Get Our Email Newsletter

Retail’s Response to September 11

Jan-Feb 2002 fireman coverEDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the January-February 2002 print edition of Loss Prevention Magazine, roughly four months after the events of 9/11.

Who would have ever thought anyone would purposely fly a commercial airliner into an office tower as an act of terror?

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, retail loss prevention has taken on added dimensions. In addition to the traditional issues LP addresses, like internal and external theft, many loss prevention directors and organizations have become the focal point for their company’s response to September 11th.

- Digital Partner -

In the days and weeks afterwards, LP executives have examined, assessed, planned, reevaluated, and implemented policies and procedures for everything from crisis response plans to background checks to employee communications to travel safety. Anything and everything having to do with employee safety, business continuity, and crisis management has been put under the microscope.

Living Your Crisis Response Plan

One of the most obvious issues brought to light by September 11 was a company’s crisis response plan. How did the plan work? Where did it break down? How do we improve it?

The good news is that by most accounts, the crisis response procedures already in place on September 11 worked reasonably well. “It’s one thing to have a policy on paper and put it away and hope that nothing happens,” said Tom Matthews, senior vice president of asset protection at Saks Fifth Avenue. “But it’s another thing to have an experience like we’ve had and see how it really works.”

As part of the company’s emergency response team, Matthews has been living crisis response from literally minutes after the World Trade Center tragedy. Along with the corporate president, general counsel, executive vice president of human resources, executive vice president of logistics, and senior vice president of government relations, Saks emergency response team convened via telephone immediately to discuss the tragic events and what actions needed to be taken.


LP Solutions

Because Saks has roughly 4,000 employees in their corporate headquarters tower and Fifth Avenue store only a short distance from the World Trade Center site…many of whom watched the fire and collapse from their office…the team’s first priority turned to easing the tension and fears of their associates. Matthews and his department took the lead.

“The first thing we did was hold meetings along with the chairman in the corporate tower with all associates to reassure them, number one, that Saks was not a target,” explained Matthews. His department relied on working relationships with city government and the New York Police Department as well as state and federal contacts to maintain up-to-the-minute intelligence to help them in their crisis response.

“We also reassured them that we had good procedures already in place in terms of visitor policy, checking IDs, card access, camera monitoring, and guards in the lobby. Not only that we had procedures in place, but that we would be tightening and revisiting those procedures.”

A few days later, the city was hit by an onslaught of rumors and bomb scares that literally forced thousands of workers out of the city’s many skyscrapers onto the sidewalks and streets of Manhattan daily. Matthews had to improvise to manage the panic. He placed a duty officer and senior security executive at the front desk with a dedicated phone line who were given the responsibility of coordinating with the police department to determine when and if the building needed to be evacuated.

- Digital Partner -

After putting the new evacuation procedures in place, Rosa Maria Sostilio, Saks vice president of loss prevention, went floor by floor throughout the tower explaining the emergency procedures, answering questions, and even taking the associates into the stair wells to get them familiar with the evacuation routes.

“You could almost feel the anxiety level come down a few notches,” said Matthews. “Despite the sounds of fighter jets flying overhead, the helicopters, the sirens constantly going up and down the streets that added to the tension, the associates felt like somebody was paying attention to them and that helped them feel more comfortable.”

Saks not only had to be concerned about tensions at their corporate headquarters, but also at their flagship store on Fifth Avenue. Because it is situated across the street from Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, both of which are on the city’s list of potential terrorist targets, store associates as well as customers were concerned. Matthews’ team implemented all the same procedures and conducted all the same meetings with associates at their store as they did at the tower. In addition, they placed off-duty policy officers in plainclothes at each entrance and, with cooperation from the police department, stationed uniformed officers outside the building.

Due to the efforts of Matthew’s asset protection team as well as the company’s relaxation of attendance and travel requirements, donations of food, clothing, and money to relief workers and victims, and for the first time ever, the blackening of the store’s famous display windows except for an American flag, Saks associates felt that their company had an emotional response to the event, not just an economic one. “Because we were able to personalize all the procedures and response to every associate,” Matthews said, “we were able to make them understand and feel very, very comfortable despite the situation.”

This “personalization” of procedures and communication to employees—erring on over-communication—was one of the most  valuable lessons learned in the aftermath of September 11 by Saks and several other retailers. In Saks case, it was employee awareness communications. In the case of Tiffany’s, it was the logistical issues of communicating throughout an international organization.

Communications and Decision Making

According to David McGowan, vice president, security worldwide, for Tiffany & Co., “We saw an opportunity to improve how we communicate throughout the organization and provide a consistent means of coming to decisions on what the company needed to do in reaction to incidents.”

Providing multiple means of communication in the event of a crisis has become a top priority at Tiffany. McGowan has established a worldwide security control center in their New Jersey facility. This center is staffed by security professionals twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, year around. While it has been in use for several years, because of the events of September 11, the center and McGowan’s security organization are now designated as the focus for crisis response. A call from anywhere in the world to this center will activate Tiffany’s crisis management plan.

McGowan is producing “First Call” wallet cards that will be given to every Tiffany associate providing the center’s telephone number and other information.

Tiffany is also establishing in-country telephone lines throughout the dozen or more foreign countries where Tiffany has retail, administration, or manufacturing facilities. These telephone numbers will be used by employees to contact designated individuals at each Tiffany location to report on their personal situation during a crisis event or to check on the status of their store or work facility.

Multiple lines of communication for key individuals also surfaced as a key issue. During the chaos of September 11, telephone lines and cell phone networks in New York and Washington, DC, were paralyzed. McGowan’s department has researched and established redundant land lines, multiple network cell phones, and improved Internet capability to ensure that information flows up and down the organization smoothly.

These communications methods combine with formalization of key contacts in each Tiffany location and standardized risk assessment and response tools to ensure that the proper decisions will be made in event of an incident.

“The beauty of our incident management plan is that it allows us to communicate key information to senior management where ancillary plans can be implemented immediately,” said McGowan. “Whether it is crisis communications from a public relations point of view, business continuity plans, kidnap and ransom plans, or even SOS-type plans where you have to extract an expatriate from a particular country. This whole process allows us to get to that decision making in a very effective and efficient way.”

One of the innovations McGowan’s department has implemented is a checklist formatted tool for incident response. “When you get down to it, you don’t want people thinking in the midst of crisis,” explained McGowan, “particularly at the location management level where they need to be able to execute.

“At a time that may be difficult for somebody to be thinking coherently, we’ve tried to create a functional tool that allows them to execute through a number of steps. We looked at it through an HR, security, business management, and lastly a business operations point of view to make sure anyone can execute certain steps as efficiently as possible.”

This tool helps Tiffany ensure that senior management is getting the necessary information to make good decisions and that local management “is executing a very precise plan that is checklisted out for them” according to McGowan.

The checklist will be included in a crisis “bag” stored at the back exit of each store so that in the event of an immediate evacuation situation, one of the members of the incident management team can grab the bag to know exactly where they should go outside the store where they can implement the same process checklist away from the store.

As in the case of Saks Fifth Avenue, McGowan’s security services department has become the focus of Tiffany’s crisis response program. McGowan’s organization is not only managing the development and implementation of the crisis plan per se, but has taken over the employee training and evacuation drills that had previously been tasked to their corporate health and safety and facilities groups.

New Background Check Strategies

The infiltration of the September 11 terrorists into American culture and the subsequent anthrax attacks have caused companies to question who they are hiring and who has access to their stores, distribution facilities, and shopping centers.

“We’re virtually buried in requests for assessments of all kinds, especially regarding background programs,” said Bill Hill, vice president of investigations for Wackenhut Corporation.

“The whole perspective on backgrounds has changed tremendously,” he explained. “It’s no longer ‘how little can we get away with,’ but ‘how detailed do we need to get to be safe.’”

Companies are looking at their entire employee base, not just new hires, as well as their contractors, wholesalers, service personnel, and other vendors who have access to their premises.

