by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | May 01, 2012
As security cameras would later reveal, at precisely 6:28 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, 2010, a dark-blue sport utility vehicle with tinted windows pulled up to the curb on the northeast side of the intersection of West 45th Street and Broadway, in the heart of New York City's bustling Times Square. Some minutes later, two street vendors noticed smoke wafting from the rear of the car, now empty with the engine still running. They alerted a police officer patrolling nearby who went over to the SUV, noticed the smoke and saw what looked like canisters in the rear cargo area. Then he recognized the smell: gunpowder.

Within minutes, a bomb-disposal team, the fire department and dozens more of the patrolman's colleagues had gathered at the spot to cordon off the area and move pedestrians out of the way. Businesses up and down the square were alerted to the danger of a possibly imminent explosion -- including the 1,949-room New York Marriott Marquis directly across the street. That's when Mike Dominguez, the hotel's director of risk management, went into action.

The imperative was to evacuate the guests most in harm's way -- those in rooms facing the east side of the square. Following a well-rehearsed playbook, Dominguez and other hotel staff quickly dispersed. "We went floor to floor and room to room, knocking on doors and explaining very calmly why they had to leave and where we were going to put them up," says Dominguez. Ultimately, several hundred guests were evacuated from 35 of the hotel's 49 floors and gathered in the sixth-floor ballroom, tucked into the very heart of the building and well away from windows facing the street, where they relaxed as best they could on hastily arranged cots.

Within a few hours the crisis was over; faulty wiring had prevented what would likely have been a devastating explosion, and the car subsequently was traced to its owner, who was promptly arrested. Most importantly, no one was hurt -- and the real-life drill went off without a hitch at the Marriott Marquis.

Hotels are, by nature, busy public gathering spots. Every day, untold numbers of people flow through their lobbies, dine and entertain in their restaurants and bars, and gather in their meeting rooms. Ensuring the safety and security of all those visitors, not to mention their own employees, presents an enormous challenge for properties, which have to strike a delicate balance between physical protection and public access. The good news: Hotels really have stepped up and embraced the challenge.

In the decade after 9/11, hotel security evolved from the role of a few dedicated employees to encompass a property's entire work force, notes Jimmy Chin, chairman of the security committee for the Hotel Association of New York City. "We are much more aware now that if you only train the security staff, you don't have a program in place at all," he says. "The more emergency training every single employee has, the better their awareness."