How to protect your hotel from the threat of terrorism

By Chris Phillips

- Last updated on GMT

Hotels need to maintain a friendly and welcoming atmosphere but also need to take measures to protect against terror threats
Hotels need to maintain a friendly and welcoming atmosphere but also need to take measures to protect against terror threats
Chris Phillips, a former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaTSCO) and a consultant at Wilkinson Construction Consultants outlines how hotels and other hospitality businesses can protect themselves from a terrorist attack.

With the head of MI5 claiming it is 'impossible to guarantee the security of the Olympic Games'​ in London this summer, everyone will need to be vigilant. However, hotels in particular have been considered a soft target by extremist groups across the world, so what can hoteliers and indeed other hospitality businesses do in the way of a proportionate response to the increasing threat?

Easy target

Terrorists have found that security surrounding military and Government facilities’ has improved significantly since 9/11 and at the same time organizations such as Al-Qaida have become more splintered, with less training, funding and access to weapons and explosives. As a result they are turning their attention towards easier-to-hit targets such as hotels. 

The 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai​ marked a turning point in extremist activity and placed hotels at the forefront of the terrorists list of preferred targets. The visual imagery of the iconic hotel burning after the attack were broadcast around the world, and aside from the twin towers were the most powerful message of the vulnerability of western culture to terror attack in the past decade. 

In many ways a hotel is an ideal target for these groups, as it has a fixed location, a shallow security perimeter and the potential for high numbers of casualties. A study by STRATFOR (the subscriber funded US Intelligence gathering body) concluded that the number of attacks on hotels has more than doubled since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when compared with the 8 year period before.

Health and safety

Obviously, it is important to ensure that the response is proportionate and in particular a hotel needs to maintain a friendly and welcoming atmosphere in order to attract guests whilst doing all it can to protect them. There are also legal requirements under health and safety laws for companies and individuals who own or run hotels to consider the a real possibility of a terrorist incident.

Particularly relevant to protective security in hotels and restaurants are the specific requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to carry out adequate risk assessments and put suitable measures in place to manage the identified risks. Even where they are not of your making and are outside your direct control, you need to be alert to the need to conduct prompt and regular reviews of those assessments and measures in light of new threats and development.

It should also be remembered that terrorism can come in many forms, not just a physical attack on life and limb. Terrorism also includes threats or hoaxes designed to frighten and intimidate or attacks designed to cause disruption and economic damage. It can include interference with vital operational, information or communication system, which can have a major affect on the businesses ability to operate. Some attacks are easier to carry out if the terrorist is assisted by an ‘insider’ or by someone with specialist knowledge or access. 

What you can do​ 

The first step is to understand your premises, identifying the threats to it, and its vulnerability to those threats. Hoteliers should over the coming month review and test current safety arrangements, audit them and as a result improve planning and response. In particular you should ensure adequate training, information and equipment are provided to all staff, and especially to those involved directly on the safety and security side. 

For some hotels and restaurants, simple good practice – coupled with vigilance and well exercised contingency arrangements – may be all that is needed. If, however, you assess that you are vulnerable to attack, you should apply appropriate protective security measures to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable.

Step One: Identify the threat - ​understanding the terrorist's intentions and capabilities - what they might do and how they might do it - is crucial to assessing threat. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the current state of alert - Visit​ or check media
  • Is there anything about the location of your premises, its customers, occupiers and staff, or your activities that would particularly attract a terrorist attack?
  • Is there an association with high profile individuals or organisations which might be terrorist targets?
  • Do you have procedures in place and available for deployment on occasions when VIPs attend your premises?
  • Could collateral damage occur from an attack on, or another incident to a high risk neighbour?
  • Is there any aspect of your business or activities that terrorists might wish to exploit to aid their work, e.g. plans, technical expertise or unauthorised access?

Step Two: Decide what you need to protect and identify the vulnerabilities:

Your priorities for protection should fall under the following categories:

  • People (staff, visitors, concessionaires, contractors)
  • Physical assets (buildings, contents, equipment, plans and sensitive materials)
  • Information (electronic and paper data)
  • Processes (supply chains, critical procedures)

Step Three: Identify measures to reduce risk​ 

An integrated approach to security is essential. This involves thinking about physical security, information security and personnel security. There is little point investing in costly security measures if they can be easily undermined by a disaffected member of staff or by a lax recruitment process. In the run up to a busy period it is easy to fall into the trap of being desperate for additional staff, and so be willing to circumvent normal background checks. 

Remember, terrorism is a crime and many of the security precautions typically used to deter criminals are also effective against terrorists.

Before you invest in additional security measures, review what you already have in place. You may already have a good security regime on which you can build. You should have measures in place to limit access into service or back of house corridors and vehicle access control measures into goods and service yards.

Staff may be unaware of existing security measures, or may have developed habits to circumvent them, e.g. short cuts through fire exits. Simply reinstating good basic security practices and regularly reviewing them will bring benefits at negligible cost. If you need additional security measures, then make them cost-effective by careful planning wherever possible. Try to introduce new equipment or procedures in conjunction with planned building work and remember that significant changes may require statutory consents such as planning permission or building regulations consent.

Step Four: Review your security measures 

You should regularly review and exercise your plans to ensure that they remain accurate, workable and up-to-date. You should be aware of the need to modify them to take into account any changes in your hotel or restaurant (e.g. recent or planned building work, changes to personnel, information and communication systems and revised health and safety issues). Rehearsals and exercises should wherever possible, be conducted in conjunction with emergency services and local authorities. 

Make sure that your staff understand and accept the need for security measures and that security is seen as part of everyone's responsibility, not merely something for security experts or professionals. Make it easy for people to raise concerns or report unusual activity and ensure that you investigate such observations. 

More advice: 

In the first instance, contact the nationwide network of specialist police advisers known as Counter Terrorism Security Advisers (CTSAs) through your local police force. 

You can also download NaTSCO's document Counter Terrorism Protective Security Advice for Hotels and Restaurants here​ 

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