Threat-Based Hotel Selection Criteria

When using security criteria in selecting hotels its important to consider the prevalent threats at the location in question.  In general there are going to be one or both of two main categories of threat to consider:  General Crime and Terrorism.

While there may be some overlap — an some countermeasures such as access control and employee vetting may be useful for counteracting both — there are some selection criteria that may differ greatly.  Sometimes – though rarely they may contradict each other.

Criteria to look for when the hotel is located in an area where general crime is the main risk:

  • Good access control.  While hotel properties are typically open to the public the presence of hotel staff at the entrances who are alert and greeting people entering the property is a positive sign.  Ideally these employees have received some training and are looking for personnel who don’t belong or seem out of place.  Likewise service entrances and other non-public entry points should be guarded or closed and  locked.
  • Presence and prevalence of CCTV cameras.  While cameras have a limited ability to stop crimes from happening and are more useful as an investigative tool after an incident occurs they are of some use as a deterrent – especially for lower level petty criminals.  A quality CCTV system can indicate that the management is invested in security and focused on it.
  • Visible security personnel in the lobby and patrolling public areas.  In some African hotels guards are also posted on each floor.
  •  Card access control on the elevator.  While this can be defeated by people piggy-backing on the elevator its still a good measure.
  •  Card key use on guest doors as opposed to traditional metal keys.
  •  Security bolts and chains on room doors.
  • Limited or no re-entry floors on fire stairs.  Fire stairwells provide criminals a method of moving from floor-to-floor discreetly.  If it is impossible to re-enter floors once in the staircase and the only exit is a ground level fire exit door it restricts this avenue for criminals.
  •  Employee vetting process.  Hotel employees have considerable access to guest rooms and property as part of their official duties.  Normally the only way to determine employee vetting is through an formal assessment of the hotel and meetings with hotel management or by speaking to someone that has conducted such an assessment.
  • Employee security training and training of guard staff.  Again – a formal assessment will usually be necessary to obtain this information.

In locations where the principal or greatest threat is terrorism there are some different criteria.  Arguably the two greatest terrorist threats to a hotel are a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and a Mumbai-style attack on the hotel with small arms and grenades. There is also a risk of suicide bombers entering the hotel or even registering as guests or obtaining employment at the hotel as occurred in the Jakarta attacks.  Here are some primary considerations:

  •  Setback / standoff from the road.  This is one of the main considerations in mitigating vehicle bomb attacks.  Unfortunately in many urban areas around the world this can be difficult to achieve.
  • Vehicle access control.  Vehicle checkpoints where incoming vehicles are searched prior to being permitted access are of key importance.  Chicane approaches are also sometimes used to prevent a vehicle from gaining speed to ram into the hotel lobby.
  • No underground parking or heavily restricted underground parking.
  • No parking close to the hotel building or very restricted parking.
  • Protective shatterproof film on windows.
  • Lower level building or guest rooms located to rear of hotel.
  • Presence of armed security personnel or police/military forces on site.
  • Not located next to / or in very close proximity to other high value targets like government buildings.
  •  Good evacuation and emergency plans that are regularly exercised.  You would need to meet with hotel management to determine this.
  • A surveillance detection program.  While relatively rare one major US chain does this at select properties.

There are some rare occasions when criteria that may be good for one kind of threat may not be good for another.  One example is that a low-rise hotel with separate units or connected bungalows might be good where the local threat is terrorism as the property is likely to be less attractive for a vehicle bomb attack.  It;s also a good feature for quick egress in case of a fire or other emergency.  However this type of configuration where rooms have their own entrance to the outside presents additional risks in a criminal threat environment.

When selecting a hotel the threat environment is an important consideration.

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Staying Safe at the Hotel

Many travelers view their hotel in a foreign city as a safe sanctuary where nothing can happen.  While hotels – particularly good hotels that have been carefully selected – can be a good safe haven in many respects they can also be a focal point for criminal activity and other hazards so its very important not to drop your guard.

When checking in ensure that the reception desk doesn’t announce your room number to everyone in the lobby.   Well-trained staff at good hotels won’t do this — they will write the number down, usually on the paper sleeve that holds your room key.  If they do announce your room number then request another room and ask that they write the number down.

While at the reception desk maintain contact with your luggage whenever possible.  Ideally you should be in physical contact with your foot or leg so that if someone tries to move it or take it you will be immediately aware.

Don’t be afraid to ask a member of the hotel staff to escort you to your room if this makes you feel more comfortable.

On the way to your room observe the location of the nearest fire exit and count the number of doors between your room and the fire exit.  If there is a fire and you need to evacuate the hotel you may be crawling down a smoke-filled hallway and unable to see the exit sign.  You should know in which direction and how many doors you need to go to find an exit.  This only takes a minute to do and with practice becomes second nature.

After getting settled in the room you may want to go back and confirm this as well as find a secondary exit and even consider going into the fire stairwell and walking downstairs to be familiar with it.  Be cautious of opening any exit doors though as they may be alarmed.  Also be cautious that you do not get locked in the stairwell.  In some buildings only certain floors are re-entry floors and in some extreme cases there is no re-entry from the fire stairs to any floor except the street level.

When you get to the room immediately check it to be sure nobody is concealed inside.  This means the closets and wardrobe, inside the bathroom (to include the shower if there is a curtain or door), etc.

Keep the door locked when you are in the room to include using the chain or sliding bar.  Seriously consider using door stops as outlined in another post on Protective Concepts.

Use the “Do Not Disturb” sign liberally to include whenever you are in the room and most times when you go out.  Do not use the “Make up my Room” sign for maid service.  Instead call housekeeping and request service when needed.

Consider leaving the TV or radio on when you are out of the room if this is possible.  In some hotels the room key needs to be inserted into an outlet on the wall to provide power so this may be difficult to do.  It is however an option to bring an old card key from a previous stay at another hotel and use that to insert in the outlet when you leave the room.

When exiting the elevator to your floor check the hallway in both directions before walking to your room.  In some hotels the hallway may have alcoves or offsets where people can conceal themselves without being seen.  Be especially vigilant when walking down hallways of this type.   Likewise check the hallway in both directions when you exit your room.

Have your room key ready in your hand so you are not fumbling at your door when you get there.

If you see anyone loitering in the hall or behaving in a suspicious or abnormal manner do not go to your room but instead return to the lobby or another safe location.

Do not open your room to anyone claiming to be staff that you are not expecting.  Call the reception desk to verify their identity.

When you are out of your room consider using a very small piece of paper inserted between the jam and the door as a “tell” to indicate if anyone has entered your room.  This must be small enough to be unnoticed by others and artfully placed to remain undetected.

Keep a small flashlight by your bedside so you will always have access to a light source int he event of a power outage and so it is accessible if you need to use it to evacuate the hotel in the middle of the night.

Leave your clothes with valuable items such as your passport, wallet etc. in the pockets and your shoes nearby so that you can put them on rapidly should you need to get up and evacuate quickly.

Avoid using the room safe for valuables.  These safes are easily compromised, especially by staff and will be the first place someone looks if they come into your room.