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Mr. Suggs

Security & Safety

Seamless Security: Using design to enhance security and preserve the hospitality experience

By Jim Suggs, Associate Vice President, CallisonRTKL

Co-authored by Todd Lundgren, AIA

August 2008: a car bomb explodes at a hotel in Bouira, Algeria. So began a rash of terrorist attacks at hotels around the world, which extended to July 2009. These attacks have taken many forms: car and truck bombs, suicide bombers, and bands of armed gunmen. In light of these events, as well as the recent unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa, both hoteliers and guests have become increasingly concerned with security. And this is a good thing if it inspires more hoteliers and their architects to consider security early in the planning phase of a new project or major renovation, when architects can develop a seamless, cost-effective design solution that reduces risks without a negative impact on the hospitality experience.

In many parts of the world, and Asia, hoteliers' and guests' security concerns are already heightened. And although the risks in North America are generally lower, the threat level and appropriate design solution depends on the density, surroundings, and patronage of the specific property. Even a low-level threat - primarily due to local crime, theft by employees, theft from guest rooms, intrusion of homeless persons, and high levels of foot traffic in the area - merits design solutions to mitigate the threat. That is why wise owners are thinking seriously about security when they undertake a new project or major renovation almost anywhere today.

Consider the following case study of a hypothetical hotel in a relatively dense urban environment, and design solutions that respond effectively to low, medium, and high threat levels.

Soft target, hard security?

Like any hotel, this will be a soft target, which literally invites the public inside. The owners want it to be sited and designed to be easily accessible, convenient and visible. It will often host large gatherings, such as business meetings and social events, sometimes attended by well-known people. Its owners also want to include a five-star restaurant that will offer a destination-dining experience for travelers and residents alike.

The owners and architect have agreed that the key objectives for the project are to preserve guests' safety, while maintaining the highest level of aesthetics and the overall hospitality experience, and, in particular, the hotel's brand equity. It simply will not do to design a hotel that meets aesthetic objectives and then add a metal detector at the front door. What is the appropriate balance of measures transparent to guests versus those intended to be visible deterrents?

A seamless solution blending building design with security technology and operations requires an objective analysis of the threats and imagined potential vulnerabilities of the hotel. Toward this end, architects with a broad practice have learned much from the threat analysis and design of high-security facilities in other markets - in particular, embassies - and these best practices can be successfully adapted and applied to the hospitality market.

Identifying the threat level

The threat assessment is conducted by by the architects, owners, operators and, as appropriate, other specialists in collaboration. The process begins with research and study of the current issues in the geographic location and among the hotel's patronage. The team will discuss their findings, debate potential threat scenarios based on the findings, and draw conclusions as to what the actual threats and risks might be. The team concludes with logic strategies to mitigate those threats via building design, technology and operations.

Major risk factors include geographic location and patronage. Factors influencing the threat level include:

• Relative density (i.e., buildings, residents, pedestrians and traffic) of the location
• Proximity to governmental, military, religious or financial landmarks
• Proximity to places where foreigners gather, including tourist attractions
• Vehicular access to the site
• Relative political stability or instability of the location

Venue for regular meetings or lodging of important political, military, religious or business leaders; in particular, foreigners (especially western leaders)

Design best practices

The usual suspects

In the first scenario, an analysis concluded that the main threats facing this hypothetical hotel were local crime, theft by employees, theft from guest rooms, intrusion of homeless persons, and high levels of foot traffic in the area around the hotel site.

The design solution for this low-level threat would involve a number of basic strategies. The strategies at this level include basic line-of-sight surveillance of entrances, elevators and lobbies - this would probably be executed by well-trained front desk and bell staff. Minimal compartmentalization of interior spaces is required at this level, including separation of back-of-house from public areas, meeting/function spaces from other public areas, and guest areas from public areas. This threat level also requires basic fire and life-safety provisions, including fire-rated construction, fire separations, exit stairs, fire suppression (i.e., sprinklers) and alarms, and smoke evacuation systems. A low threat level also requires provision of a secure command center - in this case, simply a location that's not easily accessible by the public, with good line-of-sight to nearby entrances, which can be locked down if necessary. For a low-level threat, access to guest levels would be limited to guests, most likely, through their use of room keys in the elevators to access their floors.

Moreover, no air intakes are located at grade or near vehicle parking/idling areas. This points up the importance of early planning; these solutions must be integrated into the design; they cannot simply be "added on" later like security cameras.

