “Dissatisfaction could lead to guests choosing other ‘less invasive’ properties. However, if there was industry wide buy-in and participation, guests would likely, eventually, become accustomed to these upgraded security measures.” Some travelers might also view this type of security tactic as a positive, which could in turn bump up occupancy numbers for some hotels.
But this concept of installing X-ray machines and metal detectors in hotels is unfortunately nothing new. In some countries, where hotels have been targets, security has already reached this level of intensity. In 2008, terrorists bombed two hotels in Mumbai as well as attacked other areas around the city. Following these events, major hotel chains like Marriott, Taj, and Accor began using explosive trace detectors and X-ray systems throughout the country, according to The New York Times. One hotel in New Delhi even set up face-recognition software that allowed employees to identify visitors as they approached the property. Egypt, Indonesia, and Israel are other countries that have also adopted a more complex screening process for hotel guests.
But is extra security equipment enough to prevent future attacks? In 2009, the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta was the target of a suicide bombing. Though the hotel had metal detectors in place, the attackers were able to evade it all.
“The problem of the current discussion is that it is reactive,” says Pascal Michel, Managing Director at SmartRiskSolutions, a risk and crisis management consultancy. “Something like Las Vegas happens and suddenly technical solutions are discussed, just mitigating against a specific scenario. The hospitality and tourism industry is aimed at giving customers a feeling of freedom. Transforming a hotel into a ‘Fort Knox’ is against the tourism industry philosophy.” Michel also points out that technical solutions, like X-ray machines and metal detectors, are only as good as the staff using and supervising the equipment.
The bottom line is hotels are vastly different than airports, as the latter has only one point of entry. At hotels, guests will enter and exit several times a day, and thus, having metal detectors or X-ray machines for every person could prove difficult.
It’s worth nothing that some hotels already have their own policies surrounding firearms. For example, guests of some Hyatt hotels “who lawfully are permitted to possess a firearm, may bring such firearm onto hotel premises for storage purposes only.”
Michel notes that behavioral profiling — not racial profiling — is one security measure hotels should take. “The aim is to spot the potential perpetrator by looking for clues and suspicious indicators,” he says. “X-ray [machines] and metal detectors are aimed at detecting the weapon, which is less effective, as many attacks show.”
Todd Madison, an associate managing director at K2 Intelligence with 25 years of experience with the United States Secret Service, says, “Hotels should train all employees on how to be vigilant in looking for suspicious signs or unusual behavior. They should be the eyes and ears. For example, if a bellman grabs a bag that is not appropriate for that location’s climate or regional activities, that is a sign. A large ski equipment bag does not belong at a beach location. If a single guest checks in with several bags and requests that the room should not be cleaned, that is something out of the ordinary that should be investigated.” Michel points out, however, that “X-ray screening may have detected the weapons in the Las Vegas case.”
Johnston also raises up the issue of liability. “Even if a property could easily afford to implement an [X-ray and metal detector] system, they would need to look long and hard at liability issues that would arise should they use the machines and fail to spot an item that is then used in a crime,” he says.
While there are varying degrees of hotel security practices in the U.S., most properties currently follow (or should follow) a similar set of safety measures, according to Johnston. For example, the meet-and-greet, in which hotel staff engages with each guest and asks questions about their stay, is not only beneficial for scoring customer service points and offering a more pleasurable stay, but also in helping determine whether that person should be on the property, says Johnston.
Johnston also points to the numerous camera options available, each with different functionalities. “There are cameras available that can sense movement, and then provide an alert to hotel staff,” he says. Some hotels use on-site security (uniformed and not) from a third-party company, while other properties have special on-staff security. There are also hotels that simply leave security to whoever happens to be working the front desk.
With the advent of computerized door locks, the concern of a prior guest holding onto a key and returning is nearly eliminated. “There are hotel employees who often have unfettered access to master keys, so proper key control is still very important in the industry in part to prevent these keys from falling into the wrong hands,” says Johnston.
Background checks are another consideration. “Now more than ever, background checks should be standard practice for hiring managers,” says Johnston. “There are many sources from which to obtain background checks and the costs are negligible when compared to the possible fallout of failing to perform one. Remember that hotels are full of kids, tourists, alcohol, and money — tempting targets for the nefarious.”
Daily security inspections of all parts of the property are also vital, according to Johnston. “The use of a checklist is helpful to ensure no areas, such as stairwells, parking garages, and other areas that may not see as much activity, are overlooked. Once a possible issue is uncovered, the security staff and/or hotel management need to evaluate the risk, the possible injury to life or property that could result, and methods to address said issue.”
Johnston adds, “Every hotel staff member is a de facto member of the security department. Room attendants are some of the best sources of information about what is going on in the hotel as they not only access many rooms per day, but are also up on the floors where they can see activities occurring or overhear conversations,” he says.
Of course, striking a balance between respecting guests’ privacy and enforcing security is key. “Hotels have to respect guests’ privacy and the staff has to respect the privacy laws,” says Michel. “There should be a clear and approved procedure to carry out further investigations by respecting the law.” Faulty or wrong observations may also risk offending the guest. “In the case of the Las Vegas attacker, a background check would have not provided indicators for a pending attack, but his behavior might have raised suspicion,” adds Michel.
Johnston adds, “Any security measure that management deduces could infringe on guests’ privacy should be explained, in detail, to guests to help increase understanding and minimize guest satisfaction.”
So what can hotel guests expect in the future? “I do see hotel security changing as a result, but it’s important to avoid a knee-jerk reaction.” says Johnston. Meanwhile, Madison, who formerly served as the special agent in charge of protecting presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, believes hotels will be looking at lessons learned and will take measures to improve procedures. “They will be thinking about how to protect guests and mitigate any vulnerabilities,” he says. “There should be multiple levels of security to provide a 360-degree approach. This includes a security services provider, cameras, closely followed check-in procedures, and well-trained employees.”
“Because there is a vast amount of possible attack scenarios, it is wrong to concentrate on just one scenario,” says Michel. “Keep in mind that the Las Vegas hotel [incident] was not directed at hotel guests inside the hotel, but rather used as a spot to launch a devastating attack against people outside the hotel.”
That said, it’s possible security measures will expand to include any combination of the strategies above, but for now, it’s too soon to tell.