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.
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
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."