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Fun, sun, & security.

With media attention focused on crime, hotel security must fight both tourists' perceptions and reality.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA, IS THE number one tourist destination in the United States, with 75,000 hotel rooms and more rental cars than any other metropolitan area. It's an open, hospitable environment with attractions, such as Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios Florida, as well as large convention facilities that attract more than 13 million visitors per year from all over th world. The state of Florida has received a lot of media attention in the past couple of years due to crimes against tourists. While most of these crimes have occurred in south Florida, it has had a negative impact on the entire state. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Unified Crime Report, of the 13.2 million visitors per year, only 4,761 crimes were perpetrated against tourists in 1992. But perceptions are important, and the perception and reality must be that of a secure environment.

The types of crimes that can be perpetrated against a hotel guest range from burglary of hotel rooms, pickpocketing, and distraction thefts to auto theft an assaults. What can be done to provide protection in this environment? The key i a strong working relationship between law enforcement and hotel security professionals, with one common goal: protecting the guest. The establishment must first have a solid security program with appropriate physical security in place, including locks, sales, and parking controls.

Locks. Many Orlando area hotels, including budget motels, are equipped with state-of-the-art electronic locking systems. These locks use cards that can be programmed to expire at check-out time. If a key is lost, the lock can easily b electronically re-keyed by inserting a new key, invalidating any previous keys. This feature helps thwart hotel burglars who travel with key-making equipment. Many of these locks can also be checked to determine who was in the room and at what time. The audit trail facilitates room theft investigations and serves as deterrent to employee theft.

Many hotel and motel burglars attempt entry through sliding glass windows and doors on balconies and patios. Most Orlando area hotels with such openings have installed additional locking devices to thwart this type of entry. Such locks g through the frame in the middle of the doors or on each end of the door frame. They also screw on the tracks of the frame so that the door cannot be lifted off.

Protecting valuables. Room safes with electronic locks are commonly found in Orlando hotels in every price range. Orlando hotel guests, many carrying large quantities of cash and jewelry, appreciate this feature, which is often provide at no charge.

Parking security. Many hotels and resorts in this tourist mecca will screen vehicles at the entrance of parking lots to prevent auto burglars and other criminals from prowling their property to commit crimes. The officers posted at these areas require all incoming drivers to show their room key prior to entering the lot. The officer can be supplied with a printout of the hotel guests. The officer may also call the reservation desk to verify any suspicious drivers. This has been successful in preventing theft and violence in parking lots. Hotel guests like this feature, feeling it adds to the exclusivity of the hotel.

Employee screening. As in any other industry, hotels must protect themselves against crimes from within--those perpetrated by hotel employees. Effective preemployment screening minimizes this threat. FDLE and local sheriffs' offices have done much to facilitate preemployment criminal record checks of hospitalit industry job applicants. FDLE can process criminal histories for employers via diskette, saving data entry time and resulting in quicker turnaround time than conventional written requests. Local law enforcement agencies can process local record checks via fax, with same day service for as little as $2. Law enforcement agencies strongly encourage hotels and attractions to screen all applicants and often support this procedure with round-the-clock staffing of their records offices.

Until recently, all Florida rental cars bore license plates that began with a Y or Z, readily identifying the occupants as tourists. After several criminals admitted to preying on people driving these vehicles, car rental companies effectively lobbied to eliminate the use of the specialized plates. The rental car agency stickers were also removed from these vehicles.

Interagency cooperation. A tourist policing unit, comprised of officers from th Orlando Police Department (OPD) and the Orange County Sheriff's Department, has grown to more than forty officers dedicated to preventing crime in the tourist corridor. Several surrounding jurisdictions have also dedicated resources to combating crime against tourists. Officers assigned to these units conduct investigations and surveillances in suspected room thefts. They also patrol hotel and resort areas in marked and unmarked cars, on foot, on bicycles, and o horses.

Many of the officers have conducted cross-training with the Orange County Fire Rescue Department's Life Safety Education Bureau. They take a three-day course that includes fire behavior and evacuation techniques. These officers are often the first on the scene of a hotel fire because they patrol the property. With the proper training, they can begin evacuation procedures immediately, if necessary. This department of the Orange County Fire Rescue Department also has officers assigned to the hotels in Orange County, doing inspections and trainin in fire prevention and evacuation. They are always ready to assist area hotels with whatever concerns they may have.

The tourist policing unit networks regularly with similar units from other tourist destinations around the country, sharing information on crime trends an intelligence on criminal groups that may prey specifically on hotels and their guests. The Orlando and Orange County unit, one of the first of its kind in the nation, plays a vital role in keeping the resort areas safe. It sponsors seminars for employees of tourism-related businesses. These classes cover specific crime prevention topics such as pickpocketing, distraction thefts, aut theft, and shoplifting.

The Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI), another multiagency unit, focuses on vice crimes in central Florida. Comprised of officers from several central Florida police and sheriffs' departments, it works closely with other agencies and hotels to combat prostitution and other vice crimes. Hotel securit officers often report suspected vice activity to this agency for further investigation.

Another group dedicated to protecting Orlando's hotel guests is the OPD's Civil Bike Patrol, which is made up of concerned citizens--including hotel and attraction employees--who patrol the tourist corridors. Equipment for this grou is provided by donations and public law enforcement. The OPD also operates a Citizens Police Academy, giving many hotel and attraction managers a firsthand look at how OPD combats crime in the Orlando area. Both groups have operated fo approximately two years at no cost to participating hotels.

At the center of efforts to secure this tourist mecca is the Central Florida Hotel/Motel Security Association (CFH-MSA). This organization, formed more than twelve years ago, is comprised of hotel security directors, representatives of many tourist-oriented businesses, and every area law enforcement agency. Participants meet monthly to share intelligence and stay a step ahead of the criminals who prey on their guests.

The association has implemented a crime-alert fax system that immediately communicates information on suspected criminal activity to all the hotels, them parks, and law enforcement agencies in the area. The system has been effective, yielding numerous arrests when alert hotel employees responded to information received via the fax alert system.

Auto burglaries, in particular, have decreased with the advent of this program. One example of how the fax alerts have helped concerned a rash of break-ins to Ford Arrowstar minivans. While only a vague description of the vehicle transporting the culprits was available, a clear description of the suspected criminals was faxed to all network participants. The culprits were spotted and videotaped driving in Sea World's parking lot. Sea World security alerted the authorities and an arrest was made.

Member hotels can also be provided with crime statistics for their area by member law enforcement agencies. The CFHMSA, along with area law enforcement agencies and tourism-related associations, conducted the Tourism Safety and Security Conference in Orlando in December 1993. Lodging security professionals general managers, insurance professionals, law enforcement officials, tourist policing personnel, academics, and convention center employees from around the country attended. The response was so favorable that the conference will be offered on an annual basis.

The CFHMSA also presents a monthly security awareness award to an employee of a area hotel or attraction for his or her contribution to the prevention of a crime or the apprehension of a criminal. Along with a plaque, the employee also receives a monetary reward underwritten by a member theme park.

The national Hotel/Motel Security Association recently adopted recommended security and safety standards. While many area properties have already instituted most of the procedures and systems advocated, it is helpful for security professionals to have an industry benchmark as a guide. The standards include a variety of recommendations for increased lodging and guest security, such as requiting criminal background checks on new employee applicants and providing guests with twenty-four-hour access to an on-premise guest contact staff member, as well as the PBX operator.

Getting the word out about criminal behavior means reaching beyond the security community. Several of the area's health-care providers also belong to CFHMSA because their employees go to hotel rooms to treat guests. One such health-care practitioner using information gained from this relationship recently spotted a criminal when going through a hotel's lobby, reported it, and was given the awareness reward that month.

Many area hotels also furnish guests with the American Hotel/Motel Association' flyer, "Guest Safety Tips." Some are customized with the hotel logo or trademark, or they may highlight additional safety features that the hotel provides. The tips suggest that travelers be more aware of their environs in general, avoid displaying large amounts of cash or expensive jewelry, and use the main entrance of the hotel when returning late at night.

Local intelligence networks. Within the greater Orlando area, there are several smaller intelligence networks for specific geographic areas, such as the Orange Blossom Trail area and the Lake Buena Vista area, which includes all of the Disney area hotels. Hotel security directors and law enforcement officers from these areas meet bi-weekly to exchange regional crime information. Some have formed radio networks in their immediate area where security officers can communicate with each other and law enforcement immediately in the event of a problem.

The Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau has also created a lin between the hospitality industry and the emergency management community for coordinated response in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. Each member hotel has a designated emergency response coordinator and an alternate who stands ready to exchange information with the bureau to assist in providing shelter for evacuees from coastal areas. Information such as the availability o rooms is faxed immediately to the bureau. Evacuees can then be directed to shelter quickly, minimizing confusion and road congestion.

The convention and visitor's bureau has recently introduced Tourist Employees Against Crime (TEAC), a program developed to educate all tourist industry employees in crime prevention. Posters and payroll stuffers are used to inform employees about the different types of crimes that can occur on their property and what they can do to prevent it.

With this type of multifaceted approach to hotel security in place on a day-to-day basis, Orlando area hotels are well prepared for VIP visits, major events such as the World Cup Soccer games, and the many major golf tournaments hosted in Orlando year-round. Orlando's network of security and law enforcement professionals plays a vital role in making the area the world's number one vacation destination.

Warren T. Channell, CPP, is safety and security manager of the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Florida. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Hotel Security; crime prevention in Orlando, FL
Author:Channell, Warren T.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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