January 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio January 2001 Current Issue
January 2001 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Oren Jaffe, CMP


Don’t take their word for it: How to inspect a facility’s fire-code compliance

When contracting to hold a meeting in a major hotel, many planners just assume the property’s fire-safety measures are up to snuff. But planners would be wise to check up on the hotel’s ability to prevent a disaster.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • In November 1980, a fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas killed 85 people.
  • On Dec. 31, 1986, a fire in the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, killed 97 people in 12 minutes.
  • On Nov. 19, 2000, flames gutted a section of Colorado’s Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, destroying 116 guest rooms. (No one was injured.) Investigations into both the MGM and Dupont fires concluded that properly outfitted sprinkler systems would have saved lives and substantially minimized the damage.
  • These two fires served as catalysts to the enactment of the landmark Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990. Properties that comply with the law are included in the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 National Master List, which is published in the Federal Register and maintained by representatives of the United States Fire Administration. The list can be found on the agency’s Web site (www.usfa.fema.gov).

    The law is applicable to all places of public accommodation and requires them to be equipped with the following.

  • Hard-wired, single-station smoke detectors in each guest room in accordance with National Fire Protection Association standard 74; and
  • an automatic sprinkler system, with a sprinkler in each guest room in compliance with NFPA standards 13 or 13R. Properties with no more than three stories are exempt from the sprinkler requirement.
    Although formal roles and primary responsibility are assigned to the hotelier and various enforcement agencies, there are steps meeting professionals can take before signing the hotel contract.

    Learn the basics. Learn about general fire prevention and safety, sprinkler systems and smoke detectors from your local fire department, the library or the USFA.

    Check up on the hotel. Request written proof of the hotel’s fire-safety compliance.

    Inspect for fire safety. Conduct (with a fire-safety inspector whenever possible) a thorough physical inspection of the hotel to assess its compliance and suitability. Look for easy-to-open doors and clear signage in guest rooms, meeting rooms and corridors. Note where corridor and stairway traffic congestion may occur. Check the condition and proximity to the street of guest room windows and external stairways. Lighting should be bright in stairways and in corridors. Check the alarm system and public address system, and look for a functional and portable fire extinguisher in each corridor. Are escape routes indicated for people with disabilities?

    Evacuate. Take a hotel management-guided tour of all evacuation routes from all areas of the venue. Get the hotel’s written procedures for evacuation.

    Read the plan. Ask for the hotel’s written policies for staff conduct during and after a fire emergency.

    Call the fire department. Discuss with the local station its response time and procedures if it is called to the hotel.

    Confirm insurance. Be sure the hotel has adequate fire and liability insurance, and your organization, as meeting sponsor, has sufficient fire and liability insurance for off-site meetings.

    Have a contingency plan. Verify that financial and logistical arrangements have been made and procedures have been established between the hotel and neighboring properties and restaurants in the event guests are not able to return to the hotel quickly.

    Oren Jaffe, CMP, is director of meeting services at Rockville, Md.-based Cygnus Corp.

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