Panic buttons no panacea but worth a look

Following two high profile cases of alleged sexual attacks on housekeepers in 2011,

many accommodation providers are seriously looking at equipping room staff with personal panic buttons.

The idea is logical and praiseworthy but does need serious consideration with some security experts claiming it could create a false sense of security but little real protection for housekeeping staff.

A luxurious New York City hotel where an Egyptian salt millionaire Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar is accused of sexually abusing a housekeeper has agreed to equip all room attendants with panic buttons. International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid at another upscale Manhattan hotel, Sofitel New York, which has also agreed to similar safety measures.

But what happens when a housekeeper presses the button? Presumably, help would be dispatched and the housekeeper would be rescued. But by whom?

Larger hotels have security personnel whose role, presumably, it would be to attend such an alarm. But how long before details reach the security guard who may be in the car park while the panic button was pushed on the 14th floor. What happens if the security guard is otherwise occupied or can’t be reached? Is the front office manager supposed to respond?

What about housekeepers who work in hotels that do not have full-time, on-premises security guards or any security personnel at all? What about the mum and dad motel?

While many accommodation providers are revisiting their policies/procedures and deepening employee awareness, effective security comes not only from prevention but also from managing a situation effectively when it arises. Systems can easily be adapted to allow panic buttons to be placed on wireless communication devices and monitored at the front desk showing the location of a victim.

“The Optii Keeper software solution already enables unprecedented operational and productivity improvements for hotels.” says Soenke Weiss, CEO of Optii Solutions. “While room attendants already have peace of mind knowing that supervisors know where they are at any given time, adding a panic button to the iPod carried by every room attendant and supervisor enables the system to alert all other staff in the vicinity and is a logical extension of the solution. Colleagues, managers and security personnel will be alerted and are able to respond to a situation immediately once an employee feels unsafe.”

Clearly, protecting the health and safety of hotel employees must rank equally with protecting guests as the top priority of every accommodation provider. It is equally clear, as recent events have demonstrated, that employees face real risks in their occupations. Employees deserve reliable protective measures that have been tested and proved by security experts to be effective in the specific environment of an operating complex. Those protective measures should be afforded to employees in accommodation properties large and small, not just those with full-time security teams.

The answer lies in policies, procedures and training, all of which should be developed by the industry for the benefit of all hospitality employees.

A policy that any accommodation provider could easily adopt is that housekeepers never enter or service an occupied room — full stop. There is a conundrum as to whether it is better for a housekeeper to leave the door open while servicing a guest room or to lock rooms to prevent guests from entering. accommodation providers can also establish limits for room-service duties, linger time and procedures for protecting employees and exiting when faced with a threat.

Panic buttons may not be the panacea to inappropriate behaviour towards housekeepers but it certainly merits some investigation.

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