Plan ahead for natural disasters

(Plan ahead for natural disasters)

Plan for the unexpected, develop emergency preparations for known threats, join seminars to simulate responses to disasters and surf the Internet for hotel associations’ tips and advice. These are among the views of lodging executives for coping with floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts.

Natural disasters spare few areas; hurricanes threaten properties in Florida and the southeast; tornadoes, the Midwest and upper south; and earthquakes, California. This year’s heat wave hit Oklahoma as well as western Texas, where at least one property has cut back on water usage. Those with longer memories may recall the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the record power blackout in the northeast, Midwest and Canada eight years ago.

Tornadoes had always been at the top of Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center’s severe-weather watch, according to Pete Weien, SVP and GM of the Nashville property. But the 2,881-room hotel last May suffered instead devastating flood damage from the Cumberland River in what was seen as a once-in-a-100 year’s event.

Based on his experiences after the flood at Gaylord Opryland Resort, Weien offers advice to hoteliers on how to stay prepared in case of a natural disaster.

---Draft a comprehensive plan to address a particular type of emergency and be sure that it’s practical and updated periodically. Staff should participate in simulated emergency events programmed into desktop computers. 
---Assure that all staff understands their roles and responsibilities. 
---Establish a stand-alone command central room with computers and phones and stock plenty of flashlights and batteries if electricity goes out. Similarly, a generator should always be available for temporary power. 
---Involve the hotel’s public relations staff on site to communicate with the media. 
---Consider working with a consultant. Weien has worked with a PA-based consultant on crisis management who conducts training scenarios for Gaylord staff.

Glenn Tuckman, SVP, operations and asset management, HEI Hotels & Resorts, echoed some of the same advice but added his own spin on a more practical level. His advice: 
--Have a preparedness plan and review it annually. 
--Keep inventory data current for batteries and radios. 
--Where full-force winds are prevalent, do advance planning to purchase plywood for covering glass. “Once the eye of the hurricane hits, it’s too late to go to Home Depot,” he said. 
--As for the PBX manual, make sure there’s a bomb threat form to assure that the staff asks the right questions. “To avoid panic of not getting the right information, they need to know what they say, where the bomb was put and what the reason was.”
--Overall, develop an emergency and disaster preparation manual. Training is key, so perform fire drills and rehearse emergency transportation requirements.
--For housekeepers, HEI helps them learn basic words to advise guests in the event of a fire alarm. 
---Fire and water mitigation should be contracted well in advance before a disaster strikes. If the hotel is flooded, property managers want a fast response to extract the water in carpets. If other area hotels in the area suffered from similar damage, it may be difficult to find a company at the last minute. 
--Back up-generators are indispensable but managers must stock enough diesel fuel for emergencies and test them occasionally.
--A yearly review of insurance coverage is recommended. 

HEI’s 40 full-service properties are located all over the U.S. including earthquake, hurricane and tornado areas.

The tornado that ripped through Joplin in May largely spared the hotel district in the southwest Missouri city but did some minimal damage to the 114-suite Residence Inn and the 262-room Holiday Inn Joplin Convention Center Hotel and Spa, managed by John Hammons Q. Hotels & Resorts. “Anyone who builds in this tornado alley had better prepare and take tornados into account,” said Sheri Smith, a public relations representative for Hammons. Executives were unavailable to comment on specific preparedness plans. 
In Amarillo, the panhandle city has yet to declare a water emergency, but already the 138-room Amarillo Texas Hotel Suites has cut back on watering lawns, says Joe Gallegos, general manager.

At the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s site, viewers can access emergency planning and preparation advice as well as check lists on preparedness. The 1,200-member California Hotel and Lodging Association’s site,, includes a link to workshops on disaster preparation, said Jennifer Flohr, SVP, CH&LA.

This year they took place in San Diego, San Francisco and Anaheim under consultant Bob Mellinger, president of the Attainium Corp., Gainesville, Va. During sessions of The Disaster Experience, as his program is named, teams of CH&LA members responded to unexpected situations through a power point presentation. They are asked to react to initially available facts and then respond to new and developing information about a particular disaster. Flohr also pointed out that a City of San Francisco site, www.72hours, includes tips on almost every disaster including earthquakes, terrorism and fires.