October 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   POWER OUTAGE TESTS EFFECTIVENESS OF CONTINGENCY PLANS

Hotels Weather Blackout

Salt Lake City: Mountains vs. moguls might mean an OIA exodus.
Salt Lake City: Mountains vs. moguls might mean an OIA exodus. The Aug. 14 power outage that struck several U.S. states and Ontario, Canada, prompted some hotels to re-evaluate contingency plans.

“We coped very well, but some systems did fail,” said John Sweeney, general manager of the Westin New York at Times Square. “We are now asking ourselves where we can be more efficient.”

When the power went out, the Westin switched to a generator, which kept two of the hotel’s eight elevators running until one overheated and had to be shut down. “We cooled it with a portable air conditioner,” said Sweeney.

The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto also ran on generators, but the hotel scrambled to accommodate last-minute guests unable to get home. “We were sold out by 8:30 p.m.,” a spokesperson said.

At New York’s Marriott Marquis, backup power failed, rendering the building unsafe for guests. “I had booked 375 rooms that night, and most people had to make do in the street,” said Celia Weinstein, director of programs for the Dulles, Va.-based Industrial Designers Society of America. “The hotel gave out pillows, blankets, granola bars and water.” Staff kept watch overnight so those sleeping outside felt safer, she said.

At the Hilton New York, computers were unable to cut guest room key cards, said Christopher Perry, director of sales and marketing, but the hotel had a pre-cut set, so guests had access to rooms.

The experience led some hotels to rethink engineering logistics even when the power is on. After seeing the Westin’s elevator overheat, general manager John Sweeney said the property now is keeping the mechanisms climate-controlled all the time.

The Hilton’s Perry noted that hotels with backup generators clearly need to test them on a regular basis, not just trust they’ll be operational in a crisis.


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