Hitesh (HP) Patel
AAHOA Chairman (2018-2019)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires every business to have a plan for emergencies, but it is important to ensure that the plan will work for your specific properties. It can’t be generic. Assess whether your management has been given the necessary knowledge and tools to act effectively in an emergency. These plans have to differ between properties depending on the building, the surrounding location, and proximity to hospitals, police or fire stations.The success of the hotel industry depends on the well-being of our guests and our employees. An essential component of protecting their interests is making sure that our properties are safe. This includes implementing comprehensive and easy-to-understand plans for emergency situations. We can never know when a disaster is going to strike, so it is extremely important to have a strategic plan that all of your staff knows and can follow without confusion.
If an emergency occurs, your employees are the first line of defense for scared and panicked hotel guests. So, for your safety plan to work, all employees must be well-versed in all aspects of the strategy and be able to implement it calmly. This includes determining when authorities need to be called, knowing evacuation routes, understanding when a shelter-in-place is necessary, and accounting for all guests and other workers after everyone is out of harm’s way. Having staff that can evaluate a situation and know the correct course of action can save lives and make the jobs of first responders easier.
As hotel owners, your management and staff must be able to contact you and anyone else who might need to know what is going on in an emergency. It is necessary for all lines of communication to be open to ensure that everything is being done to protect guests and workers. A good tactic would be to give every employee a list of emergency contacts that they can find easily and quickly. Owners need to know what is happening as it is happening, not after.
Hoteliers can also play a significant role after an emergency. Last year, AAHOA members from Florida to Texas faced the fallout from the worst hurricanes and tropical storms in recent years. As a Texan, I am proud of the way AAHOA members in my state rallied by providing refuge and comfort to thousands of people who fled cities like Houston during Hurricane Harvey. And after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, many Florida hoteliers accommodated displaced people by working with the FEMA Transitional Shelter Assistance Program. But disastrous weather can strike anywhere, and it is important to learn from their experiences, develop plans to address emergencies, and provide comfort and hospitality to displaced people.
Some emergencies may not be as obvious as a fire, earthquake, or other safety threats. For example, criminals use hotels to facilitate human trafficking, putting trafficking victims, guests, and employees at risk. That’s why it is crucial for you and your employees to know the signs that can indicate a trafficking situation might be occurring. AAHOA is dedicated to increasing awareness on this issue and now offers Human Trafficking Awareness Training free to all AAHOA members and their employees (www.aahoa.com/htat). Reporting human trafficking can stop that crime and save lives.
It is too dangerous for your guests, employees, and your business not to have a comprehensive action plan for emergency situations of all kinds. If there is confusion or disorganization during a crisis, it is more likely that people will get hurt. Now is the time to review your plans or create a new one if improvements can be made.