Kroger Store 950 sits slightly raised in small-town Texas “thirty miles northeast of Beaumont as the crow flies,” according to Eric Bumbaugh, Houston division asset protection manager.
As Harvey blew through—dropping rain in amounts unlike Bumbaugh has ever seen during his 32 years in South Texas—950 turned into an island. Inside was a lone assistant store manager who had evacuated to the store after flooding cut her off from her home. She hunkered down inside until help from Kroger asset protection arrived in the form of specialized contract security arriving by boat. “With two of my asset protection specialists and two armed guards, they all stayed in that store,” Bumbaugh recounted. “And they opened and operated it.”
Although limited until very high trucks and eighteen-wheelers could get to it, the store safely served the surrounding area, which was hit hard by the storm and in desperate need. “It was the only grocery store that could check people out in a forty-mile radius,” said Bumbaugh. “And we were able to sell all product except refrigerated items.”
Store 950 operated without significant incident, as did Kroger stores throughout the region, despite some opening with as few as four employees, limited help available from law enforcement, and plenty of anxious customers. “In some locations we had a line 800-deep outside the store,” Bumbaugh said.
To manage those crowds, the stores used a three-in, three-out procedure and relied on supplemental contract security that corporate LP had scrambled to dispatch. “The ability to over-staff the division with outside security help was a huge thing—within 48 hours we had every store covered, including armed guards in the most critical stores,” explained Bumbaugh.
But getting its Houston division the help it needed was no simple thing. When Harvey intensified and Kroger was forced to temporarily close 108 stores in the region, Bumbaugh called the general office in Cincinnati for assistance. Property was at risk, and getting stores open was going to be a challenge.
“They had no security guard coverage because the local contract guards couldn’t get to the stores. It was going to require navigating a way in from outside to make it to the locations,” explained Christopher Ochs, LPC, who acted as the corporate liaison to the division Kroger asset protection team. “So the issue for us at corporate was how do we coordinate the resources we need, and how can we get them to Eric to assist him with managing the crisis on the ground?”
With personnel from its local security contractor U.S. Security Associates also impacted by the storm, and some of them unavailable, the corporate team reached out to other security contractors—Securitas, Central Defense Security, and Phoenix Protective Corporation—with which Kroger had some form of existing arrangement. “We went to each of them and asked, ‘What do you guys have? What can you contribute?’”
Making several inquiries proved vital as only Phoenix could provide the immediate, high-security assistance that Kroger was after. “They responded in five hours with armed and armored guard certified personnel, which we deployed across the stores as we needed them and could distribute them,” said Ochs.
Back in the storm zone, the assistance proved crucial. “We had a couple of incidents in which people outside threatened to break in, but we were able to manage that very well,” said Bumbaugh. “Our ability to control the grocery store box was a huge thing—to maintain order, eliminate shoplifters, and to calm arguments that could have potentially led to very serious incidents. In a situation like that, there is the real possibility of quickly losing control of your building.”
During the crisis period, Kroger experienced only four serious incidents in the entire Houston area—and even in those no one was injured, according to Bumbaugh. “Since we had the security, the bad guys were elsewhere,” he said.
It was, not surprisingly, “an absolutely astronomical expense,” according to Ochs. “But it was necessary, and we offset our potential losses by doing so.” And it took almost no convincing of management, he added. “They were on board immediately and saw that it was a time for decisive and heroic action—and that can cost money.”
The teamwork, resilience, and commitment displayed by the Kroger asset protection team were replicated at retailers throughout Texas and Florida as Harvey and Irma tested preparedness in rapid succession. LP helped retailers succeed in many areas besides security. They assisted in the pre-storm phase, physically securing properties, assisting with closing procedures, cash handling, and door control. They helped affected employees afterwards, at their homes with after-storm clean up and home repair. They supported field operators during the crisis, keeping store shelves stocked. And they administered disaster displacement assistance to store associates and the community throughout, coordinating housing and bringing in and distributing water, groceries, diapers, school supplies, and other essentials.
Some of the victories and lessons learned are detailed in the full article, “Stories from the Storms,” thanks to the generosity of the many LP leaders from Kroger, 7-Eleven, and other retailers, who openly shared their storm experiences in order to help their peers prepare for next time.
The complete article was published in 2017. This excerpt was updated July 2, 2018.