Finding solid ground


Building a culture of safety and security on a firm foundation

Way back in 1987, I worked as a hotel security guard in a large, five-star hotel. This property had a full complement of staff in every department – including security – with all the people and tools anyone could wish for. However, this hotel regularly scored poorly on surveys that asked guests about their “sense of security.”

It might be surprising to learn that smaller hotels, without dedicated security staff, scored the highest on the same survey question. How could that be and what did we learn from it?

In large hotels, everyone is a specialist, and not just in security, but in every department. In smaller hotels, responsibilities overlap, and people pitch in where needed. This gives a better understanding of how hotel operations hang together and how their core job contributes to overall operational success. Security “experts” also learned that people in each department are the ones who best understand their workplaces, associated risks, and how incidents could be prevented.

At this property, boring, standardized slides were replaced, and staff members became active listeners. Training was gamified. There were competitions to see who could identify the most safety and security features in the workplace. Emergency procedures were simplified into three basic steps:

  1. Sound the alarm If something is wrong, tell someone.
  2. Save lives Help people leave the area or avoid being harmed.
  3. Solve the problem Follow up to ensure a solution is found.

Next, standard safety and security induction training was made relevant specific to the workplace. For example, housekeeper induction was done in guestrooms and guestroom corridors. Associates learned how safety and security equipment – from the doors and locks, to the phones and fire alarms – were in place for their safety. The emergency exits were “their” emergency exits, because in an evacuation, they would be the ones that needed them.

Each training ended with an “evacuation.” People were sent to different locations in the hotel, front and back of house, and instructed to leave the building via the marked exits. Along the way they noted issues, obstacles, or challenges. Was signage properly lit, easy to follow, and did the route take them all the way to the muster point? Were doors easy to open? Were evacuation routes free of combustible materials and blocked or hardto-open doors? As awareness grew, that sometimes-scary word “evacuation” came to mean “leave the building.” Each session gave the hotel status updates on the planned evacuation routes, signage, and other equipment.

In one department, absenteeism dropped substantially. Employees were surveyed and said the new training gave them a greater sense of responsibility.

This may sound too good, or too simple, to be true, and to be honest there were some challenges. The two largest obstacles that threatened success were:

  1. Leaders need to lead by example. If those at the top, don’t walk the talk, staff buy in will suffer. Job satisfaction will drop, turnover will increase, and incident rates will grow again.
  2. Fairness and consistency. No department and no employee can be overlooked. At this hotel, people actually started volunteering to come to take part in security training because it was easy, personally relevant, and gave them a sense of comfort, confidence, and belonging.

Ultimately, the changes discussed above became corporate best practice in the company. It wasn’t about making everyone part of the security team; it was more about everyone becoming more aware of their own workplace.

Everyone in a hotel has a core set of tasks that they specialize in. The more comfortable, confident, safe, and secure they feel, the better they will perform those tasks.

paul moxnessPaul is Managing Partner at NorthPoint International, a company specializing in hospitality security, safety, resilience, and public-private partnerships. He is also a member of the UN Global Network of Experts on Protection of Vulnerable Targets Against Terrorist Attacks. He can be reached at .


Comments are closed.