Panic-buttons have been making headlines in recent years for a good reason – research reveals that sexual harassment of hotel workers is shockingly common-place. In a 2016 survey of 500 housekeepers in Chicago, 49 percent said guests had flashed them. According to Stand with Women Against Abuse, a coalition of community and labor groups, about eight in 10 hotel workers have encountered some form of verbal aggression or harassment at work.
Traditionally, hotels pride themselves on putting guest comfort first – especially in luxury hotels. In the past, guest indiscretions were often ‘swept under the carpet.’ However, with changing cultural perceptions about sexual harassment, hotels have now begun to re-think their approach to employee safety.
After a particularly high-profile sexual harassment case in 2011, the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan announced it would hand out ‘panic button’ devices – modeled after medical alert buttons for the elderly – to the hotel’s maids. And the following year, all New York City hotel operators agreed to a contract with the city's hotel union that gives housekeepers panic buttons to notify security if they run into trouble in a guest's room. Other cities, like Seattle and Chicago followed with similar measures.
Flash forward six years to September 6, 2018. The CEOs of Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott, and Wyndham joined the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) in announcing the 5-Star Promise. This ‘Pledge to employee safety’ includes a promise to provide hotel employees with safety devices – essentially, panic buttons. The message is clear: the hotel industry will be proactive and demonstrative in their efforts to prevent and police harassment towards its workers.
Some hotels are already taking the lead in adopting this technology. Early versions of panic buttons were essentially noise-makers that alerted others in hearing distance. The obvious downside to this simple approach to meeting regulations is that if the emergency event happens behind closed doors or otherwise away from anyone in hearing distance, the safety of the user is compromised.
As a result, these ‘band-aid’ approaches are quickly being replaced by solutions that are more integrated into modern hotel operations management. With stated goals of location accuracy, communication speed and event documentation, the newest technologies are now considered a natural fit into the hotel’s current technology stack.
A perfect example of this integrated, data-rich approach to hotel worker safety is the recent partnership between hospitality service management leader Knowcross and React Mobile, a pioneer in hotel worker safety systems.
Knowcross provides hotels a platform to manage and automate all of its back-of-house operations including housekeeping, service and maintenance. The platform is integrated directly into the hotel’s property management system so that guest profiles can be accessed and updated. This data-rich system gives hotels the ability to better anticipate guest needs and provide a better guest experience.
But the system’s hallmark is the operational efficiency it delivers. Each housekeeper uses a mobile phone to update room status information that goes directly into a central console monitored by other hotel staff. Upon starting and finishing a room cleaning, the maid will update the status on the Knowcross app. This constant 2-way communication allows hotels to turn rooms faster. Staff that monitor the housekeeping console have an immediate understanding of what is happening on each floor of the hotel, down to the room level.
This close management of housekeeping operations dove-tails with React Mobile’s goals. The panic button technology company has raised the technology bar well beyond the simple ‘noise-maker’ panic buttons. Early in the company’s development, React Mobile recognized that speed and accuracy of communication was the key to the quality of safety that could be provided. React’s panic buttons send a signal to the hotel’s installed React Dispatch Center. The interface lets hotel staff locate an employee anywhere in the facility within seconds of a distress call.
Robb Monkman, Founder and CEO of React Mobile, has special motivation to make sure those trapped in dangerous situations can reach out to help easily. “Several years ago, while attending university, I was the victim of an armed robbery and hostage situation that left a lasting impression on me. Imagine how you would feel knowing you may lose your life and couldn’t call for help. I am lucky to be alive today,” Monkman say. “I soon learned that thousands of people every day are in a situation where they desperately need help but can’t call. I made it my mission to solve this problem.”
Typical GPS-only location technologies don’t work in multi-story hotels. A signal in one latitude/longitude of a 10-story hotel could means something is happening on 1 of 10 different floors. That diminishes the ability to respond to distress calls in time. So, React Mobile adds layers of additional location information via other means. Some React Mobile installations may include Bluetooth beacons to help triangulate locations. However, hotels using Knowcross have location data already built into their operational management tools. “We were attracted to the Knowcross platform because of the almost constant status information being relayed," explains Brandon DeCuir, React’s Marketing and Customer Success Manager. “The robust location data built into the Knowcross solutions gives those hotels a very low barrier to entry to our panic button technology. That means they can comply with industry regulations AND provide better protection to their employees in short order.”
Nikhil Nath, CEO of Knowcross, sees the partnership as a natural extension of the Knowcross ethos. “We entered into this partnership as a way of giving back to the industry. We stand behind and actively support technology that improves the safety of hotel workers,” says Nath.
“We have showed the industry that smart, data-driven operations will result in tremendous bottom-line efficiencies as well as improved guest satisfaction. React Mobile is also up-ending assumptions about how to manage hotel staff. I am confident that the smarter, technology-driven safety innovation that results from the integration of Knowcross and React Mobile will result in discernible benefits for any hotel using it.”
Karen O’Neill, President, Americas of Knowcross Solutions added, “Knowcross remains committed to support hotels in the United States in their efforts to improve worker safety.”
It is clear that safety-button technology will soon be a mandate for all hotels across the country. What will change is the depth of the technology’s integration into the traditional hotel tech stack. As hotels look to increase operational efficiency and guest satisfaction through better data, safety systems will be a part of the equation.