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American Hotel & Lodging Association Launches Leading Edge Online Security Awareness Training Initiative for Nation's Hospitality Industry

The 50,000 member American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which represents 11,000 hotels nationwide, has announced that it intends to make available its leading edge  "Eye on Awareness" (EOA) interactive training program to federal, state, county and municipal government agencies specifically for hotel and lodging properties within their respective jurisdictions.   

The program was developed by the AH&LA's Educational Institute and Cardinal Point Strategies in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Eye on Awareness  is a stand-alone, web-based online security awareness training platform that embraces the Department of Homeland Security's "If you See Something, Say Something" campaign and was developed with substantial input from subject matter experts in awareness, including Paul Goldenberg and John More of Cardinal Point Strategies, and an elite cadre of global hotel security directors, including David Kimmins of Starwood Hotels and Mark Sanna of Hyatt Hotels, with the ultimate focus on training hotel employees on the "awareness level" to recognize, report and react to suspicious situations that occur on their properties.

In one of several interviews with individuals who were present at the creation or instrumental in the development of Eye on Awareness, GSN spoke with Monique Donahue, VP of Research and Development for the AH&LA Educational Institute, who said that Eye on Awareness is about "making employees aware that everyone at the property have the ability to make a difference", especially when they have the knowledge, the training and the tools.

Donahue said that hotel employees are trained to know how to respond and to know that they can do the right thing.  Most recently, she added, the "If You See Something, Say Something" two-step mantra has expanded to include a third step: "See Something, Say Something and Do Something." If you see something that is suspicious -- a package, a person, you need to be able to identify it as suspicious. "Say Something" is how you report what you have seen, and this is what is useful to law enforcement. 

The "Do Something" part involves having the knowledge of what things mean and what are their implications.  An active shooter may call for "Shelter in Place". This means getting away from rooms with large windows or a lot of glass, going to a designated room or stairway that is lockable or has a barricade.  If there's an in improvised explosive device (IED), the course of action is evacuation. 

One area that required a balanced approach in creating a training curriculum, according to Donahue, was that hotels have been both targets for terrorist attacks, as in Mumbai in 2008, as well as staging areas for attacks, as in Newark, NJ in September of 2001. So it is vitally important that employees know the dangers and keep alert, but at the same time, it's also important not to scare frontline employees with the training into thinking that the hotel industry is not a safe place to work. The employees need to understand that hotel customers go into rooms where they can lock the door and act in privacy. In the end, it's in everybody's best interest to keep their eyes open.

In response to a question about the August 22, 2013 shooter incident at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Dekalb County Georgia, in which tragedy was averted by the extraordinary bravery, presence of mind and grace under pressure of school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff, Donahue agreed wholeheartedly that Ms Tuff had probably saved multiple lives, but without taking anything away from her heroism ,  this was a textbook example of the benefits of awareness training, since  Ms Tuff and her other colleagues on the school staff had been trained regularly on how to deal with situations involving trespassers, emergency protocols and hostile intruders.

One of the seminal moments in the development of "Eye on Awareness", according to Monique Donahue and just about everyone who talked with GSN for this story, was the decision in the days immediately after 9/11 by Captain Dave Leonardis, Commandant of the New Jersey State Police Academy, to round up 36 of his cadets and take them to the hotels in the Newark area where the terrorists had stayed and investigate the garbage dumpsters and the areas around the hotels. As it turned out, within moments they retrieved critical evidence that included flight manuals, counterfeit identification cards, diagrams of places and runways, even wigs and beards that could be used as disguises.  In fact, thirty-four out of 35 of the recruits found evidence of one form or another in the hotel's dumpster.

All of these items had been discarded by hotel housekeepers, who were just doing their jobs clearing the rooms that they were assigned.  But if they had been trained to recognize suspicious items in a room or empowered to report any of those findings to their supervisor or manager, then perhaps the authorities could have been alerted to the activities or intentions of the hijackers.

