New Era in Resort Security

In June of 2015, a gunman opened fire on guests at the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel, a luxury resort popular with European tourists at Port El Kantaoui, Tunisia, killing 38 and wounding others. On June 12, 2016, another gunman opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. Media reports indicate that the Orlando shooter had scouted other possible area locations, including Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment complex at Walt Disney World Resort.

Of course, these are extreme events that are unlikely to occur at your property. But just three days after the Orlando attack, a small child was dragged into the water by an alligator and killed at a Disney resort. All three incidents highlight the need for resort managers to remain vigilant about guest security and prepare for any eventuality.

With the fall board of directors’ meeting season coming up, Resort Trades spoke with experts in resort security to get their input on potential agenda items, as well as advice for resort operators. Here’s what they said.

Richard Hudak
Richard Hudak

Review Your Plans

According to Richard Hudak, managing partner of Resort Security International, a former FBI agent, and director of corporate security for both ITT Sheraton and Loews Corp., resort security begins with situational awareness. “Everyone on staff needs to be trained to constantly watch for potential issues,” he says. “It’s everyone’s job.”

Conducting a risk assessment at your property is not a once and done procedure; it should be scheduled and conducted at least annually. One tool that can be used is data from CAP Index, which reports on crime risk in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. “The service is inexpensive and provides a good snapshot of what risks there are for property and people based on 88 variables,” he says.

Assistance with risk assessment is often available from local police, emergency management and fire departments. “Invite a representative of each of these agencies to your resort and walk the property with them,” Hudak advises. “It will help them be aware of the environment at your property, and they can point out issues that you may need to remedy. Once that’s done, document what you learned and do the things that are reasonable. You can work down the list if you don’t have the budget to complete the list immediately

Another idea is to visit similar resorts in your area to see what they are doing. “If you end up in court, being able to show that you’re maintaining community standards can be important to your defense,” he says.

Physical security requires effective environmental design, including access controls from the perimeter to the guest room door. In order to be effective, these access controls must be monitored. “Each property is unique and requires a specific design for its needs,” says Abraham Brecher, founder and president of Digitize Inc., an alarm system provider. For example, alarms can be placed at pool doors, on resort canoes, or on the doors of equipment rooms that may have hidden dangers for guests. The alarms can be designed to send text messages about the specific alarm that was triggered to appropriate staff members. Another option is a panic button that signals police to come to the property. The systems can also include information from smoke alarms, heat detectors and other devices.

Even landscaping plays a role. “Resort landscapes should be carefully maintained to avoid cover and concealment especially near access points to guest entrances and guest rooms.” Hudak says. Use ground cover, colorful flowers and less “leafy” shrubs to permit better visibility. Cactus plants (and ornamental shrubs with thorns can shield restricted areas or deter voyeurism around guest room windows.

If your resort doesn’t have security personnel, consider hiring a competent staff member and appoint them to the executive team, Hudak advises. “Too often, resort security departments are undermanned, poorly trained and equipped, and are dressed in casual or sports clothing to blend into the relaxed atmosphere of the property,” he says. “Guests expect reasonable safety and security measures at resorts where they vacation, and distinctive uniform that allows guests to recognize security personnel conveys that security is a priority”.

Review Your Policies

Insurance policies, that is. The subject of terrorism insurance is rapidly changing, says Scott McGinness, vice president of commercial sales at Gregory & Appel Insurance Co., which serves the vacation ownership market. “Most resort policies have exclusions for acts of terror,” he says “Don’t assume you have coverage, instead examine your policies because all carriers are different. Then have a discussion with your agent.

Don’t expect to receive compensation from the federal government. “The TRIPRA 2015 (Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act) was intended to provide back up coverage, but it doesn’t kick in until claims are at least $5 million, and the Secretary of the Treasury Department must certify the event as an act of terrorism,” he says. “The Boston bombing has not yet been declared to be terrorism. It’s not likely that an incident at a resort is going to qualify for that program.”

Individual resort insurance policies will generally cover incidents where there is an active shooter, McGinness says. “Employees and guests could be injured or killed, there could be property damage and then there’s loss of business and reputational damage. These are areas of concern that resorts should be consulting with their agent about.”

Insurance carriers are beginning to issue policies specifically for terrorism and active shooter situations. “They don’t require a minimum limit and don’t have a lot of loopholes,” he says. “You can pick and choose among the coverages, which are pretty broad. They may cover business interruption, loss of revenue due to reputational damage, crisis response from a public relations firm, and even job retraining and consulting. For resorts, premiums will likely fall within the $2,000 to $10,000 range, but it will depend on the coverages selected and the size and location of the resort”

According to the Insurance Information Institute, about 60 percent of U.S. businesses have terrorism insurance. The policies usually don’t cover cyber-attacks, so resorts may want to consider purchasing separate cyber liability insurance.

An advantage of obtaining such as policy is that insurance carriers may provide technical assistance and best practices to mitigate such events. “An active shooter situation must be planned for, just like a hurricane or fire,” McGinness says. “You need to have procedures in place.”