MANILA, September 16, 2003  (STAR) Following recent global and local events, the security of luxury establishments, including hotels, apartment hotels, tourist facilities and other public places, has become an urgent issue. For security officers of these institutions, assuring the safety of guests while allowing them convenient access remains the greatest challenge.

According to Derek Ramsay, security consultant to a number of hotels in Metro Manila as well as the general manager of a firm specializing in electronic security systems, all good security plans must maintain a balance between giving guests proper protection on one hand, while on the other, minimizing the level of inconvenience as a result of these very security measures. These inconveniences include such necessary evils as the inspection of bags and luggage, body searches, and visitor ID checks, to name a few.

Although bothersome, guests usually welcome these measures as a sign that a strong security program is in place, says Ramsay, who was a senior officer at Scotland Yard for more than a decade.

Here are some other things to look for to help you determine if an establishment has a sound security plan:

• Entrances to the establishment are secured. The friendly greetings of security personnel should serve as music to your ears, according to Ramsay who was in charge of investigating large-scale crimes in Southern England as well as operations against the Irish Republican Army. The first line of defense, after all, begins at the door.

• Security personnel are aided by electronic devices. Metal detectors, such as those used by Oakwood Security, greatly aid guards in ferreting out deadly weapons and devices that might be hidden inside bags and packages. Machines, after all, don’t get tired and are usually more consistent than humans in carrying out tasks such as these.

• An establishment with fewer entrances can be better protected than one that has more access routes open to the public. The Oakwood Premier Ayala Center, for instance, only has two entrances compared to other establishments that have as many as 16. Oakwood’s lobby is actually on the sixth floor, above the Ayala Center Mall. Without ground level doors and windows to protect, the property is physically difficult to penetrate. That feature is very attractive to security-conscious guests, many of whom returned to Oakwood the very next day after the July 27 takeover by rebel soldiers.

Michael Brown, Oakwood security manager, explains that no security system or plan would have been enough to stop the 300 or so heavily armed soldiers who took over Oakwood that Sunday morning. "Even an embassy or military base would have had difficulty repelling such a force," points out Brown, who speaks from 20 years of experience with the US military. Resisting this kind of force would only have endangered the lives of guests, agrees Ramsay.

Thus, the goal of Oakwood’s staff and security personnel on that fateful day was to ensure the safety and well-being of clients. Brown relates that after the soldiers occupied the luxury property, the Oakwood team inside began to press for the evacuation of the guests as soon as possible. They achieved this aim by repeatedly pointing out to the rebel soldiers that the 600 guests, including women and children, would become increasingly more difficult to care for and control as time wore on. They continually focused on the fact that the guests would need to be fed and that other complications would arise.

Moreover, the rebels’ goals would further be hindered should any harm come to any of the guests, mostly foreign business executives and their families. The efforts of the in-house team headed by general manager Robert Rosetti were further backed up by an Oakwood team outside the hotel headed by senior executive Al Legaspi that arranged for buses and alternate accommodations for the guests.

• More guards do not always mean better security. Ramsay relates that most Manila hotels in the seventies and eighties had guards on every floor to ensure guest safety. But this did not necessarily mean that the hotels were better secured. He explains that hotel security has since been greatly boosted by closed-circuit cameras and other surveillance devices that allow a leaner and more manageable security force to monitor all crucial areas of a hotel. These devices have allowed them to better monitor the entire area of the property, and to immediately send personnel to check out any suspicious behavior.

• Watch out for well-trained personnel. A security system, however, is only as good as the people who man it. Armed with the most sophisticated monitoring systems, a guard who does not know how to use these tools, or how to recognize a security problem, would be useless. For this reason, most luxury establishments invest a great amount of time in training.

At Oakwood, Brown relates that his security officers go through weeks of formal training to identify deadly devices in various forms. In fact, Oakwood personnel get standardized training from an affiliate of one of the largest security agencies in the world. The training includes how to deal firmly but politely with guests who may resist security procedures. In addition, Brown regularly quizzes his personnel on safety and security procedures to ensure their alertness and ability to respond to emergencies.

• Teamwork is the name of the game. In a crisis, people respond the way they have been trained. If that training was inadequate, people often freeze or panic. But those who are well-trained will respond automatically, either by following their practiced procedures or by using cool, calm initiative. Effective teams work together the same way. Everyone has a job to do and they do it automatically.

In an emergency, says Brown, it is crucial that all staffers work as a team toward a common goal. While they cannot possibly train for all emergencies that may crop up, a well-tuned team can work through any crisis if each member feels a sense of responsibility and a sense of ownership. In this case, every member of the Oakwood team performed his assigned tasks without question, and several had the presence of mind to think about the security of the guests and take action without need for instruction.

Brown relates, for instance, that one of the most important actions taken by the staff operating the front office in the wee hours of July 27 was to secretly shred all guest lists and to alter entries in the computer to protect the identity of high-profile clients staying at the Oakwood. This was an individual initiative and would not have been possible had the staff had no sense of responsibility and ownership. Brown says, "Oakwood’s response to this crisis was a team response, and I am very proud of the team we have."

Given their performance last month, Oakwood’s staff members were clearly well-trained to handle emergencies, says Ramsay. The high volume of guests who returned to Oakwood the very next day would seem to agree.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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