Industry Update
Opinion Article28 March 2002

Effective Security Training - The First Step To Securing Your Hotel - by William McShane, CPP (Bottomline Magazine)

share this article
1 minComments
Effective Security Training - The First Step To Securing Your Hotel

In the wake of the incidents of September 11th, all of us realize the importance of having effective security. Some corporations and independent properties are taking renewed security seriously; others simply are not. Certainly, those companies that were closest to the attacks are being especially vigilant (1). "The events of September 11th have made us take every possibility as a serious threat," says Mark Hurewitz, general manager of the Southgate Tower hotel in New York City. "It has raised our awareness. Employees and guests are much more tolerant of security measures. Before, it was, 'Why do we need this?' Now it is, 'Well we understand.' It is a mind shift in the right direction."


How does one implement effective security measures? It begins with training. It is important to note that training sessions that make a difference in employees' attitudes towards safety and security don't just happen; they must be developed, nurtured and synchronized with the other demands on their time and attention. Training is hard work — developing effective curricula requires solid direction on the part of the security director. Training cannot occur in a vacuum and its effectiveness is dependent on events that occur before, during and after the actual training, and is influenced greatly by individual characteristics and factors related to the work environment.

Before You Begin Training

Before embarking on any course of training you must know your ABC's

  • a. Current Reality: Where am I now? What is the staff doing or not doing that is impacting the security and safety responsibilities of the hotel? Focus on deficiencies in understanding basic security principals, maintaining security awareness and potential problem areas versus the desired knowledge and attunement to security concerns.
  • b. End Result: Where am I going? What do you expect the staff to be able to do once they have completed the training? How will you know if the training has accomplished its goals? Answering this question gives you a clear picture of desired results.
  • c. Action Steps: How can I best get from point "A" to point "B"?

What training techniques, methods and organizational style offer the most effective and efficient use of available resources? Answering this question will allow you to strike a balance between the competing economic and security needs of a labor intensive, seven days a week, 24-hours a day service industry operation like the hospitality business. In answering both "b" and "c" you must remember that the scheduling and content of these sessions must also be adaptable to the day-to-day realities of business itself and foster the corporate mission.

Security Training Myths

Successful employee security skills training programs ensure a consistency in providing a safe and secure environment for guests, employees and visitors. The lack of an adequate opportunity for employees to become acquainted with their security-related responsibilities, can lead to the inconsistent delivery of this essential guest service and create a grave litigious situation. Failure to effectively train employees in security practices feeds the costly cycle of reactive management practices. In order to break out of this cycle, the security director must battle the common myths about security training that pose barriers to an effective program.

"Security Training is Easy; Anybody Can Do It"

A common myth about security training is that it is so simple, and so basic, that no preparation is needed. Many managers and supervisors feel that they have been in the hotel business so long that they know as much about security as anyone and they can teach others spontaneously as the need arises. These attitudes produce a hit and miss training program whose results are almost always unsatisfactory. Training requires logical organization to be effective. The process of analyzing the unique tasks and skill sets associated with a comprehensive security training program and arranging the training in a logical sequence demands careful thought and preparation.

"Security Training Doesn't Pay"

Some managers argue that training takes time away from what the employee is being paid to do. They contend that this time could be better spent on issues more directly affecting guest service. Nothing is more important than the safety and security of the guest. The primary concern of the woman business traveler, and indeed, of all guests, is security. As far as the cost is concerned, one serious lawsuit involving a negligent lapse in security at the hotel would cost more than any training program and would have a long-term detrimental affect on future earnings.

"Experienced Workers Don't Need Training"

Another misconception is that additional training in basic awareness and related security concerns will not be necessary if experienced applicants are hired. To some extent, this is true. There are basic similarities among segments of the hospitality industry. But there are just as many, if not more, differences. If new but experienced employees are not properly trained in their security related responsibilities their performance in this area and the attention to detail that good security demands will be at best inconsistent. Also, all experience is not necessarily good experience. Some experienced applicants may have been poorly trained and may have developed poor security habits over the years. Finally it is difficult to evaluate experience and the extent to which prior experience will carry over to a new job.