Reid London House is working with numerous government agencies, corporations, as well as the Food Marketing Institute that serves grocery retailers to provide assessment tools that can help identify individuals who have a predisposition to terrorist acts or to collude with terrorist.

Jack Jones, senior vice president of research and development for Reid London House, explained their “zone” concept as it relates to the retail industry. Zone C represents employees who are either targets of attack or who might initiate an act of terrorism. Zone B represents individuals such as wholesalers or vendors who bring products into the store who might actively assist terrorists. Zone A represents employees of maintenance providers or others who might provide surveillance or provide information to terrorists.

Reid London House has validated various psychological tests that can be used to screen for individuals who fit into one of these groups in order to help retailers and their vendors select employees who not only match the traditional needs of customer service and honesty, but are also emotionally stable and do not show a propensity to “go over to the other side.”

Requiring screening and background checks for suppliers and vendors who access your physical facility under your control is one issue. Another situation is applicable to shopping centers where multiple outside companies’ employees brought in by mall management or other tenants have access to your store. Mall security and retail loss prevention are beginning to see the need to coordinate the authorization of suppliers to help minimize the danger of terrorism, theft, or other criminal acts from this sector.

Improving Corporate Travel Safety

Another security issue that has also undergone renewed scrutiny because of September 11th is travel safety. Retail loss prevention has typically been involved in travel safety due to the number of buyers and executives who travel to international locations where they are susceptible to domestic crime, political unrest, or kidnapping and ransom threats.

The senior loss prevention executive at one national department store chain described some of the changes and improvements to their existing travel program that have been added since September 11.

The LP department had always provided international travelers with security information related to the traveler’s foreign destination. This risk information was compiled from state department updates as well as security firms like Kroll, Pinkerton Global Intelligence, Control Risks Group, and International SOS.

These country risk summaries were provided to senior management and the travel department to use as they deemed necessary. Now, all international travelers are required to attend training classes conducted by loss prevention prior to departure.

Based on the destination, loss prevention provides the traveler with either an international cell phone or satellite phone to ensure they have a means of communication in an emergency.

They have also added a “meet-and-greet program” in all destinations outside Western Europe. This program provides for an in-country security professional from one of several outside security companies to meet the traveler at the gate to help him or her through customs or after customs to take them to their hotel or at the hotel where the traveler receives a security briefing and contact information that can be used in an emergency.

The company had already engaged a service provider that can be called upon to aid foreign travelers with legal or medical assistance inside the country, or evacuate the traveler should the need arise. This same type of service has now been made available to the company’s employees traveling inside the U.S.

A new family emergency hotline has also been added since September 11th to provide the family members of both domestic and foreign travelers a means of contacting their loved one should a crisis or emergency occur at home. This hotline is answered around the clock by a call center that, in turn, contacts the loss prevention personnel who have access to the whereabouts of all company travelers.

Returning to “Normal”

There is no doubt that the events of September 11th and after have affected our lives both personally and professionally…and not just for the short term. The heightened sense of security that we are instituting in our own companies and that are in evidence everywhere from airports to sports stadiums will likely be in place for the foreseeable future.

“My professional guess is that rather than going back to the old normal,” said Saks Fifth Avenue’s Matthews, “this will become normal. And we’ll learn to live with it.”

This article was originally published in the January-February 2002 print edition of Loss Prevention Magazine.

Loss Prevention Magazine updates delivered to your inbox

Get the free daily newsletter read by thousands of loss prevention professionals, security, and retail management from the store level to the c-suite.

What's New

Digital Partners

Become a Digital Partner

Violence in the Workplace

Download this 34-page special report from Loss Prevention Magazine about types and frequency of violent incidents, impacts on employees and customers, effectiveness of tools and training, and much more.


View All | Sponsor a Webinar


View All | Submit a Whitepaper

LP Solutions

View All | Submit Your Content

Loss Prevention Media Logo

Stay up-to-date with our free email newsletter

The trusted newsletter for loss prevention professionals, security and retail management. Get the latest news, best practices, technology updates, management tips, career opportunities and more.

No, thank you.

View our privacy policy.