How to be a Safe Retailer In An Age Of Mass Shootings

August 2019 was a rough month as the U.S. was hit with back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Carried out in publicly accessible locations, these attacks shocked communities and businesses across the country, and emphasized the unsettling fact that similar assaults can happen to virtually anyone, anywhere.

As unfortunate and disturbing as such attacks are, they seem to now have a permanent place in the day-to-day risk environment that retailers, restaurateurs and their businesses are now starting to address head-on. Companies are adding active-shooter scenarios in the “risk factor” section of their latest annual reports—a clear sign that executive-level officers are aware of this new risk environment.

“Each new high-profile incident compels more companies to review their policies and procedures, sparking discussion and prompting change.”

~ Retail Dive

“The nature of the retail industry forces many companies into a unique balancing act,” states Jason Porter, Vice President of Pinkerton. “While they need to make sure appropriate safety measures are in place to protect employees and visitors from an unanticipated attack, these businesses also need to maintain an open and welcoming environment that encourages brand loyalty.”

Below are 5 ways retailers can successfully achieve these dual purposes:

1) Evaluate the company’s total risk profile

According to TechTarget, a total risk profile is a “quantitative analysis of the types of threats an organization, asset, project or individual faces.” Providing an objective understanding of risk by assigning numerical values to variables representing different types of threats and the danger they pose is the primary goal of creating risk profiles.

When retailers understand their total risk profile, they can make more strategic decisions on how to maximize the safety of their operations, as well as address possible vulnerabilities before a crisis hits.

 Evaluating one’s total risk profile involves the examination of both structural and variable risks. Structural risks are those that  every company in a given industry and/or region are faced with. In an active shooter scenario, for example, the possibility of a  random assault makes any company equally likely to be exposed to such an attack.

Variable risks are those based on the decisions a company makes and hinge on the level at which the company is willing to accept risks. In the case of an active shooter, a company may choose to have regular active shooter drills, or they may opt to have visible security measures such as cameras and guards. Some companies may feel compelled to implement these measures, while others may feel that it would alarm customers and personnel, going against their aim of providing an open and welcoming atmosphere.

In order to properly navigate this risk landscape, business leaders should continually update and refresh the data used to evaluate their vulnerabilities and perform regular risk assessments. While some companies may choose to rely on internal staff for these assessments because of their deep familiarity with the company’s operation, others may prefer the non-biased analysis of an outside risk management organization.

2) Create a crisis response plan

The most fundamental step in preparing for an active shooter instance—or any other emergency situation— is to have an updated crisis response plan that will provide employees with a clear roadmap of what to do in the event of an attack. This blueprint should include instructions for immediate response, as well as long-term recovery and business continuity.

Company crisis plans should also address how to support victims and employees, how to address possible litigation and public relations demands, and the best method of communication with stakeholders.

Truly effective crisis plans are those that are established and communicated far in advance of a crisis. With a good plan in place, businesses can avert the chaos and uncertainty that follows an incident while concentrating their efforts on recovery and supporting the community. To ensure that crisis plans are up-to-date, they should be tested and optimized at least once per year.

3) Determine the most effective method of employee training

Another component of preparing for a shooter crisis is to train employees for a potential attack. This should include training on how to execute the company’s response strategy. Each company’s plans will vary depending on location, so retail chains with multiple stores should involve local managers and central leadership.

Depending on company culture, some companies may prefer conducting regular active shooter drills. Others may choose to convey the necessary information in the form of handouts or other printed materials to avoid focusing on what they believe is a low-probability scenario or a disruption that could negatively effect their ability to retain talent and business.

 The following risk factors must be considered when it comes to employee training:

  • Is the company located—or does it have other locations—in neighborhoods that are considered high-crime?
  • Are company operations, supply chain processes, or products leaving employees vulnerable to theft or assault?
  • Is the company relying on a large number of contractors or temporary workers who havn’t undergone strict background checks?

4) Assess and fortify physical security measures

It’s not uncommon for companies to address security issues by expanding security staff. The problem is, it’s not realistic to think that more guards will eliminate security challenges. Instead, companies must evaluate their own specific vulnerabilities, combining technology and personnel to coordinate security measures that will help them detect, prevent, and/or respond to attacks.

There is a variety of technologies available that companies can use to reduce potential security incidents. For example, there are devices that can identify the sound of gunshots and contact the police automatically, resulting in faster response times. Another security device is an auto magnetic lock-in system that controls the movements of potential attackers and reduces harm by controlling points of access. The constant emergence of technological advancements certainly offers companies new security solutions, thereby improving their ability to handle active shooter threats.

Making sure that risk management efforts are effective involves the creation of response steps that are straightforward and clear, along with the training of staff members so they know their responsibilities, which include guiding customers to a safe spot or supporting people injured during an attack.

In order to determine the best mix of technology and personnel to handle security procedures, a good rule of thumb is to evaluate the surrounding environment and ensure that community standards are met—and exceeded, if possible.

5) Communicate & coordinate with local law enforcement

It’s extremely important to be in communication with local law enforcement professionals and give them the opportunity to become acquainted with the layout of a company’s facility—especially in higher-risk locations.

If a crisis event occurs in which law enforcement needs to respond quickly, already being familiar with a company’s floor plan and where the exits are located will help them provide the most effective assistance.


In light of the recent active shooter incidents in Texas and Ohio, businesses are increasingly aware of the changing risk landscape, and retail leaders are prioritizing more safeguards to mitigate potential crises.

Those responsible for the safety of employees and customers can no longer settle on an “it will never happen here” mentality. In fact, the randomness of these recent attacks has put everyone on high alert.

The retail industry must decisively move to deter the potential risks their companies face. Being prepared through awareness, training and other preventative measures can save lives today and reduce significant business costs tomorrow.

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.