Have you ever been in the process of paying out a large jackpot when the casino-floor alarm sounds? Has a construction crew ever cut through one of your main power lines, causing half the slot floor to go dark? Ever wondered where that burnt wire smell was coming from? Ever wondered what would happen if a water pipe burst over a row of slot games on a Saturday night? All of these incidents have happened on my watch, and I am sure you can share stories of your own that are just as horrifying.
You can’t predict when or how an emergency will impact service on your slot floor, but you can plan a predictable customer service response. Whether it is an in-house emergency that requires an evacuation, or an outside emergency that prohibits customers from entering or leaving, your employees must be ready to assist guests with information and service.
The Red Cross estimates that the majority of Americans are unprepared for a major disaster, even though business disruptions, emergencies and disasters could occur at any time. Most companies, on a broad level, have some sort of plan in place. Smart directors and managers will extend this plan to their individual departments.
What is an Emergency Plan?
An emergency plan is a well thought-out, detailed course of action to organize employees and customers that results in a satisfactory conclusion to a possible catastrophic event. A poor plan — or no plan at all — could spell disaster, resulting in injury, death, loss of funds and negative public relations.
We all have a heightened sense of what could happen, but how prepared are you? Do you have a department plan? A company plan? When was the last time you discussed slot floor evacuation with your staff? In the event of an emergency, reacting decisively is key. The goal is to quickly assess the situation. If a building evacuation is required, it should be swift and orderly. This process may prove challenging; many patrons will panic, while others will show no desire to leave their slot machine.
When preparing for the “worst case scenario,” you need a plan. You must have organization, staff commitment and creativity, because even the best of plans is always a work in progress.
Let’s look at two types of emergencies: Those where everyone stays in the building, and those that require evacuation.
Not all emergency situations require floor evacuation. A blizzard may close down the immediate area outside the building, but customers will still need service. Who will render that service at your property if you have not planned ahead appropriately?
During three days in January 1996, the East Coast experienced the snow storm of the century. Within those three days, 36 inches of snow fell on all seaside resorts, where the average snowfall is 3 to 4 inches.
But, in the hospitality industry, come rain, snow or shine, service must go on. As a part of the management team for a large slot department in Atlantic City, we had our non-evacuation emergency plan ready. Slot attendants, technicians, supervisors and shift managers became one single unit, paying jackpots, filling hoppers and continuing to provide the best service.
Our plan went into action before the first flake of the blizzard fell. I started placing calls to the slot employees who had been pre-determined as emergency back-ups. Bags were packed, and those marked for storm duty headed in. As part of the plan, we did not put all of our resources to work immediately. Some of our slot attendants arrived before the storm and were already in their rooms resting. We would need them fresh if the hours of the storm turned into days. Good planning reserves resources. As the storm progressed, the employee call-outs continued to come in. When the roads were closed by state decree, we knew exactly how many employees we had.
By the second night of the storm, the staff was working long hours. It is important during this type of situation to make management visible to staff. This visibility is a key morale booster for employees and customers, and helps keep employee stress to a minimum.
Our 1,500-room complex was booked, and the customers had no where else to go. Our slot floor had 3,500 games; staff peaked at 25 employees for the duration of the storm. That is 8.3 FTE’s per 8-hour shift. This included myself, managers, technicians and line staff.
“Storm Service” is a total team effort. It is not the plan of just one department, but of all departments. Emergency weather events leave your guests stranded, and your employees handling the emergency will need down time. Your non-emergency staff can fill in, but this could mean continued disruption of your “normal” scheduling procedures after the event.
After an event that brings employees to the “above and beyond” level of service, management should acknowledge and reward those employees. You could use a one-time special bonus, gifts or comp time off. We had t-shirts made that said, “I survived the Storm of 1996.”
I also had a special newsletter printed about the experience for our slot department. It included pictures and short stories capturing the event. I found a way to mention everyone’s name, including members of the relief staff that braved the elements when the storm was over. It documented the importance of their efforts and validated the department’s respect for what everyone did. Always remember that employee relations are just as important as customer relations. Give them a moment whenever you can; it is an investment in your customer service process and the right thing to do.
In 2003, I was on duty at the Tropicana when a garage that was being constructed with a new tower addition collapsed, killing four and injuring several construction workers. This was a very dark time. Even though the disaster was a block away from the slot floor, the emergency still involved the entire operation. We did not evacuate the slot floor, but the hotel tower facing the collapse was evacuated, and many customers were displaced. Some did not see their vehicles for a week, as they were parked in the vicinity of the collapse.
In this type of event, employees should follow the company plan. The main thing is scripting remarks and, of course, reminding employees to not speak to the media. Employees need to be aware of this process. Part of their training should include the company’s bullet-point agenda in emergency situations.
Remember the 1980 MGM fire in Las Vegas where 80 people died? Or how about the famous Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942? Four hundred and ninety two people died. At that time, exit doors opened toward the inside. How many lives would have been saved if they opened out? What do you think their emergency plan was?
Then there are the tiny annoying emergencies. One busy Saturday night, a water pipe burst above 20 slot games, sending streams of ice-cold water through a high-end area. But, again, alert, well-trained slot employees reacted quickly, communicating and removing the patrons. That night cost me a pair of shoes.
Putting together a plan for your department should be a priority. If you already have one, is it current? The exit door you designated for employee use when you wrote the policy, is it still there? Or did it go with the last round of floor reconstruction?
All levels of employees should be represented in the development of your plan. Empower representatives from the line staff and technicians. Everyone needs to know and understand what good planning is. The general staff will appreciate this and actually become your sales people, bringing the plan back to their peers.
When events and circumstances beyond anyone’s control occur, good solid planning will make a difference.
1) It is important to script a proper emergency plan. Start by labeling personnel to reflect their positions. For example, you may want to call your coordinating team “Slot Emergency Leaders.” Their responsibility is to coordinate with the shift manager for an orderly execution of the emergency plan. There also needs to be a scripted response for employees to customers, and flight-check precision for management.
2) Radios are a key piece of equipment for on-going communication. The shift manager and designated key emergency leaders are the links for the radio announcements that provide consistent communication to staff and customers. You can pre-print index cards with key instructions for employees reminding them of procedures, meeting locations and some key lines of scripting for the customers.
3) In planning for both evacuation and non-evacuation events, it is important to create a list that includes:
• How you can best mobilize resources
• Employees that live within 30 minutes of the property
• All employee phone numbers
• Hotel room availability for employees
• Pre-determined meeting points
4) In the event of an evacuation, the emergency leaders should meet employees at pre-selected locations to secure key or card devices and cash, as time may not allow this to occur on the casino floor or anywhere in the building. Your meeting areas should be located a safe distance away from the building.
5) Regular staff training sessions should be mandatory. Keep the sessions brief and interesting. You will loose your employees in a minute with the same old information. Include information from your risk management department, but, again, don’t forget to make it interesting.
6) Drills are tough for evacuation training, but you can do five-minute walk-throughs with your emergency leaders and line personnel. Don’t forget to obtain feedback from employees and make sure to bring key members of the security department into the process — they need to know what your employees will be doing during the emergency.
7) Public relations come in many packages. On the operations side, a solid plan for dealing with slot-floor emergencies is initially your responsibility. Keep things simple. A well-defined straightforward plan will bring smiles to your customers’ faces and a great deal of respect from your employer.
For more ideas and tips, visit OSHA at www.osha.gov.
Robert Ambrose has worked in slot operations for 22 years, most recently as an Executive Director of Slots and Marketing Operations for a resort property in Atlantic City. He is currently an independent gaming consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached ramb16[at]juno.com.