September 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September 2000 Current Issue
September 2000 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Oren Jaffe, CMP


How planners can put attendee and staff safety first during site inspections

Earlier this year, NBC’s Dateline exposed some hotels’ poor safety policies. Among the incidents cited: security guards sleeping on the job, guest room doors without deadbolts or chains and front desk personnel issuing “lost” keys to unidentified people. Even more alarming: failure to change room locks and keys after a guest departs, and even after a rape, burglary or assault in a room the perpetrator entered with a hotel-issued key.

The program showed many hotels are guilty of poor safety policies and practices. Electronic key cards, for example, often are not programmed to deactivate until a day or even a week after the guest departs, allowing a former guest entry into a room. That key also could be used to enter an exterior door, putting all guests in jeopardy.

Moreover, no organization not even the American Hotel and Motel Association maintains property safety records or establishes policies for the industry. The AH&MA only “encourages” good safety policies and procedures. The only way meeting professionals and guests can find out a property’s safety record is by asking the property to produce it. However, the property has no obligation to do so.

When evaluating a property, take the time to ask questions, and definitely include safety issues in your site inspection. Ask to see the property’s security/incident record, and find out if the local police will provide any information.

What else can meeting professionals do?
Check the locks. Examine doors and locks all over the hotel, especially entrances and guest rooms. Look for deadbolts, chains and peepholes.

Get it on paper. Ask for a copy of the property’s safety policies and procedures. If nothing is in writing, that should be a serious red flag.

Check who’s on guard. Ask about the presence and schedule of security guards, and speak with the security company about its incident history. Get the statistics in writing, if you can. Whether the property directly employs guards or contracts with an outside company, it can be held liable for the guards’ incompetence when security is breached.

Know the property. How secure are external entrances to the parking lot? Do they open into hidden or dark areas?

Inspect the lights. Examine the presence and condition of internal and external lighting. Ask when outside lights go on. Check that hallways and stairways are always properly lit, and parking lots are well lit after dark.

Use force. Ask the sales manager or security guard to allow you to try to open entrances and guest room doors when they are locked to determine the strength of the locks.

Check ID. Speak with the front office and general manager to ensure that all people requesting “lost” keys are required to provide ID, and get a copy of this policy in writing. Conduct surprise inspections for verification.

Pick up the phone. Verify that all guest room telephones have direct 911 access. Check the keys. Inquire about the type of keys used by guests (metal, electronic card, electronic card with holes). Hotels should rekey rooms right after the guest has checked out. Get in writing from the hotel how frequently room keys are changed (immediately after a guest checks out, one day later, etc.).

Ask who has access. Find out who on staff has keys to which areas, including who has master keys.

Follow the ADA. Determine how easily and quickly a disabled person will be able to get help from the front desk or the police.

Walk away. If a property is uncooperative and/or fails to live up to your safety standards, immediately take it off your selection list.

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

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