“Everything changed after 9/11” was a frequently heard refrain—from the president and other politicians and in law enforcement and private security circles. The same may, in time, be said of the Paris attacks in November 2015, or the Orlando attack in June 2016. Recent targets have included restaurants and bars, which seems to cement a disturbing trend: public spaces and private businesses have become the battleground of choice for international terrorists.
Risk assessment is the most assured way to minimize costs, as it focuses retail store safety and anti-terrorism measures where they’re most needed. Risk assessments serve as the foundation to mitigation and prevention, which makes it critical that they be accurate, detailed, and frequently updated. They should encompass external factors—country and city terror risk ratings, average emergency response times, the government’s capacity to disrupt terror plots—as well as store-specific factors, such as its proximity to high-value targets, standoff, and foot traffic.
“More than likely, a terrorist isn’t going to target a Staples in Peoria or a Starbucks in Austin. They will probably target a mall in a major metro region or a high-profile store like Tiffany’s and Macy’s in New York City,” said Ronald Margulis, a retail consultant and managing director of RAM Communications. (And even that is less true than it used to be.)
A robust intelligence pipeline will keep security levels properly aligned with the threat to retail store safety and prevent overspending out of fear. Loss prevention executives have a responsibility to stay plugged into the threat-communication network, such as through a local joint terrorism task force and via contact with industry counterparts and law enforcement, so as to receive early warnings in time to take appropriate (not excessive) countermeasures.
Aiming security at the most likely attack scenario also helps to minimize terrorism prevention spending. But what is it? In a follow-up survey to SDR’s Corporate Anti-Terrorism Benchmarks report, retailers said the most likely incident to impact them was the same in 2012 as back in 2006: disruption of a major event. They think the most likely attack method on a retail store is a knapsack suicide bomber or an active shooter.
But how—without breaking the bank or disrupting business—can retail locations protect against a suicide attack? Staff already drawing a paycheck may provide the best opportunity.
A suicide bomber is unlikely to blend seamlessly with the crowd and may exhibit “multiple anomalies,” according to training guidance by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Prevention may hinge on including suicide bomber awareness and response in loss prevention agents’ retail safety training and insisting that contract guards have such training.
Consultant Arik Arad, former head of shopping-center security in Israel, said the best way to stop or preempt an attack is to make “soft contact” by walking up to a suspect and asking, “Can I help you?” He said it’s often enough to force a bomber to abandon his plan and that foiling suicide bombers is about training, not guns.
Spotting indicators of terrorist planning is another key topic in counterterrorism training. Since 9/11, the preparatory conduct of terrorists has been the subject of significant study. A terrorist might loiter for weeks near a target to observe entry points and security measures, perhaps by posing as a panhandler or flower vendor. According to one study, excluding outliers, the average preparatory behavior phase for a terrorist attack is 54 days (Pre-Incident Indicators of Terrorist Incidents: The Identification of Behavioral, Geographic, and Temporal Patterns of Preparatory Conduct, Dept. of Justice). Security officers know to keep an eye out for anything suspicious—it’s at the core of their job—but refresher training should outline and emphasize the range of behaviors and specific activities that demand reporting.
Simultaneously, loss prevention teams might assess if their suspicious activity reporting processes need refinement. A security camera might catch someone peeking in the store window after hours. A sales associate might tell an agent that a strange guy was hanging around the store all day. But then what?
Corporate security teams need to examine their processes for encouraging reporting of suspicious activity; getting those reports into a written, trackable form; identifying patterns of clusters of pre-incident indicators; and delivering relevant information back to people in the field.
Finally, focusing on security strategies that serve a dual purpose can enhance terrorism prevention while mitigating its expense. For example, many of the same retail store safety strategies that reduce shoplifting and parking lot assaults can reduce the likelihood of a successful terrorist attack.
Possible Retail Store Safety Solutions
- Improve coordination with others with whom you share a responsibility for security and retail store safety. In the aftermath of a scare at IKEA, in which explosives were found inside two IKEA stores, Sears said it had “stepped up its relationship with mall security.” Forging closer ties is an important prevention tool for all types of crime.
- Use bike patrols, marked security vehicles, or parking lot attendants to control large parking areas. These measures could push a car bomber to a softer target. It can also keep fire zones clear of parked cars, improve shoppers’ experience by improving the flow of traffic, prevent car break-ins, and limit parking garage or parking lot assaults—the top location for incidents resulting in negligent security lawsuits. Outside patrols also expand the detection perimeter, which is the best way to identify and intercept a suicide bomber before the store’s front door.
- Use vehicle-halting planters or concrete bollards to prevent trucks or cars from getting too close. In addition to limiting damage from a truck bomb, such devices can reduce pedestrian-vehicle accidents.
- Tighten parking controls. Simon Property Group, which, as of 2013, owned or had an interest in 325 malls or shopping centers nationwide, instituted a ban on overnight parking in response to the terrorism threat. Such a policy may also prevent after-hours crime.
- Enforce access restrictions. Controlling access to restricted areas within stores can prevent theft as well as prevent a terrorist from gaining access to a store’s heating and air-conditioning system where there is the potential for introducing poisonous gases.
- Place uniformed guards in plain sight. Visible store security on patrols was once bad for business, but perhaps not anymore, say experts. Bringing officers out into the open helps them control crowds and keep a closer eye on shopping-area crime, as well as giving a potential target-seeking terrorist pause. Jenkins suggests supplementing visible security with plainclothes agents. “Their presence, occasionally publicized through arrests, greatly increases uncertainty on the part of would-be bombers.”
- Get employees to be on the lookout for individuals leaving behind packages. Such security awareness may help foil a terrorist bomb plot, but will more likely engender customer goodwill and save money. (Although there’s no need to isolate an area for a suspicious package.)
- Let law enforcement review your evacuation plan for a special event to help save lives in the rare event of a terrorist strike. It can also help protect individuals in more likely crises: power failures, earthquakes, or weather events.
- Employ visible video surveillance and enforce routine camera inspection schedules. CCTV is a vital tool to prevent many types of crime, and in plots in which an escape is planned, terrorists do seem to avoid security video. “One jihadist manual advised would-be terrorists to avoid train stations with CCTV cameras, which suggests that the cameras have some deterrent value,” a recent report concluded (Carnage Interrupted: An Analysis of Fifteen Terrorist Plots Against Public Surface Transportation, Brian Jenkins and Joseph Trella, Mineta Transportation Institute, April 2012).
- Employ store greeters to spook or spot suspicious persons as well as enhance customer service.
- Review shipping and receiving security. Pre-schedule loading dock deliveries, make trucks subject to search, accept deliveries at the side of the store instead of underneath it, insist on identification, and use cameras to record delivery areas. Stricter access controls in sensitive areas such as delivery zones and loading docks reduce the risk of a catastrophic terrorist event while curbing theft during shipping and receiving.
- Plan and practice for going on high alert. Confusion and unnecessary spending go hand in hand, so preparing for coordinated attacks on several targets in different locations (a multiple dispersed attack) could help check costs. For example, if a suicide bomber attacks a retail strip in Las Vegas, retailers elsewhere might mobilize security staff to conduct security checks at entrances, check delivery drivers’ IDs, inspect truck trailers, and conduct spot checks of customers’ bags. Ask yourself these questions: Would we immediately learn of an attack? Would we be able to quickly make a decision about procedures to implement? Could we efficiently communicate the alert to every store location that needs to know? Are those store units prepared to quickly implement our high-alert security procedures?
For a list of counterterrorism training points and a case study on Israeli-style security, check out the full article, “Readying Retail for Terrorism’s New Battleground,” which was originally published in 2016. This excerpt was updated January 22, 2018.