By: Edwin Fuller
Founder and President of Laguna Strategic Advisors

Recently, I came across a study of frequent international business travelers in which about a third of the respondents indicated that their personal security ranks among their primary concerns while traveling. So, to help address this concern, I asked my former colleague Alan Orlob at Marriott International, Inc. to share his thoughts on this subject. Alan currently is Vice President for Global Safety and Security at Marriott International and serves as chairman of the Orange County Homeland Security Council here in Southern California. He has served as a consultant to the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program on Hotel Security and has testified before the US Congress on this subject. A frequent speaker on terrorism in venues across the world, he was named one of Security Magazine’s “Most Influential People in Security” in 2013. I believe you’ll find his perspective invaluable.

Ed Fuller, president, Laguna Strategic Advisors, LLC.

By: Alan Orlob, Vice President, Global Safety & Security, Marriott International, Inc.

In 2009, I was traveling though Asia. After spending a few days in Hong Kong, I made a short visit to Jakarta, Indonesia with my regional director to review the security at our hotels. We arrived in Jakarta in the afternoon of July 16th and met that evening with the general managers of our two hotels in the city—the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott. These hotels are located across from each other in the Mega Kuningan area of Jakarta.

As we chatted, we had a general discussion of the security situation in the city. Indonesia had been rocked by terror attacks in the early part of the decade, beginning with attacks in Bali in 2002, followed by a suicide bombing at the JW Marriott Hotel Jakarta in 2003, the Australian Embassy bombing in 2004 and further bombings in Bali in 2005.

These attacks were perpetrated by a terrorist organization known in Indonesia as Jemaah Islamiyah or JI. However, for the 4 years prior to 2009, there had been no significant attacks and most of the security analysts felt that JI did not have the operational capability to launch another major attack. We went to bed that night, feeling confident that the authorities were dealing successfully with the terrorism threat in the country.

The next morning, I woke early, still dealing with the effects of jet lag. I was in the gym by 5:30 am for a work out, spent some time checking emails, then jumped into the shower. As I stepped out of the shower around 7:30 am, I heard the unmistakable sound of an explosion outside. As I looked from my window at the Ritz-Carlton, my view was of the front entrance of the JW Marriott Hotel. I could see smoke coming out of the back of the hotel and people running. As I quickly dressed, I heard another explosion, this one in the Ritz-Carlton.

The scene that met my eyes that morning, both in the restaurant where a suicide bomber had detonated his explosives in the Ritz-Carlton and in a meeting room across the street at the JW Marriott Hotel was utter devastation. Two people died in the Ritz-Carlton’s restaurant and another 9 lost their lives in a meeting room at the JW Marriott. As tragic as that was, it could have been much worse if we didn’t have the security precautions in place that we did.

Hotel security has taken on an entirely new meaning since the terror attacks in New York and Washington, DC, on Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to that, hotel security tended to focus on thefts from rooms and preventing slip and fall accidents. We still work diligently to prevent these types of incidents, but a large measure of what we focus on now is anti-terrorism. Twenty years ago, I felt comfortable as an American strolling down the streets of most countries in the world. Not now. When we go to Pakistan today, we travel with a security detail. We avoid certain areas in Egypt where demonstrations are still ongoing since their “revolution.”

We opened a beautiful JW Marriott Hotel in Tripoli, Libya two weeks before the Arab Spring started and found ourselves, several weeks later, faced with the task of evacuating all of our staff in the country and did so with a chartered jet. The security situation has still not stabilized in Libya; in fact, it has deteriorated. The US Embassy was closed 2 months ago and there have been recent attacks on the Egyptian and UAE embassies there. We don’t know if our hotel in Tripoli will ever reopen.

In the mid-90s, at Ed Fuller’s direction, who was President of International Lodging for Marriott at the time, we embarked on a program to enhance security to address the worldwide threats. We developed a crisis management plan that was distributed to all our hotel general managers. Contained in the plan were color-tiered “threat conditions” with specific procedures to be followed at each level. At the highest level, “threat condition Red,” we required bomb sniffing dogs to check every vehicle, walk through metal detectors and x-ray machines at every entrance.

Today, with over 4,000 hotels and 18 lodging brandings operating in 74 countries, the job is immense. The threat of terrorism continues to evolve and our procedures need to stay dynamic. We now have intelligence analysts, based in Washington and Dubai, that advise us on the threats they are seeing around the world. We have a training manager who ensures our security officers know how to properly inspect a vehicle and recognize images on x-ray machines that screen luggage.

