Panic buttons are the tip of an infrastructural iceberg
Panic buttons are the tip of an infrastructural iceberg
23 OCTOBER 2019 7:18 AM

Implementing emergency safety devices for staff at a property requires hoteliers to consider many technical and logistical factors.

As emergency safety devices approach mainstream adoption across the world, it’s critical to not only make implementation at hotels a priority, but also to consider all the underlying electronic infrastructure required to ensure these systems can last.

One of the reasons I’m so fascinated by the proliferation of panic buttons is because I’m baffled it took so long to embrace these security measures. We’ve known for a long time that our employees—primarily room attendants—often are placed in compromising situations because they’re relatively isolated at work, and yet an effective response protocol has only recently emerged.

True, we’ve had radio frequency identification for many decades and relatively affordable forms of WiFi or GPS for nearly 20 years, but these technologies could never really give us the response immediacy and pinpoint location accuracy afforded to us by modern Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons that underpin an internet of things apparatus.

However, as I’ve learned by investigating panic button solutions for a few properties, the installation is never a quick, cheap or slapdash project. If treated as such, inevitably the base infrastructure will have to be upgraded or rebuilt every two to three years, representing a significant recurring cost.

Taking time to find the best possible solution and spending more upfront will ensure the system will adapt to the rapidly changing technological landscape in years to come.

What to consider first
The trickiest issue to resolve prior to implementation is the need for an environment that is constantly connective yet still preserves the worker’s privacy. It would be a violation of one’s rights, for example, to monitor housekeepers’ every move via wearable devices that are only intended to have rare activation.

Instead, a system is needed that is always on and can determine an employee’s exact location but is still silent and noninvasive. The best way to achieve this is through BLE. Other methods of connection, like NFC (near field communication) or RFID, both passively interact without first requiring a digital permission exchange.

Step one is to evaluate the property to ensure no nook or cranny is left out of range. But this isn’t always possible, especially when retrofitting on a budget with only a tight allowance for numerous beacon purchases and additional probes for remote monitoring.

Hence, the ideal panic button platform will concurrently allow for alternating connectivity between BLE and WiFi because the wireless access point integration has a bit more range. Moreover, a system that can fluidly migrate between these two means installation costs will be minimized because existing infrastructure can be leveraged.

Panic button shelf life
Just as a cellphone battery eventually fades to nothing, so too will any other electronic device that requires a constant connection. Any wearable designed for emergency purposes must be given particular attention, though, because with an inferior model, the maximum battery capacity may be so abysmal that it requires charging multiple times per shift and thus must be accounted for as part of the job responsibilities.

While all buttons will eventually need to be replaced, BLE-based buttons can last between one to three years depending on overall use and do not require continual recharging, which is in sharp contrast to certain WiFi-based buttons, where the maximum battery lifespan is upwards of one month. With WiFi-based buttons, SOPs need to be modified to incorporate a mid-shift checkup on the residual charge, thereby increasing labor costs.

Worse, imagine a scenario where battery life is insufficient to cover a total shift and the employee doesn’t have time specifically allocated for recharging. In this instance, if a housekeeper entered a threatening situation during the latter half of a shift, and the ESD was out of batteries, the hotel would technically be liable for damages incurred.

Though installation may represent the bulk of anticipated fees, any assessment must also account for ongoing replacement and maintenance costs. My advice here is quality over quantity, as having to constantly buy new wearables will end up being a headache.

Think beyond housekeepers
Sparking this panic button drive has been the need to protect our room attendants, who have suffered through the majority of personal assaults or other dangerous situations in the past. But consider other future uses of this technology.

While the current rollout of legislations mandating ESDs pertain mostly to room attendants, there are other hospitality positions they could be useful for. These may include but are not limited to maintenance workers, public area custodians, bellmen or valet servicepersons.

All may soon be under the purview of municipal or state laws related to panic buttons, whether they are operating in the lobby, buried under a mass of concrete on subbasement four, or off at the farthest reaches of a resort’s guest parking lot. And it’s not like BLE can easily be extended to, say, the greens of holes 11 through 18 on the golf course, so a fluid, hybrid solution is a must for any resort.

Besides hoteliers needing to know all employees’ exact locations for security or emergency purposes, there is the matter of optimizing guest service. Although we’ve discussed the need for worker privacy, there are nevertheless ways to anonymize the data so that an analysis of available resources, efficient route planning and a myriad of other lucrative use cases can be charted. But these applications will only become apparent if hoteliers plan ahead and soundly design a framework with future considerations already in mind.

There’s a lot more involved with the implementation of panic buttons than initially apparent. The cheapest and fastest solution may be attractive, given the other operational upgrades always needed on a hotel property. But it may prove better in the long run to diligently map out a comprehensive system up front. Even if the bill is higher, it will likely make up for the hidden costs associated with not getting it right the first time around.

One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Larry at to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

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