Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Nairobi Attack Underscores Urgency for Crisis Planning at Hotels

David Trumble

Even the most experienced traveler can be lulled into a false sense of security believing that the more exclusive or remote a hotel or resort is, the safer they are from outsider harm and intrusion.

Unfortunately, that was not the case this week with the terrorist attack on the five-star dusitD2 hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. For nearly a full day following the assault, news coverage and social media feeds of the general public spread like wildfire.

Graphic images of bloody bodies were posted by members of the public on Twitter and other social media feeds. Later in the day, a bulletin was issued by The Communication Authority of Kenya, providing official links with details and updates and cautioning the public about spreading unverified rumors or “fake news” online.  

Logging onto the dusitD2 website several hours following the mass shooting, nothing would indicate to customers that there was a problem. Instead, the website’s usual copy extolled this “vibrant city hotel retreat where style, entertainment and art converge … cocooned away from the hustle and bustle in a secure and peaceful haven.”

It wasn’t until the following day that the hotel and its parent company, Dusit Thani Group, posted an update stating that the hotel complex had been secured by local authorities and would be closed until further notice.  The update advised guests with reservations that they were being relocated to other hotels in the city.

This catastrophic event was similar to a mass shooting in 2013 at a shopping mall in the same Nairobi neighborhood, which claimed 67 lives.  These tragedies, along with the October 2017 mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas that took the lives of 58, are painful reminders that “active shooter” incidents are accelerating at an alarming pace.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings in the U.S., there were nearly as many mass shootings as days in 2018. Thirteen died Nov. 7, 2018, in the Thousand Oaks, California, shooting – the 307th such incident of the year.    

Safeguarding the well-being of hotel guests and employees begins at the top with the full engagement of hotel owners and management teams. They must take seriously their responsibility to plan for unthinkable events such as Nairobi.

Equally important is the flow of information, in real time and across a wide spectrum of channels, including a hotel’s own website to minimize the spread of misleading information, which can go viral in a matter of seconds.

While it’s admirable that Dusit Thane eventually posted an update on its website, earlier and more frequent updates might have helped stem false reports and provided insights to family and friends worried about their loved ones. Such updates always should be limited to corroborated information about guests and avoid commentary, speculation or details that could aid the perpetrators.

Sadly, mass shooters continue to shake the world almost every day.  It is the responsibility of all hotel owners and managers to adopt a crisis management plan at every property. An integrated crisis management plan should be considered an essential part of an organization’s daily operations. The plan needs to be widely disseminated, frequently updated and practiced with periodic drills involving hotel staff members designated to handle onsite emergencies as well as messaging to customers, the public and investors.

An effective plan should include the following elements:

  1. Clearly defined protocols for what constitutes a crisis
  2. An up-to-date chain of command with emergency phone numbers
  3. A list of staff members trained to manage a crisis
  4. Training at all levels, both at the enterprise level and at each hotel
  5. Scheduled practice drills

Finally, every hotel should download a pocket card with advice regarding mass shootings prepared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by clicking this link: https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_pocket_card.pdf  

David Trumble is principal of Integrated Crisis Management Solutions, an organization composed of security operatives and communications professionals offering risk assessments, streamlined emergency protocols, management training, customer/media relations and recovery programs.

Check out the blog for our latest musings

related posts