When I recently traveled to Manila, I had the opportunity to catch up with friends who had taken management opportunities in the newly opened integrated casino resorts at Entertainment City, a gaming and entertainment complex under development at Bay City in Metro Manila. It was my first time in the Philippines and I was looking forward to taking in some of the local culture and famous hospitality. I was also there to learn more about the security and surveillance practices from the new kids on the Asian casino scene.
My first impression of Manila was that it is a city full of friendly, smiling people and jeepneys. Uniquely Filipino, the flamboyantly decorated jeepneys (similar to a minibus) were originally made from leftover World War II U.S. military jeeps. I saw plenty of jeepneys and friendly faces up close while stuck in traffic on the way to my hotel from the airport. I also had a lot of time to Google, and it came as no surprise to learn that Manila is one of the world’s most densely populated cities with over 46,000 people per square mile (nearly twice that of New York City), 12.8 million people living in the metro area.
My hotel was located in upscale Makati. Upon arrival, my wife and I were greeted by helpful concierge staff who took our bags and told us they would follow us inside as they pointed us to a security screening checkpoint to the left side of the hotel’s main doors. The screening process was seamless and the staff respectful and courteous.
Sure, I was a little surprised being asked to go through a weapons detection system in a hotel, but as a casino protection professional and traveler, I appreciated the security and so did my wife. This “security service” would become a theme throughout my visit to Manila, as I learned that customer safety is of paramount importance to organizations running hotels, casinos, shopping malls and large public venues.
The next morning, I jumped in a taxi and asked the driver to take me to Okada Manila at Entertainment City. Entertainment City is built on reclaimed land adjacent to Manila Bay. Since the development was greenlighted, three integrated casino resorts have opened. Solaire Resort & Casino (2013), City of Dreams (2014) and Okada Manila (2016) were each constructed at a cost of over US$1 billion. A fourth property, Westside City Resorts World, is currently under construction and is slated to open in 2019. Discussions are also under way to add a fifth casino.
Okada Manila stands out. The gold-mirrored windows of the hotel shine brightly from a distance, and its sleek, futuristic design draws your eye’s attention. The taxi driver pulled into the main entrance and drove slowly up to a security checkpoint where we were greeted by friendly security officers and bomb-sniffing dogs.
They asked us to drive slowly over the under-vehicle inspection system (UVIS) before proceeding to the main entrance. UVIS checkpoints are located at all vehicle entrances on the property including guest entrances, valet and self-parking garages and the staff parking area.
When I got out of the taxi, I was greeted by one of the many security officers at the entrance. He was professional and polite and could have passed for a New York City concierge. He pointed me over to the security checkpoint at the main doors to the casino lobby, which at this stage of my visit was becoming more of an expectation than an inconvenience.
I learned later that all the entrances into Okada Manila have weapons detection systems consisting of a combination of X-ray machines, metal detectors, dogs and physical searches. All guests are screened through the metal detectors. All baggage is run through an X-ray machine. All entrances and other sensitive areas are manned by armed security and general security teams.
“Weapons Are Forbidden” signs are displayed at all entrances. Guests in possession of a firearm are escorted to a Weapon Deposit Room by one of their armed security officers. The rooms have reinforced ballistic wall areas and discharge areas. Weapons are checked in, and if required, unloaded under a CCTV camera. Guests register their weapons and ammunition before depositing them in specifically designed high-security lockers.
I was informed that Okada Manila has almost 90 dogs on property—primarily trained to detect explosives, while some are trained to detect drugs. The dogs are housed on-site in veterinarian-designed kennels. Professional caregivers are responsible for making sure the dogs are well looked after and receive regular check-ups.
The reason they keep so many dogs is simply to ensure they are not overworked. The property is large, and to keep from overworking them they limit each dog’s work day to four hours. Dog handlers are assigned to their own permanent small group of dogs. When the handler has a day off, then his/her dogs also have the day off.
After entering the casino lobby, I was met by my friend Mike Waite, the vice president of security and surveillance. Mike had agreed to let me go behind the scenes and spend a day with him to observe his security operation.
Mike is a 30-year casino security and surveillance veteran who has the unique distinction of having opened 13 casinos around the world. I would describe him as being a kind of casino journeyman who likes a challenge. I used to work with Mike a long time ago. I always remember the time I got a catch-up email from him and he casually mentioned he was bunkered down in his office in a casino in the Middle East dodging missiles, bombs and sniper fire. Mike joined the Okada Manila opening team in late 2013 (originally Tiger Resorts). It was good to see him again and that he was happy to be in the Philippines, the home of his wife and his adopted home outside Australia.
Mike oversees the security and surveillance departments. He has a person in charge of each department that reports directly to him. Both departments are divided into two divisions—security operations and security services, and surveillance operations and surveillance services. I would come to learn during the day that his leadership and oversight of both areas translates to good communication and cooperation between both of these essential casino support services.
Mike kicked off my visit with a guided tour of the property, starting off with the main floor of the casino. The casino has almost 500 gaming tables and 3,000 electronic games. It was elegant, open and full of bold colors, still with that new car smell. He showed me some of the private gaming rooms. They were lavishly decorated and fully equipped for the needs of high rollers. We then headed out of the casino to see the other impressive amenities on the property. The property is massive, and lives up to its marketing claims of offering five-star luxury amenities.
After the front-of-house tour, I was escorted back of house to the security and surveillance offices. It was a hive of activity. Mike introduced me to his management team, an international all-star group with multi-jurisdictional experience who brought with them best practices from around the world. Highly motivated and energetic, I sensed that these guys would go the extra mile to make sure customers and employees were safe in their house.
