What is your Emergency Action Plan?

Once again hotel security comes under the microscope following the dastardly attacks by terrorists that left over 250 innocent people dead on Easter Sunday.
Hotel security has become such a ‘top-of-the-mind’ issue among people in the hospitality industry and guests alike, and, with the prevailing climate of uncertainty from potential threats from terrorism, every hotel should now have an ‘Emergency Action Plan’ in place.
An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) should pinpoint a list of detailed procedures for dealing with varied catastrophic event scenarios.
Almost all hotels have a Crisis Plan (CP) in some form or another. The bigger international hotels will certainly have one - and a comprehensive one at that, while smaller properties may have a basic CP which would cover fire safety and evacuation, natural disasters and medical emergencies. Well and good - as the CP can be used as the foundation for the EAP.
When approaching the challenges we face in these turbulent times, we need to ask ourselves the following questions and make an assessment on how well our hotel is prepared to address them.
It is important to bear in mind that hotels need to carefully consider what steps to take to counter the present threats the industry faces - irrespective of the odds of a crisis occurring or not. We now live in times of ‘when’? Not ‘If’.
1: Does your hotel have a Crisis Management Team (CMT)? Who is on your CMT? Usually, it would include the Director of Security and members of the hotel’s Executive Committee (EXCO). Dependent on the level of expertise and experience of the security director, he may be designated as the leader of the CMT - coordinating matters in consultation with the hotel’s GM. The role of the CMT leader is crucial - especially when communicating with the rest of the team and government agencies and partner responders.
2: Is your Crisis Management Team trained and prepared to handle panic, questions from guests, staff and the media in the event of an emergency? Do they have the necessary tools to assist them carry out their tasks during a stressful phase? Are they trained on how to handle panic and take control of the situation until help arrives?
3: Does your hotel have a contingency plan for a partial or total property evacuation? Do you have a written evacuation plan?
4: Has your hotel carried out any emergency lockdown/shut down procedure or drill? In the event of a biological or chemical incident, how fast can your staff close the entrances? How soon can they disable the building ventilation and air-conditioning system? Biological hazards can be bacteria and viruses while chemical hazards include allergens and toxins.
5: Is your chef and kitchen staff aware of the relatively new threat from food terrorism? Food is a life essential. Due to its function as a conference venue that hosts high profile personalities and VIPs, hotels can be vulnerable to acts of food terrorism. Food contamination can be carried out during the food preparation process and hence kitchen staff of hotels needs to be vigilant.
6: Have you recognised the key role your door staffs play? Are they trained to recognise anything out of the ordinary that may be the cue that something can happen? Are they able to project a welcoming demeanour whilst looking sharp?
7: In the event of an emergency or lockout, what areas in the hotel premises will accommodate the guests, as well as for the setting up of a command centre area for arriving emergency responders as well as issuing employee assignments on-the-run.
8: Have steps been taken to better protect windows and glass with shatter-proof film in the event of a blast wave or people fleeing in panic?
9: Do you have a coordinated action plan or mutual agreement with other nearby properties to work together in the event of a calamity? This could include relocating of occupants, exchange of staff and other resources to assist.
10: Do you share information on guests who behave suspiciously with others in the trade?
Hotels need to address these questions and carry out drills/exercises to prepare for the unthinkable. Through education, awareness and communication of your EAP procedures to staff, your hotel can be in a state-of-preparedness to address any challenges that threaten your safety, security and business.
(The writer is the Editor of Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Trainer, Ex-Hotelier)

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