Overall, the design would provide for simple line-of-site surveillance of entry points; i.e., no "blind corners" or other obstructions. Laminated glass would be specified in public areas.

An unstable political environment

In the second scenario, the analysis concluded that this hypothetical hotel faced a medium-level threat due to the "usual suspects" (low-level threats, above) plus the following criteria: it is a location where foreign travelers gather; the political environment is unstable; high-profile visitors are guests in the hotel or at functions held here; and the hotel has high-value targets. High-value targets in the hotel would be any place of assembly where many could be killed or hurt at once, including ballrooms, pre-function areas, restaurants, lobbies and perhaps high-end suites.

In this scenario, the design for a medium-level threat would integrate all low-level threat solutions, plus the following:

In particular, the design would separate building components that typically are targets, including the lobby, ballrooms, and loading areas, where possible. The design would increase compartmentalization of the interior with remote lock-down of each major zone. Zoning of air-handling systems is crucial at this level to prevent cross contamination of "interior compartments." In addition, air-handling systems would be designed to maintain positive pressure in "safe zones."

Hardened partitions (i.e., concrete masonry units) would be used to separate back-of-house from public areas. Structured parking would not be located under the guest-room tower or large-occupancy spaces.

The design would limit entry points and provide a vestibule division to create a level of security control at the main entrance. Access would be restricted to the guest-room tower elevator lobbies and guest-room floors. A secure front desk would prevent access behind by guests. Laminated glass would be specified in public areas and in high-asset suites.

The lighting design would strategically provide adequate lighting inside and out to effectively monitor areas, with use of variable-intensity lighting systems, smart controls and motion detection to minimize energy use without generating glare and to provide strategic support of camera surveillance.

Passive surveillance would be supplemented with video cameras. In addition, operational measures would be recommended, in particular, inspection of vehicles as needed.

Possible terrorist activity

In the third scenario, the analysis concluded that this hypothetical hotel faces a high-level threat due to several additional criteria: possible terrorist activity; a highly unstable political environment; and the necessity from a marketing standpoint to provide high security.

In this case, the design for a high-level threat would integrate all of the components described above. In addition:

• Provide stand-off distance from streets, drives, parking, loading, waiting areas and employ landscape elements (trees, water features, planters, retaining walls, tiger traps, bollards) as aesthetically acceptable means
• Harden walls of target areas for which stand-off distance can not be achieved
• Separate all target elements of the building
• Strategically employ video analysis via cameras
• Minimize entry points
• Create portals to visually mitigate presence of screening equipment
• All individuals and bags screened entering the building
• Laminate all glass and provide ballistic glazing at VIP suites and other high-asset areas
• Face large areas of glass to protected landscaping, yards or, best: to interior courtyards
• Orient restaurants, meeting and other high-occupancy areas away from streets
• Maximize compartmentalization of interior with remote lock-down
• Restrict access to all levels
• Provide command-center redundancy
• Provide 24-hour "Shelter in Place" for entire patronage
• Provide VIP safe area with filtered over-pressurization make-up air supply
• Provide structured parking fully independent of hotel
• Provide structural design to prevent progressive collapse

In addition, it would be recommended to inspect all vehicles entering the property.

A hotel, not a fortress

In any scenario, the architects' primary challenge is to make the hotel secure without compromising the guest's sense of welcome and the hotel's brand equity. When strategies are considered early in the planning process, this can be achieved without expensive and intrusive "add-ons" and - equally important - without creating a hotel that looks and feels like a fortress.

This requires owners who are open to the conversation about security when heretofore they may have focused purely on hospitality. Today, leading hoteliers understand that security and hospitality are not mutually exclusive - in fact, they complement one another - when deftly managed through a seamless solution that integrates design, technology and operations. And, as a result, they can achieve this goal with a lower capital investment, lower operational costs, and minimal impact on the guest experience.

Jim Suggs began his architectural career in 1978. He has amassed extensive experience in architectural design, interior design, historic preservation and master planning for private and public, commercial and institutional clients. His experience includes substantial work in the design and planning of courtrooms and courthouses including federal and county facilities, both newly built and historical properties. Highlights include the restoration of the 120 year old Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio, Texas incorporating cutting-edge courtroom technology while preserving the historical integrity of the interior, the design of courtroom facilities dedicated to child and family law as well as the St. Mary’s University Moot Court Facility. Mr. Suggs can be contacted at 214-468-7698 or jsuggs@RTKL.com Please visit www.rtkl.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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