USA Today: The Department of Homeland Security is recruiting hotel guests to join the fight against terrorism.
Starting today, the welcome screens on 1.2 million hotel television sets in Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, Holiday Inn and other hotels in the USA will show a short public service announcement from DHS. The 15-second spot encourages viewers to be vigilant and call law enforcement if they witness something suspicious during their travels.
During the PSA, which starts with a woman exiting a yellow taxi in front of a train station, a narrator says, "Maybe you see something suspicious. Can you be sure? If you see something, say something to authorities."
The PSA, which will be interspersed with other messages on the welcome screen, will be the same in all 5,400 hotels that LodgeNet serves. It ends by telling viewers to contact "local authorities."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says that reaching the "millions of guests that stay at hotels and motels each year is a significant step in engaging the full range of partners in our Homeland Security efforts."
The federal government gained access to hotel TV sets by forming a partnership with the hotel industry's largest association — the American Hotel & Lodging Association — which connected DHS with LodgeNet, the industry's largest TV-content provider.
By entering hotels at a time when the hospitality industry is on the rebound, the government has the power to tap a growing, captive audience. Recent research from LodgeNet says 98% of hotel guests turn on their hotel TV, and the average guest keeps it on for more than three hours per day.
Ann Parker, a LodgeNet spokeswoman, describes the PSAs as "well done and professional" and says the decision to air them was not difficult.
"It's about everyone doing their part to help keep each other and the country safe," she says.
But critics of the campaign point out potential pitfalls. Josh Meyer of the Washington-based National Security Journalism Initiative predicts it will generate "a huge amount of potentially baseless tips that will inundate local, state and federal law enforcement authorities."
DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard, however, cites successful citizen interventions, such as the May 2010 incident in which two street vendors helped thwart a car bombing attempt in New York City's Times Square by noticing a smoking vehicle and reporting it to police.
In the last two years, DHS has formed partnerships with a variety of groups including Amtrak, the U.S. Tennis Association, the National Football League and the Mall of America to enlist public support.