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Every Step You Take, They’ll Be Watchin’ You

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October 15, 2015
Dan Phillips - dphillips@dare2i.com

In some cities you travel to you can see at least two or three security cameras from every street corner. In downtown office buildings there are cameras watching you come and go, and unfortunately, there are enough threats out there to make these cameras necessary. But what about inside hotels? With big, urban, conference center-type hotels, the decision to install security cameras might be an easy one. But, smaller hotels like your everyday two or three-star hotel? Do they need, or can they afford security cameras? What about nighttime security guards; where do they fit in these days?

The decision to implement a security plan in a hotel can take on many different facets in design and deployment. A hotel may simply opt not to have any security at all. But most likely, a hotel will develop some form of security and loss prevention plan, either human, cameras or a mix of both. Some smaller hotels have outsourced security to firms that may simply drive through the parking lot a few times a night, or even walk the property and sit in the lobby. Some larger hotels have placed strategic points around the hotel that security guards need to walk to on regular intervals to swipe a card. One might wonder if that guard is more interested in making the rounds or identifying potential threats.

Technology today makes some of these decisions easier. Cameras have gotten smaller, more specialized and less expensive. HD cameras provide much better resolution, enabling better viewing capabilities which can lead to outsourcing the video stream to experts instead of that dusty, old monitor stuck in a closet behind the front desk. There are thermal cameras and facial recognition that can be strategically used, both enhancing coverage and reducing payroll costs. Camera coverage with reporting can be linked to specific actions, such as a cash drawer opening or unidentified boxes sitting in one spot too long.

I spoke with two industry experts while doing research for this article: Martin Kwitschau, CEO of Virtual Management Presence, and Allen Ganz, director – enterprise, biometrics solutions division at NEC. When asked about preferred solutions being made up of human resources or technology, Kwitschau leaned towards technology. “Humans are human! They are susceptible to distraction, boredom, bias and influence,” he said. “One security guard can only be in one place at one time, whereas cameras cover simultaneously every location that they are installed. To expect a human to watch a monitor with 32 or 64 thumbnail videos for hours at a time and be able to identify threats proactively is just too much.”

Ganz leaned toward a hybrid of using cameras that have enhanced technological capabilities with some human resources. “Having security guards deployed in public spaces can both create a sense of security, as well as apprehension; the emotion is different for different people,” he said. “Certainly though, having a security guard posted everywhere an incident might occur would negatively impact an individual’s feeling of security as well as freedom, hence, a balance of human security presence and video surveillance is necessary. It’s not about choosing one versus the other, but about how to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your security staff and resources.”

A hotelier today, operating any type of hotel, may begin to think about leveraging a surveillance acquisition and response center (SARC). First, let’s start with the cameras. Depending on where cameras are placed, and the activities they will be monitoring, some may need to be wide angle, HD, color or provide very high frame rates. Some might need to be tied to facial recognition and therefore be installed in places that guests are routed through choke points like entrance doors.  Some might provide thermal readings and could be used in boiler rooms or even in crowded places searching for individuals with fevers, or might be deployed for nighttime viewing of beaches or resorts alerting staff of people perhaps being in restricted places or areas of danger.

Add to these strategies features like using facial recognition to identify VIPs and alert staff, or to provide crowd counts at events to verify billing, or even tracking employee behavior over time to enhance efficiencies or prevent wasted time and theft. Another feature is providing proactive monitoring of threats, such as packages or known dangerous people.
Employing a SARC provides hotel operators with an outsourced team of experts using technology to provide real-time analytics and data to alert hotel staff on many different levels. A SARC team can be invaluable when handling loss and accident claims. With proper coverage, insurance reports can be provided showing video clips before, during and after an incident. Facial recognition could be extremely advantageous in thwarting a con artist’s attempts at fraud.  And, in some instances, live video feeds can be accessed by local law enforcement to better handle situations that might occur in any hotel.

In addition to the features and benefits of a properly designed and installed security system, there are operational and marketing pluses as well. Video surveillance can assist with employee adherence to SOPs and policies, and it could provide “secret shopper” capabilities. Using video for specific training opportunities during real, live and ongoing events becomes a possibility. VIP guest recognition could enable staff to provide faster check-in times and better, personalized service by leveraging past history.

As Kwitschau said, “Hoteliers need to consider and leverage the surveillance system as more than just a security tool. It can be very useful and cost effective in areas of guest satisfaction monitoring and team member behavior modification.” These systems can definitely help hotels improve guest service and labor management – two of the hospitality industry’s biggest focuses.

Dan Phillips is the owner of Dare to Imagine, a consulting firm specializing in hotel technology. For comments or questions he can be reached at dphillips@dare2i.com.

The author would like to thank:
Allen Ganz of NEC; allen.ganz@necam.com
Martin Kwitschau of Virtual Management Presence;
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