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Disaster Preparedness: Safeguarding Lives and Profits for Your Hotel’s Future

Safety can protect your guests and staff – don’t forget about the hotel’s reputation.

A fire can escalate rapidly, engulfing entire floors or even sections of a hotel, and can cause a lot of damage if it isn’t handled quickly and appropriately. Laying out a clear emergency plan ahead of time is essential to ensuring every staff member’s and guest’s safety.

It might seem like a straightforward and well-known fact, but not every hotel is as prepared for a fire as it could be.

A study from hospitality researcher Ahmad R. Albattat says that the hospitality industry is particularly at risk when it comes to fires and other emergencies but “relative studies show a lack of preparedness in crisis situations.”

The leading cause of fires in hotels is often cooking and a result of lack of maintenance and safety measures in the kitchen.

Aside from proper care of flammable equipment, always make sure that your hotel is equipped with proper fire safety equipment like smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems. Regularly inspect, test, and maintain this equipment to ensure they function properly.

That lack of preparedness can have dire consequences. U.S. Fire Departments can respond to about 3,520 hotel and motel fires in a single year. That number of hotel fires has resulted in nine civilian deaths, 120 civilian injuries, and $84 million in direct property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

It’s clear that lack of preparedness can lead to a loss of human life and millions of dollars worth of repairs. Take the steps below to start your emergency response plan so you can avoid such irreplacable losses.

Establish effective communication channels

Albattat’s research emphasizes that “effective communication is one of the main elements in the  emergency response to disasters.”

If hospitality owners aren’t able to start a line of communication with local authorities in a timely manner and provide accurate information, the necessary emergency response might not be as effective. Clear communication between all involved people is essential for coordination and decision making.

Have a clear leader

One of the last things anyone wants in an emergency situation is chaos without a guide. Albattat’s research stresses that knowing who is in charge is one of the most critical steps in coordinating emergency response efforts and is often a major failure. Without a leader, Albattat explains, there can be a “push-and-pull” effect and this was seen as one of the serious missteps in both local and federal responses to Hurricane Katrina.

Designate individuals who will be responsible for coordinating and executing the evacuation plan. This includes appointing an Emergency Response Team (ERT) who will oversee the evacuation process and communicate with guests, staff, and emergency responders.

Evacuation plan

Begin by assessing the hotel’s layout, identifying potential fire hazards, and evaluating the best areas to exit from. Take into account factors such as the number of floors, stairwells, exits, and the capacity of each of those areas.

Also consider any guests with special needs or mobility restrictions and ensure that the evacuation plan is accommodating so that no individual is left behind or forced to struggle on their way out.

Keep this in mind especially if your hotel has multiple floors. Elevators won’t be functional in an emergency, and individuals in wheelchairs or who have other disabilities may not be able to use stairs. Consider a readily available ramp or have a team that can help disabled guests safely leave the building.

In your plan, include information on how to recognize alarms, where to gather, and which routes to take for safe evacuation. Clearly mark primary and secondary escape routes throughout the hotel, ensuring that exit signs are visible and unobstructed. And just like how you’ve established leadership in emergency situations, create step-by-step instructions that spell out how staff should respond during a fire emergency. Repeatedly and consistently train your staff on these responses while also providing drills.

Know how to keep fear and anxiety low

Staying calm gives guests the ability to think clearly and make more rational decisions. Panic and fear can impact their judgment, potentially leading to impulsive decisions or misjudged moves that may put guests in even greater danger. An air of calm makes it that much easier for everyone involved to follow evacuation plans.

Aside from emergency responders, hotel leaders play a crucial role in keeping fear and anxiety amongst guests as low as possible. Make it easy for guests to identify staff members and keep those staff members visible to evacuating parties. Knowing that there is some structure and knowledgeable figures present can leave guests feeling reassured, reducing the likelihood of panic.