Columbia hotels boost security after manager's death

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 | 6:42 p.m. CST; updated 4:19 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — In the wake of the killing of a night clerk at a Comfort Inn on Clark Lane, many Columbia hotels are revamping their security measures to keep employees and guests safe.

Following the arrest Monday of 21-year-old Dwight T. Hayes on suspicion of second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action, many hotel managers have been motivated to take extra safety precautions. Hotels say they’ve come under even closer scrutiny following the weekend shooting of 55-year-old general manager Cynthia L. White.

Rocky Patel, manager of the Country Inn and Suites, 817 N. Keene St., said he has worked to keep the two-month-old hotel protected.

Patel cited cameras — 16 inside the hotel and 16 outside — and locked doors as the bulk of the hotel’s safety precautions. Cameras are strategically placed throughout the hotel so that no corner is left unseen, Patel said. Specifically, the cameras are focused on the hallways, business and fitness centers, the pool and every entrance, he said.

Patel said the cameras are not only visible to the employees at the front desk but are also Internet-based so they can be viewed by virtually any employee from anywhere.

“With the cameras, there is no place to hide,” Patel said. “You will get caught on some camera.”

The Country Inn and Suites has only had its doors open to business for a few weeks, but after White’s death, management is already looking into newer safety policies. A panic button that functions as a direct line to the police department will soon be installed by Midwest Electronics.

Another Columbia hotel, the Residence Inn Marriott, 1100 Woodland Springs Court, is now investing in its own security cameras.

General manager Jessica Mitchell said that although the budget had always left room for security cameras, the installation has been pushed up to this week in response to White’s death.

“We are taking extreme measures to make sure that all of our staff and guests are safe,” Mitchell said.

As another popular safety technique, area hotels cited the locking of doors at certain times of the day, so they can only be entered with a valid room key. Patel and Mitchell both agreed the key-lock doors are a successful way to keep unwanted people out.

At both hotels, access can only be gained through these key-lock doors with room keys or through an intercom that buzzes to the front desk, giving employees complete control of whoenters.

The Residence Inn Marriott has strict rules for giving out room keys that also allow entry into the hotel.

“In order to get a key, you need to have picture identification with your name on it, which then needs to match the name that is listed under the room,” Mitchell said.

While technology plays a large role in keeping employees and guests comfortably safe, Keith Owens, co-owner of The Regency on Broadway, puts an emphasis on educating his employees about safety.

“Basically, we teach our employees to know all the time what to look out for in crisis situations,” Owens added. “We always keep our employees aware, and they have a plan to alert police immediately whenever necessary.”

Owens said that while they do have cameras for security, keeping the employees in the know is equally as important and can be just as successful.

Echoing Owens’ sentiments, Debbie Atchley, general manager of the Staybridge Suites, 805 Keene St., said keeping employees knowledgeable about the dangers of the job is vital.

“Are we freaked out? Absolutely ... We preach to our employees every day, but this crime really made it hit home,” Atchley said. “This helped the managers explain to the employees how important safety is and the importance of being aware of your surroundings.”

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M W November 28, 2007 | 10:06 a.m.

A lot of hotels I stay at have the exterior door lock/room key card feature. It's a good idea.

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