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With 30 years as a first responder and leadership in the public safety community, Anthony Mangeri has long had a front row seat to the impact that emergency events have on retailers. So it’s worth noting that he believes that the landscape for retailers has changed. Crisis planning must go beyond natural disasters and weather emergencies. “We are entering a new era of responsibility with respect to protecting store staff from intentional acts of violence,” Mangeri said. “We’ve reached a point today where we have to—on a regular basis—enhance that emergency action plan, do that security and threat assessment, know routes of access and egress, test emergency notification procedures, and train personnel how to react to the threat, understand what to look for, and how to notify.”
Tragically underscored by the nightclub shooting in Orlando, the risk of intentional acts of violence faced by employees at public businesses is real and significant—a fact that retailers must incorporate into their crisis management plans, according to Mangeri. He notes that the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 calls on employers to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. “I would think, in today’s environment, that a violent intruder could be a recognized hazard,” said Mangeri, who serves as American Public University System’s director of fire and emergency management strategic relationships.
Recent research supports that perspective, including studies by the FBI, the Congressional Research Service, RAND Corporation, and others. The studies indicate that retailers face unprecedented risk from intentional violent acts. “Unfortunately, more incidents and more victims is now the norm,” said Mangeri, adding that 40 percent of active shooter incidents occur at commercial establishments.
There is some good news, however. Compared to most other businesses, retailers are well positioned to meet a new protection mandate. They typically have strong logistics support, a robust communication system, good risk management practices, and a viable security assessment protocol, according to Mangeri. “It’s just a matter of fully recognizing the threat from violent incidents,” he said.
Mangeri said he “strongly believes in an all-hazards approach to crisis management,” as it helps to organize the planning function and provides employees with a solid foundation for dealing with and reacting to emergency events. But he also believes that the risk from violent incidents requires focused mitigation strategies. “You need [a general plan], but also that unique perspective on each incident, an ‘emergency action plan’ to target the particular aspects of a specific type of crisis event.”
Violent incidents have more of those unique elements than any other emergency event, said Mangeri. As examples, he cited the particularly short duration of active shooter incidents and the evacuation challenges they present. Mangeri, who will be delivering a webinar on the subject next month for APUS and its Center for Applied Learning, shared advice on aspects of planning that retailers should be sure to consider as they attempt to more fully address violent acts within their crisis management program. It all starts with the four Ps:
- People. Store associates play a critical role in preventing and mitigating an act of violence, so their awareness of the issue is critical. Most importantly, they need to know how to react. “Run, hide, fight is the standard, but ‘fight’ must be the absolute last resort,” said Mangeri. “Escaping the area is paramount—having an escape route, and understanding they need to leave belongings behind.”Staff response also plays a critical role because not all violent retail incidents start off violently; they build up to it. “A store associate has to have a base understanding of when an angry customer is becoming a threat that requires notifying security.” Retail staff with public contact should be equipped with basic personal safety training and skills training in dealing with verbally abusive customers, verbal de-escalation, and escape techniques.Finally, staff plays a vital role in the immediate aftermath of violence, as they are certain to be the first responders. It can be lifesaving to give staff access to a small trauma kit and an understanding of wound control, advised Mangeri.
- Practice. “I would suggest an annual exercise to practice notifying and activating personnel,” said Mangeri, who explained that part of building an effective response to violent incidents is to rehearse it. “That way, you can learn your strengths and weaknesses—and can make improvements.”Including a complete range of violent events in tabletop crisis scenarios is another way to be sure that all potential events receive at least some practical crisis planning consideration. Tabletop exercises, in which responsibilities under a range of different active shooter/workplace violence scenarios are identified, can be extremely valuable but require few resources and only members of the emergency management team to conduct.
- Post-incident. “Good crisis planning isn’t only about how to react to a violent incident but also how to reconstitute from a violent incident and get back to business,” said Mangeri. Without planning, a violent workplace incident is sometimes enough to put small retailers completely out of business. Post-incident procedures, including medical follow-up and the availability of counseling and referral, are important elements of a response plan. Companies that fail to effectively respond to incidents of workplace violence only deepen the impact of the event.An ineffective response may also dampen the success of future security awareness programs. If employees believe that the corporate response to security incidents is insufficient, they are less likely to believe that the program has their best interests at heart.
- Police. Loss prevention teams already coordinate with law enforcement on many issues related to crime. They should extend that coordination on issues related to violent incident response, said Mangeri. “Retailers really should want to reinforce that working relationship with the local response community. You want to coordinate now, well before an incident happens. It is fundamentally important to know those points of contact,” he advised.In light of today’s threat environment, Mangeri believes retailers of all sizes should examine their current security posture. Identify actions that might better protect people—not just properties—and strive to forge a more robust security culture. You want to afford employees protection, said Mangeri, but you also need to empower them. “You need that staff training, coordination, and feedback, so they are better able to embrace the concept of your security strategy, and to fully understand their role in executing it,” he concluded.