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.

(To continue reading "Securing High-Risk Hotels," from our July 2012 issue, please click here)

photo: Members of Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue conduct a rescue operation at the Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti from DVIDS.


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