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Mastering the challege of securing a budget motel.

FRUSTRATION TEARS THEM APART. Family and friends attend the funeral of Ms. X, who was stabbed to death at the Inn Motel. Grasping for straws, police and family members admit they have no clues.

Ms. X, a 25-year-old businesswoman and civic volunteer, was in town to be a bridesmaid in her best friend's wedding. The victim's family has filed suit against the motel owner. The attorney for the family says the main issues in the suit are lack of security, nonexistent key control, and prior related security incidents.

Motel management will not comment on the pending suit. Police say the killer gained access to the room with a key. A jury trial is planned. It promises to be emotional and have far-reaching ramifications for the hotel and motel industry.

Can this scenario really happen? Yes, and more often than those in the industry care to admit.

Fortunately, most hotels and motels are concerned with security and have measures in place to prevent such violent and unfortunate occurrences. Also, fortunately, many crimes involving hotels and motels do not end up this tragically.

Securing hotels and motels is a challenge because they are open for business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Consider a budget motel, where that challenge is increased twofold. How is it different? Such a motel has

* exterior entrances to rooms, some with sliding glass doors;

* numerous remote entrances and exits;

* parking right outside each room's door;

* limited staff--usually no security personnel;

* little or no physical security; and

* limited capital resources.

Some security basics are inexpensive and can be implemented quickly, while others involve greater capital expenditure. With the volume of litigation against motels today, owners and operators can't afford not to upgrade facilities. Even though they will put a squeeze on already limited funds, certain protective measures are essential. And on new construction, there is no excuse not to employ the latest security design concepts.

With the exception of safe-deposit boxes at the front desk, which limit a motel's exposure to property loss, no codes or laws require a motel to provide physical security. Courts across the nation have mandated that motels merely take "reasonable" precautions to protect guests from physical harm.

The public has also become more educated. In the last few years, for example, guests have insisted on sprinkler systems and 24-hour security. With an overbuilt lodging market, heavy competition, and fewer people traveling because of the recession, hotel and motel owners are being forced to listen to customers and reevaluate security.

This article explores basic security for budget motels. According to the American Hotel & Motel Association, these facilities typically provide no frills, have one to three stories and 20 to 125 rooms, and make up 80 percent of the total domestic lodging community. WHETHER A FACILITY IS NEW OR 20 YEARS old, basic security programs must be implemented. They involve time but little cost. Here are the basic steps.

Step 1. Managing By Walking Around (MBWA) was first introduced by Tom Peters in his book In Search Of Excellence. It involves getting out in the trenches and seeing what's going on in the business, getting close to customers and employees.

Mom-and-pop operations have practiced MBWA for a while but probably never had a label for it. Multiunit motel chains, however, often lose sight of this key concept, which is essential to running a smooth, successful operation.

MBWA is a caring attitude that is imparted to employees and guests alike. Many security professionals emphasize having a written program and policy.

Although they are important, without a caring attitude and genuine concern for security, all the programs in the world will not stop theft or, worse, violent crimes at the expense of a motel's guests, employees, and business reputation.

Any small-motel security management program should include

* key control to guest rooms and back-of-house areas;

* emergency procedures for fires and other disasters;

* procedures for handling robberies and other disturbances;

* accident management for guests, employees, and property loss;

* access control to guest rooms, the perimeter, and back-of-house areas;

* asset protection, including cashiering procedures, safeguarding of guest valuables, credit policies, and periodic inventories and shopping services;

* records and reporting;

* property inspections, patrols, and follow-up procedures; and

* communications.

If a company needs help setting up a program, it should contact a reputable hotel or motel security consultant, the ASIS Standing Committee on Lodging Security, or the American Hotel & Motel Association.

Step 2. A background check that includes contacting prior employers should be conducted before employees are hired. This step is important because applicants may have falsified their employment record or reasons for leaving jobs.

Since a motel has maybe two people on duty during the evening shifts--and many times only one person--it is easy to understand the importance of background checks. These are the same people entrusted with the safety and security of guests as well as the livelihood of the owner. They must be able to handle any situation that occurs.

During 1989 and 1990, an Orlando, FL, TV station conducted a series of investigative reports on motel security. Using a hidden camera in a guest room, reporters discovered that when employees were in the room they routinely stole from the guests.

The employees who were stealing turned out to be on state work-release programs. These same trusted employees who had master keys to every room also had criminal records for assault, robbery, and other offenses.

In addition, for $300, the investigative reporter was able to buy a copy of the master key from an employee. What kind of liability do you think that facility had?

From professional contacts and personal experience, I estimate that 80 percent of thefts from guest rooms are petrated by employees themselves or in collusion with others by providing duplicate keys and other means.

Step 3. Employees need to become involved in security. The American Hotel & Motel Association has a series of video training workshops on the basics of lodging security. Workshops cover everything from awareness to handling disturbances.

Training employees in security and emergency response procedures can go a long way in providing sound defense should an unfortunate incident occur. To keep momentum going, employees should be recognized and rewarded for positive actions.

Some motels have set up performance pay for the amount of work accomplished rather than the amount of time on the job. While controls must be established to ensure quality, motels have reported remarkable gains in productivity. This same performance pay system could easily include safety and security performance factors.

Most lodging security professionals have trouble convincing management of the need for adequate security at small properties. With the recession hitting the travel industry particularly hard, businesses cutting back on expenses, and mass layoffs taking place, consider what will get cut first.

That is why security basics need to be in place. They cost very little up front. All that is required is effort. The owner or operator must possess a philosophy and attitude that protecting assets is essential to remaining competitive in the budget-motel marketplace.

Step 4. Having a liaison with local law enforcement is crucial to the small-property operator. Without adequate police protection, a business is at extreme risk. The property management may want to contact the local crime prevention unit to find out what can be done to improve security at the property. Management also should get to know the police officer on its beat.

Step 5. Motels need to communicate with their neighbors. They need to know what criminal activity is going on around them and its extent. In many locations, courts have established that the level of reasonable care a motel must provide is based on what its competitors in the same location are doing.

Motels should become active in local business organizations, especially their local chapter of the American Hotel & Motel Association. The contacts and information received from such networking can be invaluable.

Step 6. Motels should either designate or hire a security person to patrol the property. This should be the last step in assembling the program. IN SOME LOCATIONS, EMPLOYING A security person to patrol the property, especially on evening and graveyard shifts, cannot be avoided. Whether a motel uses a guard service or proprietary guards, individuals should be investigated thoroughly. They need to be trained to handle problems so they do not end up creating more.

They also need to be trained in the motel's safety and security policies and procedures and should be introduced to the motel's police contact so they are part of the total security operation.

The safety of security patrols is as important as that of a motel's own personnel. Whoever patrols the property should be given emergency two-way communications equipment, not a cheap citizens band radio. Two-way radios are invaluable for day-to-day operations. Their cost is moderate for small-motel operators but worth every penny.

The one universal concept in the hospitality business is that anything can and will happen. A motel is a cross section of society thrown into a confined space on a transient basis with clashing values and perceptions. Planning is critical.

A motel is smaller than a 1,500-room resort hotel, but its potential for a security debacle is often greater. Why? What can be done to reduce that potential? Where is the biggest bang for the buck?

One security task that is critical to guest protection and is no longer discretionary is controlling access to guest rooms. The courts have interpreted restricted access to such rooms as mandatory.

Many motels still have conventional mechanical key and card locks. Many of these lock sets are key-in-knob cylindrical latch sets, which are only 5/8 in. long.

Case law has determined that this type of latch set does not provide adequate security. Therefore, if a motel does not control keys or regularly rekey locks, it will lose, and lose big, if a lawsuit is filed.

As a rule of thumb, rekeying should occur every time a key is reported lost. It is also a good idea to rekey the whole motel once a year because of the possibility of duplicate keys on the street.

Key control is extremely important. Case law has held hotels and motels liable for not maintaining accountability of guest room and master keys.

As the price of electronic motel lock systems decreases, the public demand for them--because of greater security value--increases. Many hotels and motels, even small ones, are requiring them on new facilities, and they are the primary choice in retrofitting new lock systems.

The excuse not to require them on new construction and provide capital improvement funds for retrofitting existing facilities has passed. Motels can no longer defend a security lawsuit involving nonforced entry into a guest room.

Electronic lock systems improve a facility's security by providing the following basic features:

* automatic reprogramming of a lock to a new key card after every guest

* an audit trail of all key cards made and issued to guests and employees

* a record of recent entries into the room--who, when, and where

Electronic locks also reduce maintenance costs, both in labor and materials. The actual saving has long been debated, but some say a typical electronic system will pay for itself in a few years.

A motel could try to emulate the advantages of electronic systems with a manual system, but the costs and the hassle would be probihitive. The cost and administrative hassle are the main reasons why at some hotels and motels someone can obtain a key to a guest room and gain entry to that same room months later.

Mechanical card systems tend to be much better than key types because cards come prepunched in lots of five or a fixed number specified by the motel owner. Once the cards in a set run out, the motel is forced to recode the lock set. One of the discoveries made by the investigative news team in Florida was that the room key it obtained in 1989 still worked in 1990.

Electronic lock systems practically eliminate room thefts by employees and professionals, who look for easier targets down the street.

Before installing an electronic lock set, a motel should consider other important physical security features and measures:

* solid-core wood or hollow metal entrance doors

* door frames of welded steel or reinforced knockdown with a security compression anchor

* door and frame clearance not exceeding 1/8 in.

* all other entrances to the room as secure as the entrance door

* American National Standards Institute Grade 1 (high level of security and durability) mortise lock set with 3/4-in. latch set, 1-in. dead bolt, and automatic retraction of the latch and bolt for life safety

* wide-angle view port and separate security door guard on all entrance doors

* emergency graphics on safety, security, and fire precautions and instructions conspicuously posted

Security of the guest room is only as good as the weakest link. Yet a motel need not be a fortress. ANOTHER FACTOR CRITICAL TO THE Security of guest rooms is site accessibility and opportunity for crime.

An interesting concept was put into practice by a small-hotel owner when he designed a new facility. The building had a U shape, with all doors to guest rooms facing the center of the U. A small, freestanding building in the center at the beginning of the U contained the hotel's registration area and lobby.

This small building acted as a security checkpoint because all vehicles had to pass by it to exit the site. All parking was contained within the U. According to the owner, his facility had far fewer security problems than his competitors around him who had traditional motel layouts.

Another excellent design involves an enclosed two- to three-story building surrounding a courtyard where all access to guest rooms is through interior corridors. This layout forces visitors to come through the main entrance and pass by the front desk.

Other similar concepts are the traditional four-story or higher facility where all interior corridors, with access through a lobby, pass the front desk to elevators, and emergency fire exits cannot be entered from the outside.

Remote entrances and exits to a building should be minimized. Fire and life safety codes specify the number of exits a building must have. For the convenience of their guests, some hotels and motels permit guests to enter the building through these remote exits. However, they need not serve as entrances.

One way to add convenience and improve security at remote entrances is with readers that accept valid guestroom key cards. In some cases a perimeter door alarm system may alert staff to unauthorized entry or to a door that is propped open. Staff should be trained in how to respond, and the system should be kept in working condition and periodically tested. ALTHOUGH THESE DESIGNS IMPROVE guest room security, they do not secure parking lots and pathways.

The number-one deterrent to site crime and improved safety is lighting.

Site lighting for a small motel should be a minimum of one footcandle, and the entire site should be uniformly lit. Entrances to the building should have higher illumination levels, around three to five footcandles, to draw attention to them.

If a facility has outside entrances to guest rooms, lighting there should be brighter than lighting for walkways, but it does not need to be as bright as it is for the main entrance. Ramps, stairs, and elevator lobbies should be brightly lit.