After the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, I testified before the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security. I advised them that security intelligence should not be left up to hotel general managers with no security experience and with no intelligence resources. Instead, security needs to be assessed by professionals who are looking at threats and terrorist organizations around the clock, around the world, everyday.

The terrorist organization that attacked the hotels in Mumbai in 2008 came from Pakistan. The threat of terrorism tends to be transnational in nature so having a local focus isn’t enough. In the past several weeks, our analysts have been watching the continuing threat from ISIS, the Islamic State in Syria. The entire intelligence community today is concerned by the number of foreign fighters going to Syria and worrying about the result when they return to their home countries with new skills and networks.

While today we put a lot of focus on anti-terrorism, other threats confront our guests and associates. In 2002, we were dealing with the threat of SARS in our hotels. Today, we are concerned by the threat of Ebola. Soon after the Ebola threat manifested itself, we had a team working on protocols to advise our hotels. One can only imagine what could happen if a guest checked into one of our hotels and found himself sick with the Ebola virus. Particularly, if he had been staying at the hotel for a few days, availing himself of its fitness center, restaurants, swimming pool and other amenities.

Natural disasters can wreak more havoc than any bomb could. We have dealt with destructive hurricanes in New Orleans and Cancun as well as tsunamis that caused hundreds of deaths in Thailand and Japan.

By chance, I was in our Marriott Hotel Moscone Center in San Francisco on October 17, 1989, when a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck. I saw firsthand the effects of a strong earthquake; but more importantly, I realized that in any type of major catastrophe, we can’t rely solely on local authorities for assistance. We need to be self-sufficient. There are not enough first responders, communications are down and roads are closed. The hotel’s emergency plans need to account for all these eventualities. Our crisis plans give us a broad overview of how to deal with emergencies like these, but every crisis has its own nuances. Training is key.

The military spends a lot of time training soldiers so that when confronted by the enemy, they don’t need to think. They react to the training they received. We try to do the same with our managers by creating various scenarios into tabletop exercises and then train to the scenario. We see managers reacting in these types of exercises just as they would in a real world situation. Oftentimes, they are exhausted at the end.

The world has changed since 9/11. Prior to that time, travelers could wander around most cities of the world unhindered with little worries. The events of 9/11, the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the threats from ISIS have changed all that for those traveling abroad. The world watched in horror as armed gunmen invaded the two Mumbai hotels in 2008. The hotel industry responded by monitoring worldwide threats and putting in security measures to meet the increased risk. In some countries, going into a hotel today is like going through an airport. Metal detectors, x-ray machines and bomb sniffing dogs are the norm.

We regularly study incidents involving hotels around the world. The attacks on the two Mumbai hotels provided good lessons for travelers venturing into high threat areas. Among these are:

  1. Understand that the world has changed and take more personal responsibility as you travel. This means planning ahead.
  2. Consult the US State Department’s OSAC website ( for information on the country you plan to visit. This website shows traveler warnings issued by the State Department.
  3. If you decide to travel to potentially hazardous areas, have a good understanding of the area and its potential risks.
  4. Leave the flashy jewelry, clothes and luggage home. Keep a low profile.
  5. On arrival at your hotel, walk around it to familiarize yourself with the layout, including possible exit points.
  6. Travel with a small flashlight and keep it on your nightstand at night.
  7. When outside the hotel, be aware of what is going on around you. We call this situational awareness. If approached by people you don’t know, walk away. Keep your valuables close to your person.
  8. If there is a serious incident in the hotel, the best advice is to stay in your room, throw the dead bolt, close the night latch and stay put. Don’t answer the door for anyone. Call the operator for advice and let the operator know that you are in the room.
  9. If the fire alarm goes off, unless you can smell the fire, don’t automatically evacuate your room. Call the operator for advice.
  10. Consult with your travel agent for a list of security companies that can provide further information.

I don’t think I’ve seen a period in my lifetime where the world has seemed more unstable than it is today. Those of us , who work in hotel security, work hard to be forward thinking and evaluate the myriad threats that could impact us. We owe to you, our guests, our fellow associates, our hotel owners and the communities we serve.

Originally posted on Forbes