At the time of the 9/11 attacks, David Kimmins, one of the hotel industry subject matter experts who was active in the creation of "Eye on Awareness", was Senior Director, Global Safety and Asset Protection for Starwood Hotels. He was also a founding member of the Hotel Security Working Group, which he recalls was initially created by Alan Orloh, VP of Safety for the Marriott Hotels, in collaboration with the State Department's Overseas Advisory Group, after the Mumbai terrorist attaches in India in 2008. Three of the Hotel Security Working Group's goals, as he remembers, were that the training program being put together had to be interactive; it had to be presented in multiple ways, and it had to teach association members to recognize what was unusual.

Kimmins says that he observed that hotel customers typically were most concerned about whether their hotel would provide them with comfort. But it was clear to him as a security professional that they also needed to be concerned about their safety and security. At the same time, hotel employees need to know what to look for, how to know something is suspicious and should it be reported. One very positive characteristic of the hotel industry, he feels, is that hotels are very good at sharing information, very collaborative, and everyone seems to be trying to help the entire hotel industry.

GSN was also able to catch up with Mark Sanna, VP Global Security for Hyatt Hotels, on the day before an extended trip he was taking to inspect Hyatt hotels in the Middle East for security. Sanna recalled that in the early days of the AH&LA  Hotel Security Working Group, which he had helped to establish, he contacted Paul Goldenberg, whose firm Cardinal Point Strategies had been working with DHS and providing homeland security consulting to government agencies and a number of public sector agencies, and invited him to join the group as their subject matter expert  responsible for  homeland security strategy and to  discuss training measures that could be taken in the hotel industry, in light of the fact that hotels were both targets for attacks as well as staging points for attacks. 

Sanna was aware  that  the 9/11 hijackers had done their final dry run at hotels in New Jersey and had left a trove of evidence as to their intentions. If only it had been recognized as such and reported to authorities, the tragedy of 9/11 might have been averted.  Sanna felt that hotels could be made a lot safer if their employees had a proper awareness training program. 

In an astute observation regarding the U.S. hotel industry that was similar to that of Kimmins, Sanna had noticed that there was a prevailing sense of security and lack of concern among visitors to the nation's hotels because the U.S. had strong federal, state and local security procedures and protocols in place. But at the same time, he realized that even the strongest procedures and protocols need vigilant citizens to alert local law enforcement and other authorities when they saw something suspicious.

According to Sanna, the initiative that grew out of the meetings amounted to a "second push in the hotel industry" to focus on, and spend money on, increasing guest security and hotel security and in turn national security. The earlier initiative, said Sanna, arose after 9/11, but hotels were not doing so well at that time, and they didn't feel that they had the resources to spend what was needed on security. Now that it is ten years later, with the industry again prospering, it has turned out to be a better time to develop the initiative.

"It is true that the police and the FBI do a good job and we are quite secure," said Sanna, "but there are still a lot of people who want to harm us. The police and the FBI can't be everywhere all the time. It's incumbent on people who work in public venues to recognize when a person is acting oddly or out of place in their environment.  People working in public venues are in a better position than anyone else to make note of dangerous situations. And these are the people that need to be trained with the basic techniques of observation and awareness so that they can easily recognize when things are out of order, and need to be reported."

Among the many objectives that have been achieved by "Eye on Awareness", according to Paul Goldenberg, CEO of Cardinal Point Strategies, was the adoption and integration of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative into the Hotel Anti-Terrorism Program, and to work with the experts of NSI to blend the NSI strategy of developing processes and policies for gathering, documenting, analyzing and sharing information about terrorism-related suspicious activities as they pertain to the hotel industry.

"This innovative, cutting-edge training program," said Goldenberg, "provides critical training for all hotel staff, from housekeeping to maintenance to front desk and  guest services, bolstering hotel staff with focused security knowledge and skills on how to recognize, report and respond to suspicious persons, activities and items within the confines of the hotel property. We are confident that this professionally developed training program, which has been vetted and approved by the DHS and the NSI can greatly enhance security in every government agency, community, faith-based organization or private business , large or small, that takes advantage of it. 

"What people know or don't know can have a substantial impact on how things turn out."


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