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Travel Security, Part Three

Posted by on April 6, 2010

One of my friends suggested I ‘lighten’ up the page a bit, to make it easier to read. Hope this helps.
Here’s part 3 of our series on travel security tips from Captain Rick. He can be reached at
. MOST HOTELS ARE PROTECTED by the individual country’s innkeeper laws. In most cases, these laws clearly state that the hotel is not responsible for theft from your room… including the convenient room safe. If you are in a rented apartment for a longer stay, you are entirely unprotected against loss. Some travelers are hiding small, high-value items, money, etc in the small “diversion safe”. This is a common item such as a large can of aerosol deodorant that is really an empty can with a removable screw-off lid. Be sure to stuff a hand towel or handkerchief, wad of paper, etc on top to prevent rattling of the items in the can. I recommend using the front desk lock box when possible, thereby making the hotel responsible in most places.

Upper floors are safer from crime, but worse for fire rescue. Emergency rescue is best below the fifth floor. I compromise by picking a modern fire-safe hotel and always request a room on an upper floor to reduce crime exposure. Ground floor rooms are more vulnerable to crime problems because of access and ease of escape. In a high-rise building, rooms above the fifth-floor are usually safer from crime than those below because of lesser accessibility and ease of escape. Also, rooms not adjacent to fire stairs are safer from room invaders because they use them for escape. Criminals do not want to be trapped on an upper floor inside a high-rise hotel. By design, high-rise buildings usually have fewer ground level access points and are easier for the hotel staff to monitor who passes through the access points after hours.
. Door Security Hardware
Hotel or motel rooms should be equipped with a solid-core wood or metal door for best protection. Doors should be self-closing and self-locking. Room doors should have a deadbolt lock with at least a one-inch throw bolt. If the lock appears worn or there are pry marks around the lock area, get another room or move to another hotel. The knob-lock should be hotel-style where you can push a button on the inside knob and block out all keys. This feature is designed to prevent a former guest or housekeeper from entering the room once you are safely inside. Hotels with electronic card access have the advantage of being able to disable former keycards issued to previous guests and unauthorized employees. Electronic locks also will block out most room service keys when you set the deadbolt. The room door should have a wide-angle peephole so you can view who is at the door before opening.

Access Control
Do not open your door to someone who knocks unannounced. Some criminals will pretend to be a bellman, room service, maintenance, or even hotel security to gain admittance to your room. Always call the front desk to confirm their status with the hotel and only open the door if you requested the service. Do not rely on door chains or swing bars to secure the doors while you partially open the door to speak someone. These are unreliable security devices. Teach your children not to open the door of any hotel room without knowing the person on the other side and without your permission.

