Cause for Alarm? A Hotel’s Actions Are More Alarming than the Initial Cause

It was a rough night at my hotel by LAX last night. A few different issues arose that could have been disastrous for the hotel. In the end, the hotel’s actions caused more alarm than I’m sure they intended and I ended up with almost no sleep.

First, the fire alarm got pulled and management made an announcement across the loud speaker that they were looking into this. This woke me out of a sound sleep when a deep voice came over the sound system in the hallway (though it might have been in my hotel room since the voice was very loud). “Looking into it,” they said. Should I be concerned and leave my room, or roll over and go back to sleep? I thought it was more prudent to at least get up and look out the window to see if I could see any fire or people leaving their rooms.

No, nothing looked amiss in the other part of the L-shaped hotel. I saw people in their rooms, one smoking out his hotel window, and no one appeared to be frantically preparing to leave their rooms. Since management said they were looking into the fire alarm issue, I thought there would at least be a short follow-up message that either all was ok, or not. But nope, no follow-up message.

I tossed and turned with thoughts of my escape route if there was a fire (I had chosen a higher-up floor to get easy access to the Executive Lounge vs. staying on floor 7 or below for fire-ladder access), how I’d take my laptop tote with me since I hadn’t done a hard-drive backup in a few weeks, and how I’d get dressed before leaving my room.  It took awhile for the mind chatter to subside, but eventually I did fall back gto sleep again.

Second, an hour after the fire alarm incident, I was again abruptly awoken, this time by the phone ringing in my room. I tried to answer the phone next to me on the nightstand, but the portable handset didn’t work. By the time I got to the desk to reach the desk phone, the ringing had stopped. Most likely a wrong number, so back to bed I went again.

Third, just a few minutes after the phone call, a guy pounds heavily on my hotel room door. I asked what he wanted, but he didn’t answer… he just loudly pounded again. Then I hear him pounding on the neighbor’s door. Was there really a fire after all? Were they getting everyone to evacuate the rooms? I couldn’t find my robe fast enough so couldn’t open the door. Not that I wanted to open the door, but by now I was getting a bit freaked out. I grabbed the hotel robe off the back of the bathroom door and debated …. Open the door and take the risk that this guy shoves his way into my room, or keep the door closed and risk going up in flames? Neither option was appealing.

Since I had last heard the guy pounding on the neighbor’s door, I thought the risk low in opening the door for a quick peek. I didn’t see anyone in the hallway. No one was running out of their room due to fire either. I closed the door and went to the hotel phone (the working phone; not the dead handset). I dialed zero to get to the hotel operator. Ring . . . ring . . . ring. After about a dozen rings with no answer, I hung up. Were they all busy with the fire? What the heck was going on? I pressed zero again – and again no answer after about ten rings. I slammed the phone down. I was no longer freaked out, now I was mad. If there is a real emergency, the hotel should have been making a hotel-wide announcement or answering their phone directing people with what to do. If there was no emergency, then they should be answering the phone so we can deal with the safety issue of the guy pounding on doors.

Another look out the window at the other wing of rooms and all looked calm. I gave up trying to reach the hotel’s front desk. I gave up worrying about there being an actual fire. I gave up trying to figure out why some guy was heavily pounding on my door. And unfortunately, I gave up on getting back to sleep.

As for the hotel:
Why didn’t they do a follow-up broadcast to their initial message about the fire alarm?
Why don’t they routinely check the in-room phones to ensure they are working? (Lesson to me: Earlier in my stay I realized the portable handset wasn’t working and I didn’t report it.)
Why didn’t they answer their phones within a dozen rings? Or call back a guest when they see they’ve missed two calls?

I will talk with the hotel and update this post with their response.

In the meantime, what would you have done?


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  1. Go downstairs and see??? Lol

    Maybe they made a followup but u were too busy sleeping

  2. I had a similar fire experience a few years ago. My sister and I were staying at the Mark Hopkins in SFO. About 3:00 am the fire alarm went off. Just as we were about to leave the room it stopped. We decided to wait and see what happened. About 30 minutes later the phone rang and it was the night manager calling to apologize and assure us all was well. The next morning a letter from the hotel manager apologizing again was delivered. Maybe that was why your phone rang too? When you could not answer they went on to call the next room. Still no excuse not to answer your calls!

  3. SO,
    you are keeping the name of the hotel a secret?
    so we can’t try to avoid it?

  4. Hi Martin — I’ll create a Part II of the post tomorrow after I’ve given the hotel management a chance to respond to this. Just wanna be fair since I was in too much of a hurry today to deal with it upon checkout.

  5. I’m sure hotels hate fire alarms going off even more than we do as guests. One time it was me who reported a fire at a hotel — a real fire. Someone had put out a cigarette (or thought they had) in a plastic plant in a ladies’ room. I would bet that more fire alarms go off on Fri/Sat night than any other night when the bar scene/events/weddings get a bit out of hand.

    How was the Mark Hopkins? I stayed across the street at the Fairmont in SF a few weeks ago and was eyeing the MH for a future stay. .