The first stop on my behind-the-scenes tour was the surveillance training room. A new group of about 10 surveillance trainees were undergoing training, so I got the opportunity to sit and chat with them for a while. Mike told me surveillance staff train every day.
The next stop was the surveillance monitor room. The large room is configured stadium style with the shift manager positioned on the top level with a view of all the consoles in the room. The room was equipped with all the latest technology, and like most large casinos in the Asian Pacific region, the surveillance department employed monitor room operators, special project teams, investigators and analysts.
Mike then took me to see his security control rooms. The security command center (SCC) is tasked with general control room-related tasks. The fire control center (FCC) is primarily tasked with managing emergency situations, particularly fire. It is located in an area of the property to allow the fire brigade or others quick access from outside the building. The control rooms are located a fair distance from each other and operate on separate power grids. Each is capable of handling the other room’s functions entirely.
The reason for several control rooms is that in the event that one is rendered “out of action” for any reason, the other control room will still remain fully operational. In addition, because of the sheer size of the property, the work load can be shared between the control rooms. Mike went on to tell me that the property has its own paramedics, ambulances, two clinics, two first aid rooms and a fire engine.
As the tour of the control rooms wound down, Mike received a phone call from one of his team leaders informing him that the first emergency response drill of the day was about to commence. We immediately returned to the surveillance monitor room. I watched on the monitors and listened to radio traffic as both surveillance and security departments conducted a coordinated active shooter drill.
Mike’s emergency response teams conduct drills every day. He has a well-armed, well-trained tactical response team, a fire and emergency team and a medical response team. The active shooter drill would be the first of four drills I witnessed that day. It was great to watch and see the sense of urgency and communication between the teams. It was like being on a movie set with the staff doing a great job of acting out the scenario while the managers coordinated the response like seasoned Hollywood directors.
The security team use their discretion on deciding what scenario will be scheduled each day. Common scenarios include fire, active shooter, earthquake, armed robbery, bomb, suspicious package and hostage situations. They video-record each drill for review and analysis. They also conduct daily safety briefings and training courses with other departments in the organization.
In total, they probably spent two to three hours conducting four emergency response drills that day. After the drills, the entire security management team got together in a “situation room” to critique their handling of each drill and then come up with ways they could improve efficiency and effectiveness. I sat in on the briefing for about 20 minutes and was impressed by the way the team broke down every detail and offered up spirited suggestions on how it could have been done better.
It became obvious to me that the security team is passionate about safety. They work well together and are motivated to improve on a daily basis. They have created a security culture that continually searches for excellence.
At the end of the day I sat down with Mike and talked about the role of security and surveillance in his organization. He spoke with pride about what his team had built and was complimentary about the passion and drive they have for keeping people safe. I told him I was very impressed with his operation, especially the people, the attention to details and their continuous training program.
I have heard so many casino security and surveillance directors cry poor when it comes to improving technology and providing training. Writing this article, I could see how other casino security professionals may be envious (even a little skeptical?) of the support Mike receives from his organization and the lengths he goes to make his property safe and secure.
So, I wrote Mike an email asking him to give me his views on leading a security surveillance operation. This was his reply, and I feel it sums up best the extraordinary operation I encountered at Okada Manila. His reason for why we strive for better safety and security (no matter what size the property may be) is a priority that can’t be ignored.
“Many properties in our industry make large revenues. Reinvestment goes into finding ways to make even more revenues, enhancing guest experiences, and paying dividends to shareholders. It is time for our industry as a whole to take a more responsible approach to safety and security. Increasing investment and resource allocation in safety and security should be a responsibility that company directors and shareholders embrace as part of the ethical obligation and financial cost of operating a resort or casino (or both).
“Companies should not just view enhanced safety and security as a necessary cost. They should also view safety and security as an ethical decision, a corporate social responsibility, a best practice, an investment in the future of their organizations, and also as a value proposition. Yes, safety can also be a marketing tool. The world has changed very much in the last 20 years. People, in general, now appreciate much more the need for security and safety. Many guests take comfort in knowing that they are in a safe environment. This very fact can contribute to the overall guest experience. More importantly, it saves lives.
“Nobody can claim that their security is ‘perfect’ or that their property is ‘100 percent safe,’ but we can all aim for this. Security and safety experts should continuously re-evaluate and maintain the never-ending process of improving safety and security. Even the highest levels of security do not guarantee 100 percent that a tragedy won’t happen. But at least, we can all do our very best to prevent such tragedies from happening. Design, systems and processes are highly important. However, training, more training, then, even more training is the key.
“We planned our high-security-and-safety property long before the recent tragedies in several casinos even happened. Many factors led us to aim for the highest levels of safety and security that we can. A key element of our planning was that we tried to think of as many ‘what if’ security scenarios as we could. Unfortunately, the recent tragedies have proved some of these ‘what if’s’ to be valid concerns. The security and safety planning process is continuous and ongoing.
“Key people in our senior security management team have worked all over the world and have opened many casino resorts in both highly regulated and high-risk environments. Our collective goal to create the most safe and secure property that we can is fueled by a passion for safety and security, a drive to achieve the best results we can, and a shared belief that safety of people comes before any other consideration, without exception. Fortunately, we were able to assemble a team of highly experienced experts in security design, systems, safety, training and operations to work towards our goal. We are also very fortunate and grateful to receive the full support of our company leaders who have shown a strong willingness to invest heavily in security and safety and entrust us with this very serious responsibility.
“The most important factor that drives us to make our property as safe and secure as we can is people. There is nothing more important than doing everything we possibly can to keep people safe.”