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Terrorist Hotel Attacks – Should I be concerned?

Ever so often, the media hits us with a tragic story of a terrorist attack on a hotel in some distant international location. As Americans, we are mostly insulated from this particular type of threat. However, that doesn't mean it does not exist. In fact, it does exist and the incidents tend to be pretty grand in nature.
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Hotels are notoriously known for being soft targets. Despite what anyone says, there are a lot of variables security has to contend with. Like it or not, security issues are also weighed against the visitor experience. Having a secure location is not easy to do when you are worried about customer satisfaction. This makes it really hard to excel at both, especially for five-star hotels.

Let’s look at a few events that took place in 2019.

Recent Events

Colombo, Sri Lanka

On Easter Sunday, 3 hotels and 3 churches fell victim to a series of coordinated attacks by Islamic terrorists. There were also a series of secondary attacks later in the day at various locations. The method of attack utilized by the terrorists was suicide bombs. Approximately 260 people were killed and another 500 injured. Out of the fatalities, 45 were foreign nationals.

Let’s focus specifically on the hotels that were attacked. All three of the beachfront locations, the Shangri-La, The Cinnamon Grand, and The Kingsbury, are five-star rated hotels. The bombers sought out dining areas during busy times in order to attack as many concentrated victims as possible.

It has been reported that the Sri Lankan government may have had advance notice of a potential event up to 12 days before the attacks. In the days following the attacks, violence was reported targeting Muslim owned businesses across Sri Lanka.

Here is a visual timeline of how the attacks were carried out.

Kismayo, Somalia

In this attack on the Asasey Hotel, 26 people (including two Americans) were killed and 56 injured when gunmen stormed the location after a suicide bomber used a car to destroy the gate to the property. Gunmen then entered the hotel in an attack that lasted 14 hours.

The Asasey Hotel is a common location for politicians, foreigners/expatriates to visit. The incident ended when government forces made a final push, killing several of the terrorists.

Nairobi, Kenya

The Dusit D2 Luxury hotel was attacked in a 19-hour ordeal that resulted in the death of 21 people and the injuring of 28 more.

This incident kicked off when one of the terrorists set off a suicide vest inside a restaurant within the property. After this occurred, 4 gunmen entered the property after killing the security guards at the main gate using rifles and hand grenades. The group of 4 then split into teams of two with one team entering the main entrance and one team entering a rear entrance.

Additional information on this attack can be found here.

Gwadar, Pakistan

The luxury hotel, Pearl Continental, was attacked by armed terrorists, resulting in the death of 5 innocents while injuring 6 others. The gunmen, wearing uniforms similar to security forces, killed one security guard as they were making entry into the building. This resulted in an hours-long gunbattle with security forces, who ultimately killed all of the attackers.

Fortunately, the hotel had lighter than normal traffic due to Ramadan, or the outcome may have been much worse. It should be noted, this hotel is a popular destination for foreigners and government officials visiting the area. This a common trend we see among most of these attacks.

Read more here.

What issues complicate hotel security?

As mentioned above, there are a number of issues that complicate hotel security. Let’s discuss a few of them.

Employees | Guests | Visitors

Let’s be honest, it is near impossible to monitor every single person coming in and out of a hotel. With the number of guests, their visitors, and hotel staff coming in and out of a facility, it’s impossible to keep track of who’s supposed to be there and who isn’t.

In the case of large hotels, there may be hundreds of staff members. Employees in these environments may not even know all of their coworkers. There is no way they will know the legitimacy of visitors. Again, hotels won’t compromise customer experience for access control. It’s just not possible.

Numerous Points of Entry

Access control is another issue. In order to accommodate evacuations/fire code, customer convenience, etc., hotels typically have numerous access points. How can staff working in the reception area effectively monitor things? They can’t.

Keep in mind, there are a lot of hotels that are connected to adjoining businesses. This increases access and the flow of unknown visitors. Additional services like stores, coffee shops, etc., all bring in additional traffic from alternate points of entry.

Open Designs

Most hotels have large open floor plans in a lot of public areas. These designs offer little to no protection for victims if violence does break out. At best, there are tables, desks, chairs, and similar items that may offer some concealment.

While these designs are aesthetically pleasing, they make it extremely difficult to find sufficient cover. In the case of suicide bombers, you may not have an opportunity to seek cover. However, once the shooters enter the hotel, cover becomes critical.

Open concepts also allow shooters to see movement and avenues of escape. Once people start fleeing, it’s not uncommon for folks to be naturally funneled to certain areas due to layout, the direction of the threat, etc. In an open concept, the shooter can easily see this and continue to target folks.

Method of Operation (M.O.)

Al-Shabab has been utilizing the technique of using a vehicle or other means as a way to introduce an explosive to breach perimeter security. Once the perimeter is breached, gunmen typically carryout the killing phase. It seems to be one of their preferred methods and the more they do it, the better they get. Being a successful means of attack, I anticipate more groups to start copying this behavior.

What to do

I published an article on Hotel Safety Tips and How to Evaluate Hotel Security, and if you haven’t had a chance to read it, spend a few minutes and give it a glance. I covered topics such as hotel location, external security, room location, and what to do inside the room. Again, it’s just a few tips to help you maintain or improve safety and security while traveling.

Conclusion

Looking at this problem from the viewpoint of the hotel industry, you can see how it can be difficult for them to put very many restrictions into place. This is especially true for luxury hotels that cater to more affluent guests. Many think they can buy themselves into safety by staying at nicer locations, but this is not true.

While these incidents are happening outside the United States and Europe, we should look at the security in place within these countries. I can’t speak to every location, but my experience during travel, security measures are little to none. Most people are okay with this, and in reality, they are put off by increased security. It’s seen as an inconvenience.

So, back to whether or not you should be worried about this type of event. I can’t speak for you, but I am not going to spend any time worrying about this type of thing. Do we need to be aware of it? Yes. Do we need to know how to maintain safety and security while traveling? Yes. But, those are just part of being a well-rounded individual. Avoid destinations or locations where this type of event is more likely. If you have to travel to these places for work, you have a more expanded security plan in place in coordination with your employer.

Let me know your thoughts!

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