Terrorist on the Telephone
(a case study)
Case studies can be an effective and entertaining way to teach new skills, review operational procedures, and test staff knowledge.  The following security case study developed by the Educational Institute will be included in the upcoming second edition of the book “Security and Loss Prevention Management,” by Raymond C. Ellis and David Stipanuk.  For more information on EI’s security books, videos, and new professional certification programs for security directors, supervisors, and officers, call 1-800-752-4567 or 407-649-8252, or visit EI’s web site at www.ei-ahma.org

PBX Operator Carolee Tomlinson glanced at the clock.  "Noon," she thought as the phone rang with yet another call.  She was eager to help the caller and leave for a very well-deserved lunch break.  It seemed everything at the Northpoint was especially hectic today.  It was the first day of the hotel's first large convention since a major renovation project was completed.  With over 1,000 nationally respected guests on site, everyone wanted to make the best impression possible.

"Thank you for calling the Northpoint Hotel.  How may I direct your call?"

 "There's a bomb at your hotel."

 Carolee gulped.  "I beg your pardon, sir?"

 "Your hearing better improve fast unless you want to see a lot of people get blown up."
 She took a deep breath and tried to keep her nerves under control as she reached for the Northpoint's printed list of bomb-threat procedures.  "I'm sorry, sir, we seem to have a bad connection.  If you're on a cell phone, it might be best to—"

 "I'm not on a cell phone, I'm in a ph—" He stopped.  "Just listen.  There's a bomb in your hotel and you'd better do something about it."

 "What time is it going to go off?" Carolee asked, reading from the bomb-threat checklist.

 "Forty-five minutes from now."

 "12:45," she said, taking notes.

 "That's what I said."

 "Where is it?"

 "Why don't we just say that's for me to know and you to find out.  More fun that way, don't you think?"

 "What kind of bomb is it?"

 "The kind that sends a very, very loud message." The caller laughed, and Carolee noted the sound of traffic in the background.

 "Why are you doing this?"

 "You've got a lot of nerve, asking me that.  I think it's time all those so-called scientists came face-to-face with the fact that there are some things they just can't fix.  Maybe they won't keep thinking they can play God with people's lives."

The convention, Carolee thought.  The Cancer Research Society of America. Who in the world could possibly hold a grudge against cancer researchers?  And then Carolee remembered something.  "Is this Dale?"

The line went dead.

Carolee glanced up at the clock.  It was 12:07.  Amazing how quickly your whole world can change, she thought as she dialed the police.  After informing them of the threat, she notified the property's general manager, Marisa Hingle.

Marisa quickly appeared at Carolee's workstation.  "What was your impression of the caller?" she asked.

Carolee reviewed her notes from the conversation.  "It was a man, no accent to speak of.  I think he was calling from a phone booth; I heard traffic in the background."

"No location or description of the device?" Marisa asked.

"He just said it would send a very loud message," Carolee paused. "You know, I think it was Dale Edgar.  The caller specifically said he wanted to get back at our conference attendees because they were 'playing God with people's lives.'  I know Dale's wife died of cancer about two weeks after he quit to care for her, and I sort of recognized his voice.  But I didn't really know him well, so I don't know if it's something he's really capable of or whether he’s just bluffing."

"Thanks, Carolee," Marisa said as she hurried away, glancing at her watch.  "No matter who it was, we're taking every precaution.  Make the evacuation call now." 

For the Northpoint Hotel, "every precaution" meant an evacuation and a complete search of the property for any packages, luggage, or other devices that looked suspicious, out of place, or unclaimed. 

Carolee referred to her bomb-procedures sheet again and dialed into the public-address system that goes into all of the rooms in the hotel.

"We apologize for this inconvenience," Carolee read over the PA, "but an emergency situation has arisen. We must ask that you evacuate the premises immediately, taking with you your valuables and personal belongings and proceed to the park located across the street from the hotel.  Please use the stairwells, if necessary.  Do not use the elevators.  Thank you. Safety code 319."

"Safety code 319" was the Northpoint's code for a bomb threat, which every staff member at the hotel would recognize.  Even as people were beginning to hurry out of the conference rooms and guestrooms, hotel staff were assembling in their assigned areas.

The food and beverage and sales managers began moving through the seminar rooms and meeting spaces being used by the conference attendees.  Room attendants checked linen closets and other storage areas to be sure they were indeed locked and that there were no signs of suspicious activity.  Engineering employees worked their way through the mechanical rooms, checking all equipment for anything that looked unusual.

