Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Un-Lean hotels

Hotels, like hospitals, provide an excellent environment for the Lean process improvement philosophy.  There are many opportunities for improvement in work flow, reducing waste, and enhancing both customer service and the work environment for the staff.  Here are two recent stories that illustrate the potential.

On Sunday, my correspondent Sharon reported:

I thought you would enjoy this example of inefficiency.
We are spending the weekend at the Westin Copley.  We went for a walk this a.m.  We returned to our room, which had been cleaned.  Dirty glasses had been removed, but had not been replaced with clean ones.  I hunted down the housekeeper who said, "I don't do glasses."  I asked, "What do you mean you don't do glasses?"  She said that was handled by someone else.  I asked her to find that person and bring us two glasses.  45 minutes later, the same housekeeper showed up with one glass.  I reminded her I asked for two.  Ten minutes later she arrived with another glass.
Add that to the fact it took 90 minutes for them to get our bags to our room upon check-in, I would say this property needs to try Lean!

Last week, I was at the Delta Bessborough hotel in Saskatoon. This is a wonderful old property, built by the Canadian National Railway during the Depression.  It is currently going through renovations.


At midnight, the fire alarm sounded on my floor.  I quickly dressed and went to the door, carefully using the peephole to check hallway conditions.  Seeing no smoke, I opened the door to look out, finding other people on my corridor doing the same.  We were not sure if it was a false alarm or the real thing.  No announcement was made on the public address system, and nobody from the hotel was to be seen to advise us.  As my room was immediately adjacent to the emergency exit stairway, I thought I could take a chance and wait a few minutes.  (Hey, it was cold outside!)  Sure enough, 15 minutes later, the alarm was turned off.

The next morning, I went to the desk clerk and suggested that it would have been helpful to provide information to guests during the fire alarm.  She apologized, saying that the PA system was out of service during renovations, as was the fire alarm control panel.  Also, there were only two people on duty when the alarm sounded, and so they couldn't leave the front desk uncovered to go up to the floors and provide information.

"Rest assured," she said, "If it had been a real emergency, you would have received notification and advice."

I thanked her and then said to myself, "How?  How would I have received any more notification?  The same conditions would have been present as during the false alarm."

It seems to me that if a hotel's safety systems are not working properly, it is a good idea to notify all the guests as they check in, so they can be prepared for contingencies.  Indeed,  how could the local fire department permit the place to receive guests without that kind of contingency planning?  In Lean parlance, shouldn't the work flow of the staff be changed to reflect a new set of potential customer needs?

7 comments:

Michael Pahre said...

How can they have an occupancy permit without a working fire alarm control panel? In most places, isn't it illegal to be open if the control panel isn't working?

Pranab said...

You should totally come down to India and see how things work around here. :-) Half of our top hospitals don't have fire licences and other safety clearance. You'd get fodder for your blog to keep it going for eons (not that you seem to need it!)...

Andrew Turnbull said...

The situation was not properly explained to Mr. Levy by the front desk personnel.

The hotel is installing a new life safety system that features voice over communication (PA system). The existing system of two stages of bells is and will remain fully operational until the cut over to the new system. I apologise for the confusion this misinformation has caused.

Andrew Turnbull
General Manager
Delta Bessborough

Paul Levy said...

Thank you, Mr. Turnbull. I don't understand, though, what you just said. The patrons were left without knowledge when the alarm went off. What are the two stages of bells? Was this something I should have learned about upon registering? Maybe it is written on a placard or card somewhere in the room, but who would know where to find that information? Most important, how would we have known whether to evacuate or not?

By the way, I love your hotel. It is a remarkable structure, and the staff are very pleasant.

Andrew Turnbull said...

While voice communication systems for evacuation of hotels have been around for some time and are code requirements in new buildings, many older buildings, hotels and otherwise rely on a system of staged bells. This is similar to the system most older schools have.

While there are instructions in the in room directory the systems are meant to be intuitive. An initial bell ringing slowly indicates an alarm has been activated. A second stage bell ringing in rapid succession indicates evacuation. Ultimately, in the event of a real fire it is the Fire Department that would conduct an evacuation of the building of those who did not leave during the first or second stage alarm. Similarly with this non voice over type system, the silencing of the alarms is the indication that it is safe to return.

Clearly the concerns you express (the misinformation aside) are the reason fire codes have changed and the reason we have taken the opportunity that our recent renovation has provided to upgrade our system. Having been in hotels during actual but not life threatening fire situations I can tell you that having the ability to talk directly to all occupants is invaluable.

Please let me know if I've left any questions unanswered and thank you for your comments about the building and the staff.

Paul Levy said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but this was loud, continuous noise that lasted 15 minutes and then stopped. There were not two stages of bells.

So, should we all have evacuated during the alarm? If not, I go back to my original premise. How would we have known to distinguish between a false and a real alarm? In the absence of the staff's inability to supplement the alarm with detailed information had it been a real alarm, should we not have received notice upon registering that there would be no further instructions, and that we should presume it to be accurate and leave the premises.

In short, I am sorry to say that there is nothing you have said that relieves my concern that, in a real emergency, we would have been left at sea.

Andrew Turnbull said...

Not to belabour this either, but yes you should have evacuated. In this case it was a false alarm so you were never in any peril but you should never assume an alarm is false.

Rather than hearing from me further on this I have included the National Fire Protection Agency’s guidelines for safe travel.


Hotel fire safety tips

Download these NFPA safety tips for hotels/motels. (PDF, 305 KB)
Be safe when traveling
•Choose a hotel/motel that is protected by both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system.
•When you check in, ask the front desk what the fire alarm sounds like.
•When you enter your room, review the escape plan posted in your room.
•Take the time to find the exits and count the number of doors between your room and the exit. Make sure the exits are unlocked. If they are locked, report it to management right away.
•Keep your room key by your bed and take it with you if there is a fire.
•If the alarm sounds, leave right away, closing all doors behind you. Use the stairs — never use elevators during a fire.
•If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.
If you can't escape ...

•Shut off fans and air conditioners.
•Stuff wet towels in the crack around the doors.
•Call the fire department and let them know your location.
•Wait at the window and signal with a flashlight or light colored cloth.