News for the Hospitality Executive
Identifying Meth Lab Red Flags
article originally appeared on
By Alissa Ponchione
Hoteliers, already saddled with complex security issues, are facing another growing problem as hotel rooms around the U.S. are being transformed into makeshift methamphetamine labs.
From 2008 to February 2013, there were 1,334 meth labs incidents in hotel and motel rooms across the U.S., according to statistics reported to the El Paso Intelligence Center from state, federal and local law enforcement across the country. EPIC is a Southwest border intelligence center in Texas led by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Unfortunately, not all state and local law enforcement entities report to EPIC,” said Lawrence Payne, spokesman for the DEA. “Therefore, this is the best statistical database that exists but not a perfect one. In other words, there are many more incidents that occur but that are not reported and aren’t in this report.
“But this is as good a number as you will find and still illustrates the problems meth creates for innocent individuals and local communities,” he said.
Ravi Patel, president of Hawkeye Hotels in Burlington, Iowa, said front-desk staff is trained on what to look for when suspicious guests check into one of the company’s 57 hotels because guest safety is the company’s No. 1 priority.
“Our hotels haven’t been used for the production (of meth),” he said but “it’s the distribution where we catch people.”
Generally, meth labs are created in “older-style properties with direct access to the parking lot,” said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
“It does happen in big hotels, too, but not very much,” he added.
A common misconception with making meth is that it takes a long time, but “you can make very large amounts of meth in a short amount of time,” Brett Buchheit, founder and senior partner at Buchheit & Associates LLC, said, which makes hotels an attractive location to make it.
“They’ll rent a home, a car or a hotel room and do whatever they need to do, and leave these caustic chemicals behind,” he said.
Meth can be made in items such as coffee pots and Gatorade bottles, and the cold drug ingredient pseudoephedrine is a prime ingredient, sources said. Housekeeping staff should be aware of trash cans filled with these products as well as an excessive amount of garbage.
Additionally, when making meth, the chemicals “smell abominably bad,” like cat urine, Buchheit said, which can be an indicator the drug is being cooked. However, Buchheit warned, manufacturers will filter the smell through cat litter to remove it from the air.
Jean Ohman Back, attorney at Portland, Oregon-based Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, said there are myriad warning signs hoteliers can spot. Guests setting up meth labs in hotels will request a room farthest from the front desk but close to side entrances so they can exit undetected, she said, adding hoteliers should be suspicious if guests pay for the room in cash instead of using credit cards.
However, “guests do have a right to privacy, so that gets a little tricky,” she said.
Preventive security measures are part of the training at Patel’s hotels. “We have documented monthly staff training, and twice a year we have someone from the local police department run a safety meeting. We invite the fire department. Housekeepers and front-desk staff are trained,” he said.
“As part of our overall safety and security program, we train our team members to be observant of their environment at all times, to maintain a collaborative relationship with local law enforcement and to report any suspicious behavior to authorities for immediate attention,” said Victor Glover, VP of safety and security at G6 Hospitality LLC, in an email statement to HotelNewsNow.com. G6 manages the Motel 6 and Studio 6 brands. “We also encourage GMs to request that local authorities provide awareness training for the hotel’s staff about meth.”
Sources agree if a meth lab is detected, hoteliers need to contact the authorities immediately.
When a meth lab was found in a La Quinta hotel in Denver, the expense to fix the hotel was enormous. “This is not just rehab work, you need to be a highly trained individual to perform decontamination,” Buchheit said, especially with large heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to consider.
According to the AH&LA, clean up for meth labs can cost from $2,000 to $20,000.
“Everything has to be removed,” Buchheit said.
“You have to basically tear apart that room and rebuild it,” Ohman Back said. “You have to tear out the carpeting, take the dry wall down. You have to replace the furniture and maybe the neighboring rooms as well.
“When people realize that this is extremely expensive—it’s more than just tearing out the carpet—it becomes a dangerous situation.”
Hoteliers will forgo telling the authorities and hire outside contractors to clean up the mess, McInerney said. But, he warned, if “you don’t do it right, it can be detrimental to the health of people coming in. You don’t want that type of lawsuit,” he said.
Additionally, hoteliers won’t report incidents to authorities to avoid being named in police reports or reported about in local newspapers.
“Having a hotel in the papers that there was a meth lab, that’s going to cause people not to want to stay in their hotel, even if it were a large hotel chain that’s going to affect it and destroy their brand name,” Ohman Back said. “That is something to be concerned about.”
Ohman Back said the best thing to do to protect the hotel’s name is be proactive if a meth lab is detected. Hoteliers should set up examinations for guests and staff at an independent medical center, and they should pay for those medical exams.
“If a meth lab is found, then I would have my employees examined,” she said. “I would have them all go to a physician to test any problems they have related to exposure.”
Hawkeye’s Patel said maintaining strong and transparent relationships with law enforcement and the fire department is one key reason his hotels are safe. “Our relationship with fire and police … is as good as it can be,” he said. “ … When those folks are here, these activities get minimized pretty quickly.”