Securing High-Risk Hotels

By John J. Strauchs, CPP

There is an old saying favored by terrorists: “Why attack the mighty lion when there are so many sheep to be had?” That mind-set, shared by many violent extremists, explains why terrorists attack soft targets—especially hotels and resorts.

Since 9-11, there have been at least 62 attacks against hotels in 20 different countries. Among major recent examples are the 2008 assaults on the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace hotels in Mumbai, India, in which 71 people were killed and more than 200 injured. During the same year, the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, was reduced to rubble by a dump truck filled with explosives. At least 54 people were killed and 266 injured. In 2009, suicide bombers attacked the Jakarta, Indonesia, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. Nine people died there and 53 were wounded.

In the face of this type of threat, property owners, architects, and engineers responsible for lodging properties must find ways to balance their desire to make guests feel welcome with their need to keep guests as safe as possible.

While many security experts would agree that the most effective terrorism countermeasures for a hotel or resort are administrative and operational, also important is the ability of architects and engineers to mitigate risk in the design process.

Think Creatively

A combination of innovation and rational planning at the architecture and engineering (A/E) design phase can yield cost-effective solutions that will help mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack. For that creative process to occur, however, those in charge must be open to the possibilities. They must fight institutional cynicism and avoid risk-assessment methodologies that stifle innovation and nudge architects and planners toward expensive one-size-fits-all strategies. An unfortunate example of the latter is that every U.S. federal courthouse is now mandated to have virtually the same level of security regardless of whether it is in Bangor, Maine, or in midtown Manhattan.

During the A/E design concept stage, architects and engineers should work with security professionals to develop a series of likely security scenarios and possible design responses ranging from basic security countermeasures to high concepts. These should be discussed with the facility owners and adjusted based on their preferences, goals, andbudget constraints.

Some, or even most, of the high concepts may be impractical for most sites, but each should be carefully evaluated. Similarly, with regard to innovative proposals, none should be dismissed out of hand. It is too easy to miss innovative opportunities if new ideas are perfunctorily discounted or if, at first glance, something seems to be unrealistic because it has never been attempted or doesn’t conform to conventional thinking. Even an idea that is ultimately deemed unworkable can potentially contain the germ of a new approach, but the idea has to be vetted for that seed to be discovered.

These deliberations must include discussions about designing against and responding to bomb blasts and armed attacks. An overarching goal is to create effective countermeasures to these threats. The challenge is to do so without negatively affecting the facility’s aesthetics or inconveniencing guests.


Narrow-minded view on counter terrorism

The respected author of the article concentrates on the technological part of the security when protecting high risk hotels.

In my perspective, the core of counter terror is in human factor. The main lesson of the Islamabad attack which was taken in the article as the example was not the weak technology but the catastrophic unpreparedness of the security team. The CCTV record available on Youtube clearly shows the wrong evaluation of situation by the local guards. They had more then 4 minutes to start evacuation to more protected areas of the hotel (safe haven), which can be simply improvised as any bigger underground rooms. No money needed for this, just think about this scenario in advance, involve it to your emergency planning and drill your staff. This solution cost zero and saves dozens.

See for example the case of the attack on Toulouse Jewish school attack from this March. The building was well secured, but the attacker didn’t need to breach the facility perimeter. Instead, he simple shot in front of the entrance. The crucial security element to deal with this attack is the manpower which could neutralize the attacker or mitigate the attack by simply closing the inner door.

Protecting soft target facilities or events against terror threats especially schools or places of worship which does not have big budget for security need different security approach. You must think out of the box and concentrate on suspicious signs detection and quick reaction of your guards. Rather then expensive and unrealistic technology, drill the guards in detection of suspicious behavior and emergency scenarios.

Technology can help, no doubts about it. But it is just a tool (often inaccessible) which needs brain to operate it. What I see in the comercial security world is the dominance of (costly but cool) tools over realistic overall concepts.


Zdenek Kalvach


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