Retail Secure 2019, the Retail Council of Canada’s annual loss prevention and security conference, recently hosted a panel on planning for and responding to active shooter events.
The session, “Active Situations: Putting Plans into Action,” explored the steps retailers, especially those in large shopping malls, can take before, during and after active shooter attacks to potentially mitigate loss of life, look after panicked customers and their families, and provide support to staff.
Bob Riddell, director of security and life safety for property manager Ivanhoe Cambridge, said retailers need to be proactive. “The wrong time to begin your planning is when the event takes place. At the end of the day, the incident picks you, you do not pick the incident.”
Steve Banton, sergeant, Toronto Police Service, said that signs of an attack can be picked up by paying attention to “pre-incident indicators.”
Employees or customers issuing threats shouldn’t be ignored. That information should be shared with colleagues, security, property owners and police.
“A lot of attacks are grievance motivated,” he said.
When an attack does occur, Banton said a police response team’s main purpose is to stop the attacker. They will be looking for key information like, “Where was he last seen? What is he wearing? Does he have armour on? If your store’s security can provide a (video) feed, that’s valuable information we need.”
Banton also said retailers need to reach out to police to plan and prepare emergency response strategies. “We don’t want the first time we interact together
to be on game day. We’ve got to make sure we’ve included retailers, security, management, property owners, police.”
Patrick Jandard, country security manager, Canada, H&M, asserted that adequately preparing for violent attacks starts with a company culture that prioritizes security and wellbeing, and from there, proactive training.
“Training should start day one with the new employee,” Jandard said. “It could be as simple as showing someone where the emergency exits are, where is the emergency meeting point, where is the path to go to the emergency meeting point, because as we know, sometimes in malls those back hallways can be a bit tricky.” Jandard continued, “That has to
be done the first hour of the first day a new hire starts, because you never know when an incident will occur.”
Neil Mathews, manager, emergency management, for property manager Oxford Properties Group, said lockdown spaces need to be as secure as possible.
“Carve out a space that has solid brick walls, a big metal door, not just ‘let’s run to the back storage room and hide.’”
Jandard explained that even when a retailer goes into lockdown, the customer experience doesn’t stop. “Nerves are at their maximum, people may be panicking, and if you and your staff don’t do a good job of managing the lockdown situation, I can guarantee you are going to have a nightmare.” He continued, “Let people know they are in a safe place, reassure lost children. Communicate with property management to get as much information as you can, and relay that to the customers when you can.”
After the attack, Riddell said taking care of staff is crucial. “It’s essential to have a plan to take care of your team. Security, LP, staff, they encounter situations where perhaps they don’t see the effects in the first 24 hours. It may hit them a little bit later.”
Whether it’s co-ordination with police, staff training, handling lockdown, or dealing with the aftermath, Riddell said the consequences of not getting it
right can be dire for retailers. “Brands suffer when they don’t prepare adequately.”