Hotel employee safety devices not 'one size fits all'

Hotel employees, particularly those in housekeeping departments, have faced safety concerns in recent years, and the industry is responding. Many of the largest hotel companies in the industry, along with the American Hotel & Lodging Association, have pledged to improve safety conditions in hotels through investments in training and technology, starting with a plan to issue employee safety devices to workers as soon as possible.  

Regardless of price, a rollout of any new technology on this level is expected to be significant. Even so, five major hospitality companies—Hilton, Marriott International, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, IHG and Hyatt Hotels Corporation—have pledged to install these devices in all of their U.S. hotels by 2020.

The question then becomes, how will hoteliers be expected to adopt or implement employee safety devices? Erika Alexander, chief lodging services officer, the Americas at Marriott International, said ESDs will come in a variety of forms depending on a hotel’s existing infrastructure. The possibilities for alert devices could run the gamut from noisemakers to devices based on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi technology.

“We’re working with technology partners to identify the right solutions for our properties—such as devices able to pinpoint the location of an alert user anywhere on property—that can meet the needs of our entire portfolio and workforce,” Alexander said.

Randy Gaines, SVP of operations, Americas at Hilton, said training hoteliers to operate these devices will be a priority in the coming months. This training, he said, will include everyone from the hotel’s safety and security team to the housekeeping team.

“It’s important that a team member carrying an employee safety device knows how it works and what type of response they can expect,” Gaines said. “Along the same lines, we need to be sure that all team members who become aware that a safety device has been activated know how to react and respond.”

Housekeeping employees are most at risk when entering a guestroom outside of traditional hours. Pictured: The Madison Hotel in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Hilton

At many of the industry’s flagship hotel companies, the rollout of ESDs has already begun. Gaines said Hilton has already deployed ESDs at its hotels in New York, Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“We took the proposal to make these devices a brand standard to our owner advisory group, and the commitment to implement these devices across our U.S. portfolio was made with their strong support,” Gaines said.

According to Alexander, Marriott is mandating ESDs at more than 5,000 of its managed and franchised hotels in the U.S. and Canada by 2020. Marriott’s goal with the rollout, Alexander said, is to ensure the company’s workers feel secure. In order to succeed, Alexander is ensuring that the devices work, and that their use is recommended at all levels of operation.

“The associate alert device puts another tool in the hands of Marriott’s tens of thousands of associates and complements the company’s regular safety and security training and protocols,” Alexander said. “Together, these tools collectively foster a safer environment in which associates are better able to care for each other and hotel guests.”

A Marriott employee receiving an employee safety device. Photo credit: Marriott International

The Right Fit

When Hilton announced that it would be improving hotel worker safety, company CEO Chris Nassetta said the rollout is expected to take time, particularly the training phase, because Hilton does not want to “create the appearance of safety without the reality behind it.”

Still, in considering the timeline for such a rollout, Gaines said focused service hotels—such as those in the Hampton, Tru and Hilton Garden Inn brands—would take less time because the buildings are smaller. While these properties are less likely to have a central security room, Gaines said team members at these hotels are also less likely to be entering guestrooms after 5 pm.

“In larger big-box hotels, it gets more complex as you are deploying across a larger space,” Gaines said. “These large hotels are more likely to have roomservice and housekeeping staff working across different shifts, but also more likely to have dedicated security personnel on property. By working with our owners and providing some flexibility in addressing these considerations, we have enabled our hotels to develop tailored approaches that work within their particular environments.”

A number of hotels already have functioning ESDs in the hands of their employees, they just weren’t marketed with that feature in mind. Purple Cloud Technologies, a developer of workforce management software, offers an alert button in its prepared suite of tools, which also includes an instant messenger, scheduling and work-order organization.

Adria Levtchenko, CEO and co-founder of Purple Cloud , said she came up with the idea for a preinstalled panic button while working at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott. When developing the Purple Cloud app, Levtchenko’s team added the ability to structure an alert with information for recipients, or to send the alert quickly with a generic message.

“We’re connected to the airport,” she said. “What if there were some suspicious luggage sitting around? What if someone mixed bleach and ammonia in a guestroom? Sometimes it’s not a normal emergency, sometimes you want more detail.”

Levtchenko said the greatest challenge hoteliers have when implementing mobile security systems is deciding who will respond in the event of an emergency, particularly in smaller hotels. Purple Cloud provides phones to hotels for employees who don’t have them, but they can’t provide physical security staff.

“When that button is pressed you need a formal procedure in place, almost like a fire drill,” Levtchenko said. “This is a new topic across the industry, and there are a few standardized processes already that I encourage those interested to seek out.”