by Michael J. Shapiro | October 05, 2017
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, M&C's Michael J. Shapiro spoke with Michael Susong, senior vice president of global risk services for iJET International. iJET works with about 800 international clients and conducts approximately 400 on-site security audits annually for major hoteliers around the world.
 
Do you think we'll see a lot of baggage scanning or inspection now at hotels upon check-in? Are we seeing a lot of this already internationally?
 
We don't see a lot of baggage scanning internationally. We do see it on a case-by-case basis, and usually it's driven by an event. After the attack in Mumbai a few years ago, we saw the hotelier who owned that chain significantly stepping up the technology scanners and wands. But even there, I can recall only a few times they were scanning all bags, and that was for a convention or event where they had a large number of parcels. So it's not common. And usually when you do see a hotelier with that capacity, they tend to raise and lower their protocols depending on a reported threat -- which is where we come in, to try and help appraise that threat.
 
Will large hotels now be on a higher threat level and looking to employ this kind of technology from this point on?
 
If I had to predict, I'd say no, for a couple of reasons. The technology can be bought, but it's the training and the vigilance of your teams or your staff to use it properly that's important. Just look at the math: Mandalay Bay has 3,000 rooms. Assume three bags per room. That starts to approach 10,000 bags, in theory, every 24 hours. If you consider the practicality of it, as well as the diminished client experience -- not that security isn't important -- it's tough to execute.
 
Are there other practices that hotels can implement to reduce the possibility of such incidents?
 
To summarize, I would call it vigilance and protocol. Have the staff be more aware of what's going on front of house, and to some degree, back of house, that falls out of the norm -- and to have an easy, nonconfrontational protocol for getting word to the security teams. If there were to be an event similar to this -- or let's say a similar event in a large conference room -- they need to know what the egress protocol is, for people to get out. Some awareness of the physical infrastructure by local police and law enforcement is required, too, so if they do have to repsond, they know what they're dealing with.
 
Those things can be not so great an expense, and I think that would at least mitigate some of the damage. To predict the event, however, is almost impossible.
 
What kinds of things would typically be flags and warnings? What sorts of things should the hotel staff be looking for?
 
Things that fall out of the norm. A guy carrying a golf bag -- and I'm not saying this individual in Las Vegas was -- but a guy carrying a golf bag in, and he's in hiking boots and a camp shirt, with a backpack. Things that don't quite look right. Also, while you want to respect people's privacy, there's a difference when a housekeeper's in a room and there has been an obvious baccanal vs. somebody who has a lot of equipment that you wouldn't normally be carrying on a weekend in Vegas.
 
What's the current status of hotel security in general? Can we feel somewhat secure in knowing that hotel employees are being trained to look out for and handle events like this?
 
Training, regardless of the industry, always seems to be the thing that kind of falls off. When hoteliers spend the time and resources to train, it's money well spent. Take a fire drill as an example -- how well and frequently is even that practiced in an office? That can be money well spent for hoteliers, and I think it should be, whether it's for a grease fire in the kitchen or something like what happened in Mandalay Bay.
 
Technology's not the answer. It's a false panacea. 
 
So if technology isn't the answer, it's training and having your staff be well informed and well prepared to recognize warning signals?
 
I think that's it. And I think you could make the case that it also enhances the customer experience. Just being actively engaged, switched on, having eye contact, communicating with guests, making conversation. From a behavioral point of view, that's when we can see something that's amiss.
 
Do you think we're going to see changes in hotel security overall, based on this event? Anything that people will notice as guests, or just what planners should be aware of in terms of changing practices?
 
Change could be incremental. It could be a book in the room that people rarely read, or just the welcome screen indicating where the fire exits are. There might be an effort to be a little more informative -- letting people know there's a security concern in the area. I think there will always be a balance between providing more information and, for lack of a better word, spooking the traveler. 
 
The incident may pause the rapid rollout of self-check-in kiosks. Because you lose that contact with the client in such cases. But there also are reasons to move forward with that, to have a smaller front-of-house staff.
 
So on that note, if the trend is to go to a smaller front of house, and to use technology more for check-in, is that potentially putting us in more danger of this sort of thing happening?
 
That's kind of a business discussion and a security discussion, and in this particular case I think they converge. 
 
What about in terms of holding events outdoors, especially those in outdoor spaces next to hotel towers? Are there pieces of advice you can give planners? Are there questions they should be asking?
 
Yes. In the event of an attack or a panic in the crowd, what's the ability of the participants to egress? Obviously, you want to make sure everyone is a paying customer, but that inbound security also becomes a choke point when people are trying to egress. Does it make sense to be able to swing open additional gates in the event of an emergency? Is there some way to direct people off the open exposed area? And when you're planning an event like this, usually law enforcement -- a patrol officer or a member of the SWAT team -- will walk through the venue, just to get a litte bit of visibility, to get some foreknowledge of the configuration, where they could direct first responders.
 
It sounds like overall, you're saying we're not likely to see a huge change in security or in how certain things are approached as a result of this. 
 
I think for all of us, there's a desire to fix the problem. My concern is that any procedures developed must be sustainable in the long run, and that any new security measures be implemented with due diligence.