  6. Mike — If you’ve ever been married to a female, dated a female or know a female, you should know we don’t leave our rooms with bed head and without being fully dressed, including makeup! So go downstairs on a Saturday night at a big hotel — not a chance! 🙂 Unless, of course, there really was a fire.

  7. Coming from a female–not leaving my hotel room in the middle of the night would have nothing to do with bed head or makeup–it would have to do with safety. Unless I could see that there was an emergency, or confirm this with the front desk, I would not be leaving my room. I’m sure I would have been close to dressed after the first incident though ~

  8. Just like with car alarms, tornado sirens, and fire alarms, I would have just gone back to sleep.

  9. It seems an unfortunate coinfluence of events – the phone call and pounding on the door might have been nothing to do with a fire alarm situation (misdirected call and a drunk guest trying to find his way to bed). Nevertheless, hotel’s front desk not answering calls is inexcusable, whether it is 3am or 3pm.

  10. Having worked in the hospitality industry for a
    number of years, a couple of thoughts come to mind… Housekeeping should be checking the phones daily but
    obviously this doesn’t happen. Always check for your-
    self immediately upon arrival and report any problems.
    Fire alarms going off do happen, and they usually tend
    to cause an uproar among the staff as much as the
    guests; there are no practice drills, so there is
    always questions of “Is this real? … Who is checking
    on it? Should we evacuate or should we hold off?” (Clearly, flames = evacuation). “We’ve woken people up
    once, so should we bother them again via the loud
    speaker, especially at night?” Procedures should be written up and available, but they don’t always go as planned and need to be read to be followed.

    Ideally, each guest would receive a phone call advising them that the alarm was of no concern, we apologize
    for the disturbance, etc. Should your call have been
    answered before 12 rings? Absolutely, but I would guess
    that in the middle of the night there were just a few
    people attempting to do a lot of things, including answering many phone calls. In future, I would recommend that you hang on the phone and let it continue to ring; someone will answer it; 12 rings can go by very quickly
    if you are attempting to (courteously) get a person off of the other end of the line in order to pick up another call. Would I leave the room? No, but I would call down to the desk; if a staff member was pounding on doors, he/she would also be yelling to alert people.

    Some suggestions for future safety: Upon arrival, count how many doorways are between your room and a fire exit; in case of fire, you may have to take this route on your knees in the dark. As a woman, I prefer to stay near the elevator. Yes, there is more noise, but it is also less isolated. Always throw a roll of duct tape in your bag as it can be used to seal off doors, vents and windows and prevent smoke from entering your room; sometimes the safest place to be is in your room. If you do leave, always take your room key with you in case you need to return.

    I apologize for the length of my post! We had a lot of training on fire safety at my last resort and I will never forget what happened when a flame was held to a piece of brand new, fire retardant carpet (we were newly remodeled) — it went up like a match on paper. Scary.

  11. Hi Jayson — I think most of us just go back to sleep when we hear a fire alarm …. I know I *usually* do. This night’s string of events was definitely not the norm. Though the reaction most of us have to ignore the alarm isn’t good, as one time the fire could be real and we’ll all have just rolled over and ignored it. I think I’ll start going back to lower-level floors rather than be on the highest — and take the elevator up to the concierge lounge. I remember being concerned about fire issues at a hotel I used to often stay at where my room was on the 60th floor and higher. Thankfully we were never evacuated due to any issues.

  12. @ Carol I love the MH. It has been one of my favorite properties for a long time: great views and they take very good care of their repeat guests. I always stay on the side facing the Fairmont and Grace Cathedral. The only thing lacking is a lobby bar and the tiki bar at the Farimant was always more fun and a just a short walk.

  13. I sooo recognize this!!
    Staying in hotels very often due to my work as a flight attendant.
    With my short hair always many stress when (again) a fire alarm goes off in the night. OMG what if nothing is the matter and all my crew will see me with my hair exploded..

  14. I am a night auditor in an 85-room hotel. What too many people do when there is an alarm (fortunately a rare occurrence) is call the front desk. This jams the phone lines within seconds. In any event, there is only one person on duty to answer phones – and that person is busy with outgoing calls, contacting Security and/or the fire department.

    It was the same in the 200-room hotel I worked in previously. An alarm would go off and I would ignore the phones (because it was not humanly possible to deal with the flood of calls), and I would immediately call Security, or the fire department, if an actual fire was seen (which has only happened once in my 30-year career.) I would then reassure any guests who come down to the lobby, though that was always surprisingly few. In a 200-room hotel, I might see ten or twelve guests appear in the lobby. The rest would be fruitlessly trying to call the switchboard (and getting trapped in their rooms if there was a real conflagration).

    People, if an alarm goes off, GET DRESSED AND LEAVE YOUR ROOM. Do NOT expect an answer if you call the front desk/operator, particularly on the overnight shift, which is always staffed with a skeleton crew (or in most hotels, just one solitary person, as in my case). It is also unrealistic to expect those one or two people to run door to door down the hallways, though we do print emergency lists of occupied rooms, and would attempt this in the event of an actual fire. It takes time, though. One or two people can’t be everywhere at the same time, nor can they answer 75 simultaneous phone calls.

    When in doubt, GET OUT.

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