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Israel’s Hospitality Industry And Today’s Growing Terrorism Threat by Dov Shiloah & James C. Braver

Cayuga Hospitality

Over the past several years, it has become obvious that terrorism has become a permanent and constant threat. Governments, businesses, institutions, schools and society in general now realize that life as it used to be is no longer with us: Security is not just an issue relating to crime. Counterterrorism is a word that has become integrated in our vocabulary.

Soft targets, i.e., targets that are low profile but high value for terrorists, have been on the radar as ideal targets in recent years. Easy to gain access to, soft targets are everywhere and the hospitality industry has become increasingly at risk. Certainly, dozens of hotels around the world have been hit over the past several years and therefore, the hospitality industry must do more to protect its guests and employees. Airlines are now very secure and shipping companies have upgraded security, yet the hospitality industry is extremely vulnerable and more must be done.

In Israel, living with the threat of terrorism is a way of life. A kind of security-based culture has evolved in that country and a combination of measures based on experience as well as public and institutional awareness has increased the capacity and capability to face threats, and deal with attempts.

Despite the turmoil in the Arab world driven by the momentum of the Arab Spring, Israel’s tourism industry is on the increase. Over the past two years, despite the chaos in neighboring Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, the threats of Iran, the hostility from Gaza and the West Bank, tourists are flowing into Israel. Recently in an article in “Israel Today”, a piece about gay travelers to Israel showed that, the gay destination travel website, took a poll among its readers and found that Tel Aviv was voted the number one global travel destination with New York following in second place.

After the tragic hotel attack in 2002 in the coastal city of Netanya where a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Park Hotel during a community Passover Seder where 40 people died and 140 were wounded, the Israeli government conducted extensive research into how to improve security. On one hand, extensive work has been done on the preventive level in the form of security plans, and public and staff awareness programs integrated with advanced technological means. On the other hand, knowing that there can never be a foolproof system, new approaches have been developed with respect to the physical structures of buildings, particularly hotels.

Special measures have now been implemented to improve hotels to withstand attacks and reduce casualties. Special blast proof materials, non-collapsible ceilings, blast proof glazing and other products are available. Increased physical security measures, upgraded training programs and improved planning have become the new standard.

Israeli hoteliers must meet certain certification standards for approval. These standards and measures have been established through cooperation between security organizations, local government agencies and certified professionals authorized to oversee the implementation of security. These measures relate to issues such as access control (including guest entrances, staff entrances and service entrances, garage and parking facilities), luggage screening, camera positioning, control room requirements, staff screening, staff security training, and security drills. For developers, security planning is a line item and part of the architectural and design planning in order to increase efficiency and be cost effective.

Security Plan

Regional and local risk assessments are important in determining what needs to be done and how much will be spent: The more volatile the region, the higher the security levels. In addition, it is very important, as is done in Israel, that cooperation, intelligence sharing and response, etc., between hotel operators and local authorities be well coordinated and maintained on a regular basis. Should an emergency occur, good planning and mutual cooperation can provide unlimited benefits in dealing with threats.

Security design needs to be costed into the project at the conceptual planning stage. It is essential that developers and architects work with experienced security engineers and consultants for proper assessments and plans. Without proper investment in integrating security measures in the planning, the more at risk a facility could be.

Basic Design Concepts

In general terms, there are three concentric “security circles” which combine physical design with technology and manpower.

Circle 1: Perimeter and access: Creating more distance from public roads is essential (keeping the traffic moving). Entrances can be manned by guard booths, electronic gates and other systems. CCTV is very important in guarding the perimeter. Cooperation with neighbors (if in a heavily developed area) can be improved by sharing CCTV’s from different views of each property and sharing intelligence. In Israel, vehicles and personal items are searched by security personnel.

Circle 2: Areas from Building to Perimeter: these areas are where access is controlled, including vehicles. The stand-off area (space from car to building) is vitally important as the further a vehicle is allowed to come toward a structure, typically the more damage occurs from car bombs. Various barriers and obstacles can be created to reduce potential for ramming (speed bumps, winding driveways, bollards, Jersey barriers, landscaping, etc.). This area also requires extensive use of CCTV.

Circle 3: Building Structure: Balancing aesthetic quality with effective security is an art. As mentioned, there are numerous design elements such as access points, floor plans, luggage and mail rooms (blast proof), minimization of debris from blasts, CCTV coverage, barriers and dividers, window glazing, reducing spaces where items can be hidden, blast and ballistic proof materials, etc.

The more ornamentation and heavy objects (metal, concrete, etc.), the higher the potential for causalities from fragmentation of debris from a blast. Many casualties can result from shrapnel, shards of glass, etc. Using fewer objects and lighter materials can be less lethal.

Human Intelligence

Human intelligence is probably the most vital measure in dealing with terrorism threats. It requires alert employees with good training and experience. To stop an attack in the planning stages is the key to success. Without this, physical planning cannot fully prevent potential damage. Staff awareness is essential.

The hotel industry must invest in developing the best staffs available in its attempts to protect its hotels. U.S. or multi-national hotel companies might not want to exhibit the levels of security measures used in high threat regions such as in Israel or Asia, such as guard searches at access points or even searching car trunks. However, in the event of an attack to the industry anywhere, the entire industry collectively suffers. In such events, proper alert levels are welcomed and expected by the traveling public.

Hotel staffs should be adequately trained. Reliance upon technology and consultants are only two component of a good line of defense. The more awareness is instilled in a hotel’s staff, the better the hotel’s overall security — including reduction of criminal activity.

The threat of terrorism has not gone away and the hospitality industry must be better prepared, especially in higher risk regions. The industry as a whole is affected negatively when sensationalized media attention is given to an attack anywhere in the world. Owners and operators must invest more time and money to upgrade security using professional consultants and security design engineers. Airlines are now much less threatened but hotels are certainly at risk due to their ease of access and welcoming environments as natural gathering points for large crowds.

About the Author 

James Braver is an expert in security planning and programs and a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.