By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
An international high-end hotel was recently bombed despite having supposedly robust security. An officer of the New York Police Department was on the ground after the incident and reported the hotel had set up visitor screening and vehicle deterrents, among other measures, according to Elana N. DeLozier, an intelligence research specialist in the NYPD's Counterterrorism Bureau.
The descriptions from the NYPD officer on the scene illuminates a real problem facing hospitality risk managers. They can continue to harden their facilities, yet extremists keep coming at them.
Smart terrorists--and count al-Qaida and many of its affiliates and wannabes here--tend to attack softer targets simply because the possibility of success is greater. If their original target is too heavily fortified--say, a military base--they will recalibrate their plans and aim for a more vulnerable facility.
Hotels in particular make alluring targets. For starters, many hotel chains are "iconic American brands," said Jim Stover, head of loss control for the hospitality practice at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. They offer significant symbolism.
Also, hotels abroad tend to be full of foreigners, like "second embassies," according to Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. Add to that that Islamic ideologues have told Salafi-Jihadis that they are "fully justified" in killing foreigners and locals alike in these "dens of sin," and you have a problem that could endanger hotels the world over for years to come.
This is not just a problem facing international locations. Said Stover, who also participates on the loss prevention committee of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the committee has gotten indications from the Department of Homeland Security that, domestically, hotels are not a primary target. But Stover wonders how many hotels stateside could become "ancillary" targets if it's too difficult to attack that airport, public transport system or other primary target.
"What do you think the bad guys are going to do?" he told Risk & Insurance®. "They're not going to take the bombs home with them."
THE BALANCE OF SECURITY
The good news is that hospitality companies are well aware of the importance of counterterrorism security, said Stover, even before Sept. 11, 2001.
"You've got a bunch of really savvy people," Stover said of the folks involved in hotel security, adding that many are former military or law enforcement professionals (like himself, a 23-year veteran of the Marines).
Internationally, they have been able to implement a "different ball game" in loss control, such as checking all guest luggage and all packages before they enter the premises. It's a rigid and structured approach, however, that might not be possible domestically, where customers expect a certain level of comfort and service, and cannot stand inconvenience.
"The American public just won't stand for onerous security measures," Stover said, which he suggested is "probably the biggest challenge we have right now."
One way past this could be a stair-step approach to security, where measures are added cumultatively over time. You can start, say, by asking for IDs at check-in, then stop all valet parking services, then eventually prohibit any and all vehicles from unloading and parking within a certain distance from the hotel.
Where and when does security stop? Not just at hotels, but anywhere at risk? The answer is not one Americans will like.
And won't be "until the world gets to be a kindler, gentler place," said Stover.
Gunaratna and DeLozier spoke at a terrorism seminar earlier this year put on by catastrophe modeling firm Risk Management Solutions Inc.
October 1, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications