When the clock strikes midnight

Unlike many other businesses, the hospitality world never sleeps. That means 24 hours to cater, assist and watch over our important guests — no matter the time, no matter the situation. This is especially true for the overnight manager on duty, who has witnessed it all. From rock stars to unregistered guests, typically it’s the night manager who has the epic stories to tell come sunrise. While many of the scenarios are usually quite tame, it’s a critical shift. Hotel guests (aside from the rock stars) are nestled in their rooms, with reduced number of staff on duty because in theory, it should be a quiet night. But what do you do when the clock strikes midnight and it is anything but a quiet night?

The night of February 2, 2002, was anything but quiet. As the hotel manager residing at The Regent Jakarta, I still vividly recall waking up at 2:02 a.m. — yes, 2:02 a.m. on 02/02/2002 — to our night manager calling to alert me to massive torrential rains and flooding that began overnight in the Indonesian capital. Before I could even comprehend the severity of the situation, I jumped into action — along with our incredible and capable team. Our emergency readiness plan was in full effect. The overnight team was ready to deliver and ensure the safety of our guests. The assistant director of engineering bravely jumped into the floodwater in the lower basement and switched off the electricity and main power lines to avoid disaster while staff and the overnight manager were moving cars from the parking in the basement to higher ground, all the while keeping guests fully informed of our safety procedures and the overall situation. By 6 a.m., we had the equivalent of 65 Olympic swimming pools of floodwater inside the building and all of the basement levels; the banquet floors; the gym; the security, food and beverage and human resources offices; laundry; shops; engineering plants and generator room.

My wife, along with a handful of my colleagues’ spouses, put on their “Four Seasons” hats and cooked breakfast, lunch and early dinner for the guests — all 380 of them — brought them pillows and blankets and kept them informed of any further evacuation plans. Essentially they did anything and everything to make everyone as comfortable as possible in this emergency situation. 

February 2, 2002, was a long night and enduring night, and one I hope I never witness again. In total, by the time we were able to evacuate the last guests from the hotel and on to the other side of the moat of floodwaters around the property, the event lasted about 16 long and uncertain hours. It was one of the worst floods the city of Jakarta had experienced. Fortunately, all of our guests and staff were safe. The Regent’s team reacted in the most amazing of ways — the overnight team dealt with a very tough situation, and some of the staff — many of whom lost everything they owned — rushed to the hotel to take care of the guests. The Regent Hotel was significantly damaged and closed for about 18 months, but again, the trusted building and an amazing team kept us from harm’s way. 

While I try not to relive that night in my thoughts, there are so many lessons and best practices that I take with me daily. The bravery, camaraderie and commitment of the staff were unlike anything I had seen before. Our team — whether on duty or off — was committed to the safety of our guests and staff, and were willing to go above and beyond. Years of being diligent with our emergency and safety procedures had paid off. The team was polished and professional, and ultimately it was the leadership of each of the employees that kept our guests calm and safe in a very serious situation. The Jakarta floods are a good example of how anything can — and will — happen when you least expect it. 

Educate your team, practice emergency preparedness and be ready for when the clock strikes midnight — or 2:02 a.m.