A panel on hospitality security goes over the ways to prepare for and respond to an active shooter situation on-property.
HOUSTON—As hoteliers have seen in the past decade, hotels around the world are continuously popular targets for different types of attacks, from a single active shooter incident to a coordinated terrorist attack.
A panel of security and legal experts in the “Active shooter incidents: Recognition and reaction” session at the 2017 Hospitality Law Conference shared with attendees reasons why hotels have been desirable targets and what they can do to keep themselves, their staff and guests safe if such an incident were to occur at one of their properties.
“Why are hotels more vulnerable than most (other places)?” asked Steve Cocco, president of Security Strategies Today. “The establishments are open to the public. Hoteliers want to keep a friendly, welcoming environment.”
Because of that, there are no security screenings generally, he said. Most of the guests are there to have a good time, so they’re relaxed rather than keeping a watchful eye.
Active shooter situations often occur in enclosed spaces and initially appear as if done at random, Cocco said. Most of the people wounded or killed don’t even know the suspect, he said. However, in most cases, shooters have a specific target, such as an ex-wife and/or her new boyfriend or it’s the employer who recently let them go, he said.
Create a plan
In the private sector, every business should create a group comprising different departments, including human resources and security, to formulate an active shooter plan, said Daniel Loo, principal security consultant for Rimkus Consulting Group. Reassess the plans frequently to make sure they’re up to date, he said, and use them as a supplement to the crisis management portfolio every firm should have.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation developed the “Run, Hide, Fight” approach to such incidents, which Loo said is self-explanatory. Drill this into employees and make sure they know of any countermeasures in place, he said.
The crisis response protocol should include designated roles for the employees involved, Cocco said. The response should be practiced and revised yearly, he said, because of employee turnover and sometimes phone numbers and venues change. Consult experts for assistance in drafting or revising a plan.
“All employees need access to it,” Cocco said. “Don’t let the first time they see it be when the you-know-what hits the fan,” he said.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies use the word “shooter” as a general term that can refer to firearms, knives, clubs or any other way or means intended to inflict harm, Loo said. There are insurance policies that cover active shooter incidents, he said, and most, but not all, include coverage for an incident involving something other than a gun.
Walking through a scenario
During the session, the experts introduced an active shooter scenario at a restaurant and the attendees were asked how they would handle each aspect as if they were the general manager. In the scenario, a man opens fire on a restaurant’s patrons and some are feared dead. The bar manager fled the scene and called the general manager, who is stuck in traffic, to explain what has happened.
In evaluating attendees’ responses, Cocco said calling the police is essential because they would be the main and only tactical force there. The GM wouldn’t need to call for paramedics separately because the police would request them already. If the restaurant is part of a chain with multiple locations, he said, the GM should call them to let them know what’s happening in the off chance the chain might be targeted.
A GM heading to the scene isn’t going to do much good, Cocco said, and managers shouldn’t go to the property if its security status is unknown. However, the GM can help the police by acting as a liaison with ownership and providing important details about employees and the layout of the property, he said. Police can’t depend 100% on building plans from when they were first built decades ago, he said, so any new information the GM can provide about additions or changes is essential.
Although this would occur before such an incident, Loo said it’s helpful to make floor plans available to law enforcement. Invite law enforcement and paramedics to do a walkthrough of the property, he said, and give them card access where there’s access control.
Try to make contact with other employees at the restaurant to find out where they are, Cocco said, and inform those working the next shift what’s going on so they don’t come in.
If the GM receives a text from an employee at the site of the shooting, as was the case in the scenario, attorney David Denney said the initial human instinct is to respond, which is why it’s important to train GMs and employees not to text back as that might alert the shooter when the response comes through on the employee’s phone.
Ownership might have installed CCTV in the property, Denney said, and it’s possible the system could be accessed outside of the property.
In the scenario, those at the restaurant were able to fight off the shooter with makeshift weapons, but the shooter escaped and his status was unknown.
At this point, it’s important for anyone who was on the scene to share all the information they have with the police, Cocco said, such as appearance, if the shooter spoke another language, whether there appeared to be more than one shooter and whether the shooter was in contact with someone else through a phone or radio.
Throughout all this, the GM has transitioned from a role of making decisions to one providing law enforcement with necessary information, Denney said.
“The GM at this point is riding the way with everybody else,” he said. “If everything has gone according to plan, the GM is a tool to provide assistance and get out of the way.”