Landscaping should be minimal and designed and maintained so hiding places and blind spots around the building are eliminated.

Each state has some form of liability limits on loss of a guest's property. Laws require that motels provide guests with a safe or safe-deposit box for storing valuables. A motel should be sure to get enough safe-deposit boxes to meet the facility's needs. The boxes should also be of good quality.

Manufacturers usually provide two keys for each deposit box. This second key should be destroyed because some motels have been held liable for the missing contents when it was discovered a second key existed.

If a hotel or motel is in a resort area, room safes may be a worthwhile addition for both security and marketing appeal. In Hawaii in-room safes are a requirement of the innkeepers statutes. In-room safes, however, do not replace front-desk safes or safe-deposit boxes.

Physical asset protection in a small hotel or motel begins with good perimeter protection. The more control over access to interior facilities, storage areas, and guest areas, the better.

Inexpensive access control devices can be placed on rear service entrances and high-value storage areas. As a minimum, a secure, restricted-keyway, removable-core commercial lock set with strict key control goes a long way in reducing theft in budget motels.

Motels should also consider using an electronic stand-alone access device that provides an audit trail of entries. Some hotels and motels put these locks on storage rooms to control shortages. ARMED ROBBERY IS A SCARY EXPERIENCE for roadside motel operators. Many motels lock their lobbies after dark in the hopes of curtailing crime. Some innovative motel lobby designs have automated check-in equipment, where a guest inserts a credit card, registers, and receives a key card to the room without leaving his or her car. With this approach, however, the human element is lost.

Other facilities have installed bullet-resistive teller windows in the foyer leading to the lobby for after-hours check-in. The lobby should be well lit and open, giving wide visibility to personnel at the front desk.

Frequent cash drops and trim safes help reduce dollar loss. Trim safes are small, locked boxes that are mounted under the counter so large bills or excess cash can be dropped inside during high-volume business.

Holdup alarms have pluses and minuses and should be used only after carefully considering all the facts.

Support has grown for CCTV with time-lapse video, both as a deterrent and in documenting events during a robbery. The camera is usually positioned to provide a front view of the assailant, but another good location is a wide-angle view of the front desk and lobby.

The use of any of these tools is only as good as the training and instruction of the employees on the front line.

Access to the areas behind the front desk should always be secured with a door and some form of access control device, such as a push-button, reprogrammable lock. The combination should be changed frequently.

Drop safes and safe-deposit boxes for employee banks should be contained in a secure workroom, usually behind the front desk. Here, again, key control is a paramount concern.

Often adjacent to this area is the property manager's office, which should have a high-security lock set on the entrance. The front desk acts as a physical barrier, separating the workroom and administrative areas from the lobby.

All motels should have an emergency two-way radio system. The system also can be used for day-to-day staff communications.

For a modest investment, three radios with related equipment can be purchased with a somewhat private frequency established and licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. One radio should be placed at the front desk as a base station and the other two given to the property manager and maintenance person.

At night, radios become the primary security and emergency communications between staff on duty and the security officer, if there is one. This small communication system is worth its weight in gold in time saved, in fast response to day-to-day activities, and especially in an emergency. AS SECURITY PROFESSIONALS, WE TEND to notice the extravagant approaches to security at larger hotels and resorts and forget about the small hotel or motel. Being small and located off Highway 1 in Podunk does not denote having small problems. These facilities have just as many security problems as big facilities but with fewer resources to solve them.

As mentioned earlier, 80 percent of the lodging facilities in the United States have fewer than 125 guest rooms. That 80 percent will have the majority of problems. So if your company owns and operates small hotels and motels, make sure they receive a large measure of your expertise.

Robert L. Kohr, CPP, is a senior consultant at Arthur D. Little Inc. in Mount Airy, MD. He has more than 15 years of experience in security and safety management for the hotel and restaurant industry. He is a member of the ASIS Standing Committee on Lodging Security.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kohr, Robert L.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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