Hotels Make Safety The Top Priority During Disasters

hduringdEnsuring the safety of their guests and employees is the top priority for hoteliers. Whether operating a beachside hotel, ski resort in the Rockies, or urban skyscraper, natural disasters and emergency situations are a reality. Hoteliers who display a heightened approach to crisis management and communications are better prepared for such frightening scenarios.

Hosting hundreds of travel writers this past September for the Society of American Travel Writers convention, Bermuda’s Fairmont Southampton and Fairmont Hamilton Princess hotels were not going to let a looming hurricane dampen the annual conference. As Hurricane Erin prepared to bear down on Bermuda with winds up to 85 miles per hour, hotel employees readied to execute an expeditious plan for the safety of the employees and guests. All team members assumed specific duties from locking down balcony furniture and providing candles to securing doors and windows.

Fortunately, little damage was incurred by the low-level hurricane. But the hotels were ready for the worst, said Janet Eger, manager of communications for Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. Eger said the company takes pride in its overall strategic approach to crisis management.

“Safety is a top priority,” she said. “Fairmont has been extremely proactive in crisis management and planning with an effective program in place.”

Fairmont recently underwent an aggressive six-month, crisis-communications-training program with key executives in five countries. As part of the program, a variety of scenarios depicting emergency situations were revealed via video to address appropriate action plans and how to implement with precise coordination and communication.

“It ensures that our executive team is aware of what our core values are, and where our moral compass is,” Eger said. “It is not only important how we executive our actions during a crisis, but it’s also important that we communicate what we are doing to ensure the safety of guests.”

Among other things, the training program outlined how to activate an operations post, devise a working media center and designate a crisis team with specific roles and responsibilities. Systems are tested and drilled for a variety of circumstances relevant to a particular property.

And while one can’t plan for a crisis to happen, one can plan how to deal with a dangerous situation. Preparedness is the key, according to Benny Stephens, vice president of design and construction for US Franchise Systems, which franchises Hawthorne Suites, Microtel Inns and Suites and Best Inns and Suites.

“The most important thing is to ensure that your people are aware of the procedures and are well-trained in the areas of safety,” Stephens said.

The company’s proactive approach includes intense training of standard operating procedures in addition to adapting appropriate building safety requirements.

From a physical standpoint, each property is designed to meet and exceed numerous life-safety requirements such as fire-protected stairwells, sprinkler systems and automatic fire alarm systems as deemed by national code and local authority.

Dana Ferrer is marketing manager for commercial fire-alarm-panel manufacturer Notifier, which is based in Northford, Conn. The company’s horn/strobe system alerts property-level personnel when a fire emergency has been detected. The hotel’s point person then implements the property’s emergency operating plan to protect its employees and patrons.

“Obviously, safety is the No. 1 priority to a hotel,” Ferrer said. “Our company works with hotels as part of its overall building security system.”

Evacuation routes and emergency exits are another critical component to a property’s safety plan. Sag Harbor, N.Y.-based Dortronics Systems manufactures electric-locking systems for commercial use.

Bryan Sanderford, national sales manager, said the purpose is to offer reliable and secure exits to facilitate quick evacuation during an emergency.

“The whole idea of our product is to provide an extra layer of security and the means to be safe while allowing people to get out in a fire emergency situation,” Sanderford said.

The magnetic locking systems are tied to a property’s fire alarm. When a fire alarm is triggered, the emergency doors automatically open, allowing patrons immediate access in and out of the building.

While technological improvements enhance a hotel’s security, there is no substitute for a sound set of policies and procedures.

Stephens said USFS hotels use an emergency procedures manual, which has been an effective tool at its 500 plus properties.

The comprehensive manual was designed to assist franchisees during dangerous scenarios including earthquakes, tornadoes, power failures, armed robberies and bomb threats. It features checklists, specific processes and action plans, signage requirements and evacuation procedures.

Stephens said proper training is critical to ensure consistency and understanding of the plan. Routine fire drills with employees and guests allow an opportunity to play out action plans and reinforce a prepared environment.

Fairmont’s Eger said in any emergency situation, open lines of communications are key to maintaining a sense of control and coordination.

“Keeping people up to speed is the way to alleviate panic,” she said. “When people have the information, they are less likely to jump to unnecessary speculation.”

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