Other Entry Points
Make sure all windows and sliding doors are secured, if they are accessible from the ground. It is a good idea to test all windows and glass doors to see if they are secure. Beware of balconies where someone can climb from one to another and enter through an open window or sliding door. If the windows or sliding doors are not securable, ask for another room or find another hotel. If your room has an adjoining door to an adjacent room, check it to see that it is secured with a deadbolt lock. If it is questionable, ask for another room.
Beware the Parking Lot
If you are a woman traveling alone or with small children, take advantage of car valet service, if available to avoid the parking lot. After checking-in, ask the bellman or desk clerk to escort you to your room. After unlocking the room, quickly inspect the closets, under the bed, and bathroom including behind the shower curtain before the bellman leaves. Tip the bellman for his efforts.
Occupancy Cues
Put the Do-Not-Disturb sign on the doorknob even when you are away, this deters room burglars (it may affect housekeeping service, however). Turn on the TV or radio just loud enough to hear through the door to give the appearance that the room is occupied. Leave one light on inside the room if you will return after dark. This helps you see upon re-entry and gives the room the appearance of occupancy from the outside. Always go through the same room inspection routine every time you re-enter. People traveling alone should use caution when using the breakfast order door-knob hanger card, especially if the card lists your name and number of persons in the room. A smart crook can knock on the door posing as room service and use your name as a ruse to gain entry.
When you find a suitable hotel that meets your safety standards and will cater to your security needs try to stick with it or with the same hotel chain. Don’t be afraid to complain to management to get the safe room you deserve.
• Always request a room on an upper floor, if possible
• A solid door with a good deadbolt lock is best
• Electronic card access locks help limit access
• Make sure your door has a peephole and night latch and use it
• Turn on the TV or radio just loud enough to hear through the door
• Turn on a single light in the room if you plan to return after dark
• Inspect the room hiding places upon entering and check all locks
• Ask the bellman for an escort and use valet parking if alone
. HOTEL ROOM INVASIONS: One of the more frightening and potentially dangerous crimes that can occur to a family or business traveler is a hotel room invasion robbery. A hotel room invasion occurs when robbers force their way into an occupied hotel or motel room to commit a robbery or other crimes. It is frightening because it violates our private space and the one place that acts as our temporary sanctuary while away from home. Some travelers never recover from the experience of being assaulted while in a hotel room in a strange city.
Like the crime of carjacking, most police agencies don’t track home or hotel room invasions as a separate crime. Most police agencies and the FBI will statistically record the crime as a residential burglary or a robbery. Without the ability to track the specific crime of hotel room invasion, little can be done to alert the public as to the frequency of occurrence or devise a law enforcement plan of action to prevent it.
. HOW IT WORKS: Hotel burglars work mostly during the day and when a room is more likely to be unoccupied. Most burglars work alone, or with hotel staff informants and tend to probe a hotel looking for the right room and the right opportunity. Access control systems, good building design, strong locks and doors, and alert hotel staff can often deter burglars. Also, burglars don’t want to be confronted and will usually flee when approached. Most burglaries do not result in violence unless the criminal is cornered and uses force to escape.
Hotel room invasion robbers, in contrast, work more often at night when rooms are more likely to be occupied and less staff is on duty. The hotel room invaders usually target the occupant and room location and not necessarily the hotel. The selection process may include women traveling alone or senior citizens, or known drug dealers, or wealthy travelers, for example. It is not unusual for a robber to follow the victim to their hotel room based on the value of the car they were driving or the jewelry or clothes they were wearing… even being seen exiting a high-end retail establishment or restaurant can cause one to be targeted and followed. Hotel room invaders have been known to work casinos and watch for guests flashing large sums of money or jewelry. Hotel room invaders usually work alone or with just one accomplice and they rely on an overwhelming physical confrontation to gain control and instill fear in the room occupants.
The violence occurs instantly with an overwhelming explosive force to take control of the room. The hotel room invaders often come equipped with handcuffs, rope, tape, and weapons. Some hotel room robbers appear to enjoy the intimidation, domination, and violence and some claim it’s a “rush.” Some hotel robbers are also opportunist rapist and may sexually assault their victims.
. Dangerous Trends: The act of committing a hotel room invasion is escalating much like carjacking. The reason for the increase seems to follow a similar pattern. Much like automobiles, the traditional commercial targets for robbers have hardened themselves against criminal attack. Technology has allowed commercial establishments to install better locks, and other anti-crime deterrent devices.
Guest room robbers have privacy once inside and don’t have to deal with security or hotel staff or other guests who might suddenly appear. Once the offenders take control of a guest room, they can force the occupants to open room safes, locate hidden valuables, supply keys to the car, and PIN numbers to their ATM cards. Guest room robbers will increase their escape time by disabling the phones and sometimes leave their victims bound or incapacitated. It is not unheard of for robbers to load up the victim’s car with valuables and drive away without anyone in the hotel taking notice.
. Method of Operation: The most common point of attack is through the guest room door or patio door. Sometimes the hotel room invader will simply kick open the door and confront everyone inside. More common is when the hotel room invaders knock on the door first. The room invader hopes that the occupant will simply open the door, without question, in response to their knock. Unfortunately, many people do just that.
Guest room robbers will sometimes use a ruse or impersonation to get you to open the door. They have been known to pretend to be room service, housekeeping, security, or delivering flowers. Clever room robbers might hold a room service tray or flowers in view of the peephole to further the impersonation. Once the door is opened for them, the hotel room invaders will use an explosive amount of force and threats to gain control of the room and produce fear in the victims. Once the occupants are under control, the robbers will begin to collect your portable valuables.
Another tactic is for a robber to select a victim in the lobby and ride up in the elevator with them. They will get off on the same floor and pretend walk behind you as if going to their room. Once the guest opens their door, the robber will force his way in behind them and make his demand. This ploy can be defeated by reversing one’s course and returning to the lobby area.

Items pictured can be found at Part Four will be coming soon. Tell your friends and neighbors to stop by and check us out.

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