182 days – between June 1 and November 30 – comprise the Atlantic Hurricane Season. And while that six-month period that includes storms such as Hurricane Dorian and Tropical Storm Gabriella can cause trepidation, Hilton Team Members around the Caribbean and United States East Coast are prepared to keep guests and properties safe, no matter what develops.
Each year Hilton welcomes more than 166 million guests to hotels in 114 countries and territories around the globe. And each year, communities across many of these countries are affected directly and indirectly by Atlantic Ocean hurricanes.
“We start preparing in January,” says Sergey Aghajanyan, Hilton’s Senior Director of Safety & Security for the Americas, in reference to this year’s hurricane season. “We updated our rosters, storm guidelines, supply checklists, and we refreshed our Team Members on training.”
January was just the beginning. By the time Hurricane Barry made landfall in Louisiana on July 13th, the Safety & Security team had hosted webinars and trainings in multiple languages for hotel teams, conducted pre-season readiness checklists, tested equipment, and deployed new technologies. The team was ready.
“It was a flawless operation. We were fortunate Barry’s impact was not as large as it could have been, but we were fully prepared.”
Those pre-season preparations and early season responses proved invaluable throughout Hurricane Dorian, a powerhouse that had potential to impact about 450 Hilton properties in the Caribbean and along the United States’ East Coast.
“Our entire team was ready to adjust as Hurricane Dorian changed,” said Aghajanyan. ““We were again fortunate. The storm had the potential of being much worse, and we were ready respond to whatever came our way.”
Last year, born from lessons learned from 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Hilton introduced a Visual Command Center with advanced threat analysis and mapping capabilities that show storms’ proximities to properties, and a one-stop portal for all storm-related information. Both tools were actively used as nine hurricanes and tropical storms traversed the Atlantic Ocean in 2018, including Hurricanes Florence and Michael.
“We are very proactive and predictive,” Aghajanyan says. “The Visual Command Center is what sets us apart in our industry, because nobody else has that tool. It is outstanding.”
Simultaneously, the portal allows streamlined information flow as Team Members throughout the company upload and access information. This includes status reports Safety & Security source directly from impacted properties, replacing a process that was previously both useful and clunky.
Not this year. Now a link is distributed to hotels in potential storm zones via Hilton’s mobile security app. Hotel leaders share information on their mobile devices, including confirming the safety of Team Members and guests, which is automatically loaded to the portal, saving time previously spent on phone calls, text messages, and follow-up emails. For Hurricane Barry alone, that eliminated the need to make direct and individual contact with 157 properties. For Hurricane Dorian, that number would have been 450.
“That’s a huge number, and everyone’s busy,” Aghajanyan said. “We used this self-reporting capability for the first time during Barry, and then again during Hurricane Dorian, and the success rate was positive, especially for a new tool.”
This efficiency is important as properties closed since 2017’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria reopen their doors to guests, and storm intensity across the globe increases.
“I’ve been through nine hurricanes in different locations in my career,” said Pablo Torres, General Manager of Caribe Hilton, which welcomed back its first guests mid-May after a more than 15-month, $150 million restoration. “Hurricanes used to take time to get from one category to another. But what we are seeing now is these monsters can be a small hurricane, and then all of a sudden a Category 5. It happens really quickly. Hotels have to prepare for the worst.”
For Torres’ team, this included a complete retraining on hurricane preparedness, even before the property reopened. For the hotel, renovations included enhancements such as retrofitting the property with sliding doors that can sustain even more powerful wind speeds.
“I want to ensure we have a Caribe Hilton that is better than before, that we have reimagined our hospitality, facilities and services. And ensure the hotel is well positioned in the international side and local market for the benefit of the local community, the Team Members, and the guests.
“Because when storms hit, it is still our aim to extend Hilton’s hospitality to those who need it most.”
“While our Safety & Security team has plans in place well in advance that our teams activate, our responsibility to provide the warmth and light of hospitality before, during and after a storm remains,” said John Parkinson, Hilton Area Vice President, Florida. “Our Team Members keep guests calm, and our properties provide comforting places for first responders, evacuees, and local residents who needed a little love, comfort and entertainment, or hot meal.”
The 2019 storm season is projected to include 14-16 named storms. In the first three months of the six-month season, there were four. That could mean 2019 will be a light season, or it could be the figurative calm between literal storms.
“Are those storms going to come back to back?” questioned Aghajanyan. “We are monitoring and keeping a close eye on that.”
That monitoring is ongoing as efforts to reopen and support recovering communities take centerstage.
“Our teams train to assist properties from bracing for through recovering from storms. And we are ready to perform these efforts simultaneously. For example, while we are focused on supporting properties in communities most impacted by Hurricane Dorian, we simultaneously monitor future storms.”
No matter what, Hilton is ready.
“I feel quite confident,” Aghajanyan says. “Everybody is well-trained. We’ll be prepared.”