Tourism & Cruises

Noisemakers are not panic buttons. Miami Beach letter ends confusion for hotels

The city of Miami Beach sent a letter to hotels this week, ending more than a year of confusion about its new panic button ordinance for hotel workers.

Originally passed in July 2018, the ordinance requires hotels to arm housekeepers and room attendants by Sept. 15, 2019, with panic buttons that call for help in an emergency. But the language of the ordinance is vague. It says the devices must “effectively summon prompt assistance to the employee’s location by a hotel or hostel security officer.” Some hotels, including the city’s largest, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Resort, took the ordinance to mean that inexpensive noisemaker devices would comply.

The city’s letter to hotels, dated Aug. 22, 2019, says equipping workers with noisemakers will result in a violation.

“Devices such as ‘noisemakers’ do not meet the requirements set forth in the ordinance, as they simply emit loud noise and do not disclose the location of the employee in need of prompt assistance,” the letter said.

The letter comes two weeks after the Miami Herald tested the $11 noisemaker that the Fontainebleau planned to use and found that the alarm noise could be easily muffled, deactivated and confused for static on a television from the hallway.

Stephanie Giner, a spokesperson for the Fontainebleau, said the hotel received the city’s letter on Monday.

“We are currently working through our planned implementation strategy and intend to be fully compliant,” said Giner.

The city’s code compliance department sent the letter to 157 hotels via email on Monday. Spokesperson Melissa Berthier said the city received more than a dozen bounce-back emails and was hand delivering the letter to hotels Tuesday and Wednesday. The letter urges hotel managers to call the assistant director of code compliance, Tom Curitore, with questions.

Confusion over the ordinance language heightened as the deadline to comply neared this summer. Originally, the 2018 law was scheduled to take affect on Aug. 1, 2019, one year after it passed. In May the hotel lobby asked commissioners for another year to comply, and the city settled on a 45 day extension, pushing the deadline to Sept. 15, 2019. As part of their request, hotel lobbyists told commissioners that the panic button technology would cost hotels hundreds of thousands of dollars. In reality, it is much cheaper: as low as $2 per room per month.

Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, who lobbied for the delay, did not respond to two requests for comment about the letter.

Wendi Walsh, the secretary-treasurer of the local Unite Here 355 hotel union, raised concerns about the law’s vague language at a city commission meeting on July 17. She pushed the city to clarify, saying hotels were already purchasing the noisemakers.

Now, the city has.

“We are so thankful to the city attorney’s office and code compliance for taking the safety of Miami Beach’s hotel workers so seriously,” said Walsh. “We are hopeful that every hotel will comply with the city’s ordinance and with this most recent letter. Our Union’s representatives will be following up with employees at each hotel as of the September 15 deadline.”

The penalty for hotels that do not comply is a warning for a first offense and then fines between $500 and $2,000 for multiple offenses within a six-month period. After six months, the penalty starts back at a warning. Beginning Sept. 15, Miami Beach hotels will be required to submit an annual affidavit stating that they’ve met the panic-button requirements when they renew their business licenses. Miami Beach’s code enforcement division will respond to panic-button compliance-related complaints about hotels but will not inspect proactively.

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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.