Barriers to Effective Security Training

Even the most well designed security training program will be unsuccessful if the barriers to effective training are not removed. These are discussed further:

Lack of Commitment by Management

Lack of commitment by management is probably the greatest single obstacle to effective security skills training in the hospitality industry. Many executives in the hospitality industry are not totally convinced that security-related training for non-security staff is a cost-effective investment. In the past, top management focused on the amount of time spent in training rather than the mastery of skills. Security training, if it was conducted at all, was considered sufficient if it was mentioned during new employee orientation. Security training was one of those topics that employees were expected to pick up "on the job" and/or through trial and error. Today, there is stiff competition among hospitality businesses and guest expectations regarding the level of security at hotels are much higher. Guests are no longer willing to put up with the trials and errors of an under-trained staff.

Employee Resistance to Training

Objections to security training for non-security staff are not just a management mind-set. Employees also may resist this type of training, making it difficult to achieve objectives. This may happen when training is poorly presented or when the trainees are embarrassed or held up to ridicule by their inability to grasp the lessons because of language barriers. Employees need and expect to be treated as adults. They require clear logic and some self-direction in order to be receptive to learning. It is important to develop training techniques that take adult needs into consideration. Security training that is designed to consider the employees' special needs along with those of management is likely to be readily accepted and welcomed.


Finally, security training will not be fully effective if it is poorly organized. When recurring and escalating incidents highlight inadequate security measures and management dictates a "crash" training effort as a remedy, the results are usually flawed. Employees recognize the disorganization; they will probably lose interest; and are not likely to take the training seriously. Security training, to be fully effective, must be planned and executed on a systematic basis. This includes beginning training for new employees, continuing training for existing employees and regular coaching in sound security practices for all employees.

Factors Affecting the Learning Process

People are individuals and, as such, they learn at different speeds, in different ways and have different levels and types of abilities, as well as different needs. Their backgrounds differ in terms of capabilities and life experiences. An effective security-training program must have the flexibility to deal with the individual differences of all the employees who need training. An important step toward dealing with individual differences is to be aware of the basic factors that affect the learning process. Each is important and should be considered when making decisions about how the security training should be conducted.

Attention Span — People learn best, and remember longer, when the presentation or training activity does not exceed their attention span. Therefore, as the length of training time increases, the instructor must use a variety of techniques to keep renewing interest.

Spacing — People learn best when the training is spaced over time. For example, four 15-minute sessions are usually better than a single one-hour session. An exception to this principal can be made when a specific learning objective requires intensive "hands-on" experience. In this case, frequent rest periods can be used to refresh the students as training time increases.

Learning Speed — People learn at different speeds, some students will grasp the lessons much more quickly than others will. When a student is slow to understand the concept, the instructor must be patient and attempt to determine the cause. If the student senses impatience or irritation on the part of the instructor, his/her confidence will be weakened and progress will be slowed even more.

Repetition — People learn faster, and remember longer, if something is repeated several times. For example, words, phrases and symbols are repeated several times in advertising. Such repetition may be annoying, but the slogans are not quickly forgotten. Saying the same thing in different ways can serve to reinforce and review the most important aspects of the training session.

Motivation — People best learn what they want to learn. The instructor, no matter how knowledgeable or interesting, cannot motivate the person being trained. The actual amount of learning depends on the student's interest in and perceived immediate need for the subject being taught. The adult student wants to know, "How is this going to help me right now?" They want the instructor to tell them "this is what you do, this how you do it and this is why it is important." If the student doesn't think the training is immediately relevant to them they will mentally drop out of the course.

Realistic Focus — Security training must focus on realistic problems. Your students will learn best if the training begins with specific problems drawn from real life experiences. The importance of realism in training cannot be overemphasized. Most adults will not bother to figure out a problem that is clearly contrived for training purposes. When any situation significantly differs from their experience, they assume that it is a "pretend" situation that could not occur in the real world. Interest levels increase when training situations and examples are built around real, rather than imaginary problems.

Factors Affecting the Security Curriculum

The following factors should be kept in mind when designing a security training curriculum:

  • a. The security director's training and education objectives must not take away from the profitability of the company. The time allocated to security training should minimally affect tasks and assignments directly related to the generation of profit and the content should enhance the corporate philosophy. This means that training sessions must be scheduled to minimize the impact on the company's profit and bottom line loss.
  • b. Training sessions must be scheduled to minimize the impact upon revenue producing duties while reaching the maximum number of employees during the allotted training cycle.
  • c. The ability of the students to grasp the material and to assimilate its lessons into the workplace environment should be taken into consideration.

The challenge then is to formulate a training program that will reach the maximum number of employees with minimal interruption to the business cycle in a format that can be readily assimilated by all.

