Wellcome to the Meeting of the Future
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2008/January 2009
How to Prevent, Prepare For and Deal With Emergencies in the Hospitality Industry
By: Norman Mayers
In the last decade we have been witness to some of history's most destructive disasters, both natural and manmade. From the shocking events of 9/11 to the deadly force of Hurricane Katrina, it has become increasingly apparent that an emergency situation can come in many forms and at a magnitude previously unimaginable. While the government may be responsible for maintaining safety in public spaces such as airports, train stations, and parks, it is up to the hospitality industry to police itself. Both 9/11 and Katrina created ripple effects in the tourism economy that lasted for years, so it is imperative that, as an industry, everything must be done to plan for the inevitability of such events. Luckily, just as the danger has risen, so it seems, has the industry risen to the occasion. Now more than ever the hospitality industry has taken a good hard look at itself and discovered ways in which to improve. And while a disaster of any sort is unavoidable, at least the tools are in place to face them head on. What follows is a useful guide to anyone in the hospitality world, whether a hotel, a convention center, or simply a meeting planner on how to prepare for a major emergency.


BE INFORMED

Not all emergencies are created equally. The first step in surviving such an occurrence is to know what you are up against and how to prepare. For instance, hurricanes are prevalent in the Southeast and earthquakes and fires threaten the California coast. International terrorism is the new global threat of the 21st century. Learn the facts about what type of disaster your region is susceptible to and go from there. The American Hotel and Lodging Association website features an extensive list of resources detailing a variety of emergencies including hurricanes, flu pandemics, terrorism, and other natural disasters. This is a great place to inform yourself about what can harm your property. The website is http://www.ahla.com/prepare.asp.

Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration runs the Center for Hospitality Research (CHR), which released an extensive report on Emergency Preparedness Essentials. This report is a must for anyone in the industry and will serve as a guidebook to getting your property ready for anything. You can download the document online at http://www.hotelschool.cornell.edu/research/chr/pubs/tools/tooldetaisl-13629.html.

When booking an event, it is the meeting planner's responsibility to ask the right questions to insure a facility is up to speed on emergency procedures. Identify threats and possible security factors based on your event's history in advance. Be sure to inquire about an emergency response booklet or information kit from the venue. Work with a property's security team and event staff to find out as much as possible before committing to anything.


CREATE A PLAN

If your hotel or facility does not have an emergency plan it is time to get one written up! If you already have one, be sure you are updating it every six months. The plan should basically detail what to expect in an emergency such as what systems will shut down and in what order, what employees are supposed to do, and evacuation procedures. Once a workable plan is created the next step is to train staff and run drills. This step is essential in getting your staff ready for anything, preparing their minds and bodies for an actual emergency event. Drills also will reveal any potential and unforeseen problems such as faulty backup systems or broken doors.

Arthur Keith, vice president and general manager of Gaylord Opryland Resort and Attractions in Nashville details that property's impressive emergency measures. "The Emergency Operations Guidelines at Gaylord Opryland are extensive. Our resort and convention center includes approximately 4-million sq. ft. under one roof. Plus we have approximately 4,000 STARS (employees) at any given time. We host an average of 1,400 conferences a year, our largest with 30,000 attendees. We also have 2,281 guestrooms on our property and 10 outlets that serve food or snacks. So you can imagine, our emergency preparedness plans must be thorough."

Keith continues, "Our mission above all in an emergency or crisis is to keep our STARS and guests safe. All other operations will cease to exist while leaders work to ensure the safety of all by moving them to hallways, stairwells, and lower level locations." Additional ways the Gaylord Opryland prepares for an emergency include an onsite security force of 105 state certified officers, annual all-team security force emergency response training for evacuation procedures, annual security force crisis scenario training, quarterly testing of all fire equipment and alarms on property in coordination with local authorities, routine testing of in-room guest emergency notification equipment, special security measures taken regularly with regard to the needs of conference groups, emergency evacuation information posted on guest room doors, and an EMS unit on the premises at all times.

While the measures put in place by Gaylord Opryland may be more complex than that of your property, much can be learned from the extensive measures that this massive resort have put into place.

Carol Wallace, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention Center Corporation shares that facility's emergency measures.

"A comprehensive emergency preparedness response plan is in place based on IAAM (International Association of Assembly Managers) best practices. Our plan is constantly evolving on what we learn from each and every event held in our building, so we review and update our emergency plan on a regular basis. The SDCCC has also received nearly $1 million in support and training from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to better prepare for security threats of every nature. This includes everything from building vulnerability identification assessments to electronic tactical surveys to assist first responders in the event of an emergency."

"Additionally," Wallace continues, "we have two dedicated Emergency Management and Emergency Response teams made up of key SDCCC personnel, who are responsible for directing and implementing our emergency preparedness plan. Our highest priority is the safety and wellbeing of guests and employees, as well as protection of the facility, its contents and minimizing the impact from an emergency. This includes stabilizing and returning the facility and operations to its pre-emergency conditions."

"Our security staff also has ongoing communication and relationships with local and national law enforcement including first responder coordination with the San Diego Police Department, Harbor Police and San Diego Fire Department."

Even if your property does not have access to the major resources of these two facilities, you can still be prepared. The simplest and least expensive action in support of emergency preparedness is developing a checklist of necessary supplies and insuring that these supplies are always fully stocked. Some obvious supplies include flashlights, batteries, glowsticks, lanterns, bottled water and nonperishable food items. Some less obvious include gasoline, matches, and baby products. Staff should have a portable kit customized to meet personal needs, such as essential medications.


DURING THE EMERGENCY

Depending on the nature of an emergency a hotel or meeting facility can still be open for use. If this is the case then some measures should be put in place to assure that the level of service is maintained. Keep food available for your guests. A gas grill on-site will aid this in case the electricity is out. Or identify restaurants that can function with wood or gas ovens and contract them to be a supplier.


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