Tackling the complex challenge of workplace security

Loss prevention professionals across the country have the responsibility of keeping employees and customers safe, but with an escalation in organized retail crime incidents, increase in drug use and rising incidences of workplace violence, they’re facing a complex and ever-changing challenge. At NRF PROTECT in Anaheim, Calif., last week, retailers and security experts shared learnings for how to keep employees and shoppers safe in the face of threats.

Employee training

Kathleen Smith of  Albertsons LLC at PROTECT 2019
Kathleen Smith of Albertsons LLC.

Employees are on the front lines, said Kathleen Smith, vice president of asset protection with Albertsons, and as such must have clear guidelines for what to do in case of emergency. Albertsons stores have crisis manuals and flip charts clearly explaining what to do and who to call. Managers have an app they can access on their phones if they can’t get to the physical materials in the store, and the company conducts ongoing training and testing.

That “ongoing” component is critical. Scott McBride, vice president of global loss prevention, safety and security for American Eagle Outfitters, said his team looks at incidents that have occurred as “living documents” they can learn from. AEO “empowers store teams to make the right decision,” McBride said. The steps in a crisis plan are always the same; the time it takes to move through them might differ, but teams know they’re following the plan.

And retailers and security experts agreed: The first step in any plan should always be de-escalation. Training employees to look for warning signs — behaviors and actions that might signal an individual is getting ready to escalate a situation — gives them time to mentally prepare for what might be coming. Brendan King, CEO and founder of the Crisis Consulting Group, said most situations can be de-escalated through verbal interactions; for those that can’t, it’s important to take a moment and breathe to ensure the correct action is taken. “If we breathe, we can think,” King said. “If we think, we can act.”

Collaboration with law enforcement

John McMahon of the LAPD at PROTECT 2019
John McMahon of the LAPD

John McMahon, commander of the Los Angeles Police Department’s information technology group, stressed the importance of conducting training exercises and discussing lessons learned after incidents. The partnership between law enforcement and retailers needs to happen well in advance, he said, and include regular meetings and a routine dialogue about de-escalation. Communicate plans like lock down protocols ahead of time, suggested Dan Ryan, vice president of security for Brookfield Properties, so local law enforcement knows retail employees in advance and has information such as where people are likely to be sheltering.

It’s not just local law enforcement retailers should have relationships with; in instances where homelessness or addiction are a factor, other government agencies may have helpful resources. Smith also encouraged retailers to develop relationships with other retailers in the vicinity and share information about potential threats and crisis plans.

“A little bit of preparation goes a long way,” McMahon said. From pop-ups to big-box stores and distribution centers to corporate headquarters, maintaining the security of a business comes down to the people responsible for it. Every business will deal with an active threat situation at some point; what’s key is making sure employees know what to do when it happens.

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