Excellence during Crisis

April 26, 2021

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Prepared for an active shooter lockdown in paradise

It is rare that you hear about excellence in service during a crisis when it hits a five-star hotel. Most hotels do not want to be in the limelight when emergencies occur at their hotel. This is understandable for obvious reasons. Guests only see the negative and horrifying headlines. Most of the time they will not bother continuing to read on how the crisis was actually handled. Amazingly, this can really show how well a hotel is organized, what the true level of training is of their employees and how much the well-being of the guests is prioritized.

This is the personal story about witnessing one of the worst crises of a hotel: a lockdown due to an active shooter in a five-star hotel.

During a time when pandemic lockdowns are becoming a common part of daily lives, shootings appear to dominate the top stories and traveling is getting more cumbersome, we simply wanted to enjoy Hawaii with a little staycation for a weekend. What would be better than the neighborhood resort, with its five-star ranked service, dolphin lagoon and located at its “own” stretch of white sand beach?

After a friendly check-in -our room was available early- we had a day of fun at the pool and the beach. Our dinner reservation was before 6pm. Let’s check out the spatially distanced buffet experience, which in general we thought was a thing of the past. Despite the plexiglass dividers and the servers handling the food on the opposite side, the sumptuous spread on offer made us forget the old open buffet atmosphere. This was just as good! Or maybe even better, with no one bumping into you.

While enjoying our different selections back at the table, the evening was going to take a turn. An associate announced loudly that the resort was experiencing an emergency and that everyone had to evacuate to the adjacent ballroom. Guests of the hotel as well as passers-by on an evening stroll at the beach were ask to seek shelter inside the meeting facilities. At this point the hotel management had to hand over control of the entire property to the Hawaii Police Department. It was an orderly and calm procedure as the room was filling and the bi-folding doors were closed to hide the view from the glass-fronted exterior. Before the last doors were shut, we could see a member of the swat team walking along the pre-function area with the profile of his machine gun against the evening sun.

Immediately we heard the announcement through the intercom that hotel guests were advised to stay inside their hotel rooms and to avoid the balconies. It was obviously not a fire drill. Right away one of the hotel managers started to address us in the ballroom in person to explain the situation: An active shooter was on the grounds of the resort and that the police department was taking control of the situation. At this point the resort management had to follow the orders of the police.

It went through my head how tricky this situation was. As a resort designer I know how the entire property is organized like swiss cheese, ins and outs everywhere to create a seamless experience. However, we weren’t trapped. The main kitchen was right behind us and allowed quick access to the back-of-house when needed.

Everyone was encouraged to come forward with any needs one would have, like a trip to the bathroom through the maze of the usually staff-only area or any questions that might arise. After the entire room was addressed, the manager made its rounds around the ballroom to talk to all the individual parties. Where some food was needed as medication had already been taken, it was provided without delay. Guests from the pool area were handed towels and water was passed out to everyone. As the evening was progressing without any real change for us in sight the kitchen started to give out individually packaged food for everyone. Coffee, ice tea and water was put out for self-servicing and more delicious deserts made their way. The general atmosphere was calm and the hotel employees gave us the feeling of security and being taken care of.

With many people in one room, some raised the concern of possible coronavirus transmissions. With the managements’ hands bound by the orders of the police, the engineers kept the airflow at a maximum which cooled the room significantly. Without hesitation, mountains of towels, beach chair covers and blankets were rolled in for everyone to get as comfortable as possible. Next followed pillows to rest one’s head. Guests that still were uncomfortable with the possibility of transmission were offered a more isolated place in one of the connecting, tucked-away foyers. I had the feeling that this hotel had practiced for this for the last ten years. It could not have been handled better.

Every employee of the hotel helped out. We recognized the person again that checked us in serving water now. Others told us about their own hardships, how they just started up again the day before after a long break since the pandemic began. We learnt about their true concern about the other guests in the hotel that were without food locked up in their rooms – thanks to Covid-19 the mini bars are empty now. A small child was by itself in a room unable to get out or anyone in. In comparison, we were a lot better off where we were.

As the news transpired that the shooter was barricaded in a guestroom and the rest of the resort was fairly secured, we were informed that they were working on an escape route for us through the back-of-house to a nearby golf clubhouse. After over eight hours we were able to finally get out into the dark of the night, guided by small flashlights of the members of the swat team, along hidden alleys behind the service area of the hotel.

Since we lived close by, we decided to return to our home. Despite the shooter, who was finally encountered dead due to self-inflicted wounds at almost 5am, luckily nobody got hurt.

Upon our return to the resort the following day to check-out and get our belongings from the room, we ran into the very same employees that were there for us the night before. They couldn’t possibly have had any significant amount of sleep. Despite the lack of rest, they were still as accommodating and friendly as before. Considering the immense financial loss the hotel must have endured that day, we were more than surprised that all of our financial obligations of our weekend-long staycation were reimbursed.

This situation was a rare coincidence and by any means not the fault of the hotel. The way it was handled showed true five-star service even in a moment of crisis. You cannot ask for more welcoming and all-embracing associates for a hotel, who work with all their heart. We will definitely come back!

On a personal note:

There are many hotels and resorts out there that would have handled such an unfortunate occasion in a similar excellent way. I did not want to single out a hotel here but I am happy to share the name with you if you are interested to stay there. Simply drop me a line at mwinkler@fscarchitects.com