Just about all retailers have an emergency plan. They have protocols in place in the event of rising flood waters or an active shooter scenario.
But at what point does the planning stop? Retailers also need a post-incident management game plan for when the waters recede and the immediate threat is squelched.
It’s not just an issue for loss prevention executives. Security counterparts in other industries also struggle with this aspect of disaster preparedness. For example, in an address to a national security conference, James Reynolds, former director of safety and security operations for the Chicago Cubs and currently regional director of safety and security for Hilton, explained that he came to realize the importance of planning for the post-event period after dealing with a grisly hotel guest fatality.
“There is always a lot of focus on ‘these are the things that might happen’ and ‘here is how we’ll respond if it does,’ but planning often stops there—at dealing with the immediate incident,” said Reynolds. “What about after the fact? What about after the dust has settled?”
Numerous post-event actions may be necessary and should be detailed in an emergency operations plan in case they are. Examples of post-incident management actions include:
- Conducting post-incident or post-accident drug and alcohol testing.
- Assessing whether a property is safe to reoccupy. Who will conduct it? Do you have a “rapid damage assessment” form to identify resources needed to mitigate the disaster?
- Identifying the process by which a continuous chain of custody of evidence will be maintained.
- Completing after-action reports.
The aftermath of an emergency is a critical aspect to plan for, but it’s an area that is not infrequently overlooked. For example, a study a few years ago of the emergency plan for the City of Gainesville, FL, concluded that city had failed to plan for conducting one of the most critical post-incident activities.
“Damage assessment is the key to all post-event mitigation efforts,” the report noted. “[But] the City of Gainesville emergency plan does not address a process for damage assessment, which has resulted in poor incident response and recovery after catastrophic events,” the study concluded.
Post-Incident Management Review
So it’s worth asking. Is your retail organization ready for the “Then what?”
First, LP executives need to define which aspects of emergency planning it entails. Defining the post-event phase will help retailers identify all post-event activities that they need to incorporate in the emergency plan. One simple definition is the following: The management of events, issues, and/or challenges that arise after an incident has occurred, that could lead to lasting effects on the organization if not dealt with.
Next, retailers should review their existing emergency plans to determine whether they adequately cover the activities and timeline after the critical event has passed. Too often, plans identify emergency safety and security procedures only until the event is over. For each emergency plan your retail organization has, ask: “Is there something we need or should do the next day? How about one week and one month later?”
For each emergency plan, ask: “Is there something we should do the next day? How about a week later?”
There are several options for incorporating this aspect of planning into written emergency plans. Retailers could craft a standalone “post-incident plan,” or a separate post-incident section, or simply ensure that existing plans for managing different emergencies are carried to their full conclusion.
However a retailer chooses to do it, there is a lot to consider.
Say you’ve evacuated for a small fire: what’s next?
Or what if a store is the scene of a fatality, and you’ve notified law enforcement. Then what?
Some post-incident management issues your planning might need to cover:
Handling the media. Especially for high-profile retailers, a significant emergency event could bring reporters to headquarters or a store location demanding answers. A pat response of ‘This is private property and you’ll need to leave’ is probably not the best approach in a major incident because “the media will fill the void with their own nonsense,” according to Reynolds.
Instead, organizations should plan for a “media hold room” where they can put members of the media. You can entice them by saying that your company will be issuing a statement and that, when you do, the hold room is where it will happen. The strategy can improve control over the situation, advises Reynolds. He suggests that the media hold room should be nondescript—no branding or logos—if there is a potential public relations fallout. “Removing visuals can remove a little of your exposure,” said Reynolds.
Handling a crime scene. Emergency plans must continue to serve as a guide for staff long after law enforcement arrives. Although police will take over control of the crime scene, they are not concerned about getting your store back up and running or mitigating any lasting effects on your staff or reputation. Reynolds’ experience with a grisly fatality scene has helped acquaint him with the range of things that it is helpful to plan for, which may include cleaning the scene, managing a family’s desire to erect a memorial on site, preservation of evidence, and post-incident psychological services for staff.
Partnerships. As the examples above suggest, partnerships often prove critical in post-incident disaster management. They are vital to managing the emergency’s aftermath and restoring operations.
Legal, PR, HR, and others. Staff needs to know who to go to for assistance in handling different types of post-incident questions, including questions that they will have after business hours. Include these in your procedures and training so people understand where to go with questions.
Law enforcement, fire services, and other emergency responders. Establishing a relationship with first responders—perhaps by conducting joint emergency exercises—can improve coordination during an event. You may also be able to use a good working relationship to secure their help in reducing negative publicity stemming from an event, said Reynolds.
Counselors. After a horrific event, stores may find themselves having personnel problems for weeks or months afterwards. Emergency planning should include identifying what assistance will be available for the team.
Contractors. Emergency plans should include contact information for companies that stores may need to employ to make the property safe—from boarding up windows to cleaning a chemical spill. The closer the partnerships are the better off you’ll be, because in a widespread disaster a retailer will be fighting for their services in competition with hundreds of other businesses. Staff should periodically call contractors listed in emergency plans to ensure numbers and contacts are current and to check that service contracts are active.
This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated April 19, 2019.