So, Where Do I Begin?

The first step in the development of the new security-training program is to conduct a need assessment to ensure that the program, in its final form, addresses substantive issues and problems. A thorough needs assessment employs multiple data-collection methods (e.g., observation, surveys, interviews and individual and organizational performance) to shape the content of the security training program. It forms the framework of the program by obtaining input from the end users, who will directly benefit from it. The assessment process serves a dual purpose:

  1. Validation of the requirement for the program.
  2. Insurance of the viability of the effort by obtaining broad management support.

Program success depends on the backing of managers and their first line supervisors who must accommodate the training into their schedules. A well-presented security-training program can effectively leverage the security function by providing trained eyes and ears throughout the properties.

Once target areas have been identified it is important to set appropriate goals for the training program based on desired changes and outcomes. In many cases, training objectives simply focus on what should be learned. If security competencies are to be taken seriously, the training objects need to focus on what should change on the job — identification of which requires input from both managers and employees. Put another way, effective training goes beyond a responsibility merely to educate; it involves a process to help individuals become more effective in their jobs.

Adopt the Training to Fit Conditions

Be aware of the language barrier. Hotel employees are drawn from a variety of ethnic groups whose first language is not necessarily English. As a result, these employees possess only rudimentary English language skills. Therefore:

  • Nominate an employee, comfortable in the dominant language and in English, to assist in the preparation and the presentation.
  • Allow the translator to have editorial input into the program content. Put reliance into his/her ability to define the security issues that are important to the employees.
  • Working from an outline of the lesson plans, prepare a series of overhead projector slides illustrating the key points in the presentation.
  • At the same time draft a final examination, testing the retention of the material.
  • Have the presenters and translators meet as a team to rehearse the slide presentation and critique the contents of the final examination.
Session Duration

Hotel operational and staffing needs usually preclude presenting material in single large time blocks. Therefore:

  • Segment the material in a logical arrangement that allows each lesson to build upon its predecessor and ensure it reinforces the central theme.
  • Limit the complete security awareness presentation to approximately one-and-a-half hours with an additional half-hour allotted for a final examination.
  • Allow for time gaps between presentations. It is crucial that a brief review be built into each lesson.
  • The material can best be presented in a series of 20-minute lessons given over the course of the year.

Minimize the impact on hotel operations

  • Include the entire hotel management staff in the planning, curriculum development and scheduling process.
  • Arrange training to coincide with the normal department training conducted at the start of the day shift. This approach presents the opportunity to reach the largest number of employees.
  • Work with the Human Resources department to integrate some aspects of security training into the new employee orientation program.
  • Ensure that you have regular refresher courses. This will help keep skills up-to-date.

Critique the Results

  • Present the first segment to different audiences as a "beta test," so that all instructors can critique the method and material based on a common experience base.
  • End each session with a question and answer period based on the material, to solicit employees' views on the way the information was presented.
  • Have instructors conduct a recap to compare notes and fine-tune aspects of the presentation.

The events of the recent past have increased the need for effective security, which is dependent on effective training. Security directors should beware of the myths of, and must remove any barriers to training. Management must have a stake in the training program, which should be well organized and developed to allow effective learning. Refresher training must be included in the program to keep staff skills up-to-date. We all live in a different world today, but, with effective security training, we will make our hotels safer havens of hospitality.

1 "Security on the Hotel Front". Halsted, Sarah. Lodging Magazine, February 2002.

The Bottomline, published bimonthly, is the official publication of HFTP, and is received by HFTP members as a member benefit. The editorial content of The Bottomline is determined by a team of experts. Members of the HFTP Communications Committee represent a variety of industry segments and areas of expertise in accounting, finance and technology. Besides the magazine's six regular issues, two special issues are published yearly. The Bottomline is an HFTP member benefit and is only received regularly by members. Go to to get more information on HFTP membership.

Based in Austin, Texas, HFTP is the professional association for financial and IT personnel working in hotels, resorts, clubs, casinos, restaurants, and other hospitality-related businesses. The association provides continuing education and networking opportunities to more than 4,300 members around the world. HFTP also administers the examination and awards the certification for the Certified Hospitality Accountant Executive (CHAE) and the Certified Hospitality Technology Professional (CHTP) designations. HFTP was founded in 1952 as the National Association of Hospitality Accountants.

Wendi Williams
Phone: (512) 249-5333
Send email