Marisa and her staff were standing at the entrance ushering guests into the parking lot when three police cars screeched down the driveway. The Channel 10 news van and a car from the "Suburban Sun-Sentinel" were close behind.  Marisa knew that once the call went out over the police bands it would only be a question of "when" not "if" the news media would arrive.  She also knew that herding 1,000 eminent doctors and scientists across the street and into the park was bound to create images too intriguing for the TV broadcasters and newspaper photographers to ignore. She searched the growing crowd for the hotel's director of public relations and the property's designated spokesman, Roger Carr.

Discussion Questions
  1. Did the general manager make the right choice in evacuating over 1,000 guests to the park?  What factors influenced her decision?
  2. Based on this year's experience, should the Northpoint Hotel take any steps to prepare for bomb threats against this convention group in future years?  If so, what steps might they take?
  3. What points might Roger Carr make when he makes a statement to the local media?  When should that statement occur? 

Case Number: 3876CA: 
Terrorist on the Telephone

The following industry experts helped generate and develop this case:  Wendell Couch, ARM, CHA, Director of Technical Services for the Risk Management Department of Bass Hotels & Resorts; and Raymond C. Ellis, Jr., CHE, CHTP, Professor, Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston, Director, Loss Prevention Management Institute.

Points for Instructors

 1.   Did the general manager make the right choice in evacuating over 1,000 guests to the park?  What factors influenced her decision?

There are no hard-and-fast rules to apply when deciding how to respond to a bomb threat.  Some properties are so vulnerable to threats that they choose not to evacuate unless there are substantial, compelling reasons.  At other properties, the possibility of personal injury and property damage as a result of terrorism—and bomb threats certainly are a form of terrorism, regardless of the reasons or the locale—is so extraordinary that every bomb threat is treated seriously. 

At best, the GM's decision to evacuate is based on an assessment of the facts of the threat, the history of the property, and the likelihood of an actual explosion.  Even then, evacuation is not a black-and-white issue: one GM's decision not to evacuate was the correct one—even though a bomb went off that killed five people in the lobby; had an evacuation been in progress at the time, many more lives would have been lost.

Factors to consider include:

  • A former employee will be more familiar with potential hiding places for a bomb.
  • If you have been informed of a bomb's location, you can concentrate your search efforts.
  • Most GMs do not want to take responsibility for so many lives.

  • Terrorism is becoming more common; there are increased incidents of hotel bombings.

 2.   Based on this year's experience, should the Northpoint Hotel take any steps to prepare for bomb threats against this convention group in future years?  If so, what steps might they take?

Again, there are no "rules of thumb" to follow in such cases. 

It is probably unlikely that this particular group would draw another bomb threat; to the majority of individuals, the group does not represent an especially controversial point of view.  However, it would behoove hotel personnel to follow national, state, and local issues that might affect public sentiment toward the groups they book. 

If staff are aware of antagonistic shifts in the mood of the community-at-large toward, say, some highly experimental form of cancer treatment that will be discussed during the conference, they can take appropriate steps to prepare. Such steps might include the following:

  • Alert local law enforcement officers to the group's arrival. 
  • Thoroughly search and "lock down" each mechanical room and storage area prior to the group's arrival. If areas have already been secured, a terrorist will have fewer options for where to place an explosive device, and hotel staff will have narrowed down the areas they need to search.
  • Meet beforehand with the group's leaders to review security procedures and designate contact people who will be informing and guiding the group in the event of an emergency.
  • Once the convention starts, have a regular patrol of restrooms, lobby, and commercial spaces, looking for unclaimed parcels or suspicious items. Patrollers should also check vents, docks, and all other accessible areas.

 3.   What points might Roger Carr make when he makes a statement to the local media?  When should that statement occur?

Points for Roger Carr’s media statement might include:
  • A bomb threat was received at noon. The caller stated that the device would go off at 12:45.
  • The Northpoint Hotel has established procedures for dealing swiftly and effectively with such threats.
  • According to that policy, police were immediately notified.
  • Every department was notified within “xx” minutes of the phone call, and evacuation procedures were immediately set into action.
  • Staff began a thorough search for the device and signs of anything unusual.
  • Everyone was safely evacuated within “xx” minutes.
Ideally, Roger Carr's statement should occur after the emergency is over and all of the guests have returned to the hotel. However, it is likely that media representatives will be eager for a quote of some kind while the guests are still out. In that event, Roger should explain the steps being taken to ensure the safety of each and every guest. As the hotel's spokesman, he has been trained not to speculate or make any accusations.
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Also See:
Preparing for the Next Workforce - Will it Surprise You that Gen Xers Want to be Trained?  / EI 
Employee Training: Is There a Teacher in the House? 

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