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Loss Prevention

Plan for the Unthinkable

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Two associates had just opened a high-end department store anchoring a Boston-area mall on a dreary morning last month when they spotted a customer with what appeared to be a rifle poking out of his backpack. The shopper ducked into a restroom, and the employees took action. Within minutes, law enforcement had arrived on the scene, areas of the mall were being cordoned off or evacuated and retail personnel in other stores had locked their doors and were hiding in back rooms.

Fortunately in this case, the worst didn’t come to pass: It turned out that the shopper was carrying a black umbrella, and the incident was over in the span of a few hours.

Tragically, however, other incidents last month turned out not to have been false alarms. In Minnesota, two employees were killed inside the break room of a grocery store. Following an apparent revenge shooting, one man was left dead inside a North Carolina discount store. And a gunman’s rampage at a shopping mall in Amsterdam left seven people dead and 16 wounded.

These incidents are only the latest in dozens of tragedies that have occurred in retail settings in the past several years. Like churches and schools, stores and malls are not immune to active shooter situations, and planning for these crises is essential.

Since 2008, NRF has been working with the Department of Homeland Security, shopping mall security firms and local law enforcement to create emergency response protocols to guide retailers in the event of an active shooter situation. The guidelines, available at, provide a list of considerations for retailers in creating a specific plan and offer guidance on training employees.

While the guidelines provide tips, each retailer needs to create a response plan that is uniquely right for its business. In many cases, companies may have different response plans for mall-based stores and stand-alone locations. Retailers are educating and empowering employees on what to do in the event of an active shooter situation, and are also working closely with local law enforcement to ensure the best possible response.

Preparing for active shooter situations will be one of the many topics discussed at NRF’s Loss Prevention Conference & EXPO next month in Dallas. During the session, which will feature Albuquerque police chief Ray Schultz and Starbucks director of partner and asset protection Steven Bova, attendees will hear real 911 calls, see photos from inside crime scenes and learn from retail and law enforcement leaders what elements should be incorporated into every active shooter plan.

The response plan for handling an active shooter scenario is one piece of the training manual you hope never gets put into practice. But when tragedies do occur, there is no disputing that proper preparation and planning for active shooters will minimize harm to employees and customers.