by Shane D. Healey – Captain, Opelika (AL) Police Department

Today’s uncertain and dangerous world brings ever-increasing security challenges to the front door of customer-oriented businesses whose very livelihoods depend upon bringing those customers through that door. For decades, mass killing events have revolved around businesses where large numbers of people gather. The massacre at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, on Oct. 16, 1991, set the stage for a tragic play that unfortunately has played out again and again in cities across America.

Bataclan Theatre

The Bataclan Café in Paris, scene of the massacre of 90 people who were attending a concert.

Innocent customers have played the unknowing pawns in these horrific events by just simply stopping at the store, trying to enjoy a meal out, or even watching a movie. A total of 49 unsuspecting revelers lost their lives a few short weeks ago just because they wanted to hang out with friends in what they thought was a safe place. They went to a gathering place in Orlando expecting to be safe and sheltered from the dangers of the outside world. Little did they know that evil decided to crash their party.

We, as onlookers to these tragedies, tend to get lost in the details. Who did it? Why? What was their motivation? Was it a terrorist? Instead, we should be trying to identify common denominators in these events so we can protect ourselves and, in essence, begin to fight back. In any mass killing or casualty event, the perpetrator identified a place where there would be a large number of unsuspecting potential victims gathered in one place. And what do people come together for over every day, all day? Food. It seems the devil is coming to dinner.

Forbes magazine says that the food industry, from food processing and packaging to retail sales and restaurants, is the largest in the world. The food industry alone accounts for approximately 10 percent of the global gross domestic product, which translates to about $4.8 trillion a year. Is there a riper fruit to pick if you have nefarious motives and desire to harm lots of people?

It’s time for the food industry to stand up and take notice. Every company involved in any aspect of the industry has a tremendous responsibility to the people they serve to provide safe food and safe environments for working, purchasing, gathering, and eating. If the food industry alone would take charge in the global fight against these would-be mass murderers, imagine the number of innocent lives that could be saved.

Every major corporation down to the smallest mom-and- pop operation can stand up and fight back. They can say enough is enough. Not today, not in my business. Not my customers. We will not only be the best at providing food to our customers, but we will be the safest haven for those customers. Our customers can relax and enjoy themselves in our venues without fear of a random, or calculated attack.

So, if the food industry were to buy into this concept, where would a business begin to protect themselves and their customers? It is a very simple—deterrence. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines deterrence as “the act of making someone decide not to do something; the act of preventing a particular act or behavior from happening.” In other words, how do we get the devil to go next door?

In the security and law enforcement business, as in the military, we have a concept called KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid. Usually, the simplest ideas are the most practical and work the  best. Basically, having any type of a plan is better than having no plan at all—just remember to keep it simple. If you develop extremely complicated plans for preventing an attack, or for how to react if one occurs, those plans will never survive first contact. Then chaos ensues, and people lose their lives.

With that said, let’s look at some easy ways to protect your businesses. Please remember these are basic concepts. There are many different ways to accomplish the same goal. The idea is to think outside the box and be creative. What will specifically work for one business may not work for another.

  • Electronic monitoring. Basically, alarm systems. (This would include any other type of electronic sensors as well.) Advertise the fact that you have these items in place and are actively using them. Signs, stickers, etc. are recommended. This puts the bad guys on alert, as well as making employees and customers feel safer. Include a panic-type alarm that, if activated, immediately notifies authorities of a problem. Make sure local authorities know ahead of time that you have such a capability and coordinate with them. The time for a practice run is ahead of time, not when you really need them.
  • Video surveillance. In today’s society everything is recorded. There are cameras everywhere, and people are used to them. Available systems record in amazing quality that can be accessed on-site or remotely. Make sure someone who is trusted is monitoring camera feeds, especially when the business is open. They may be able to identify a problem or harmful situation before it begins or gets out of control. Cameras need to be both inside and outside. Again, advertise the fact you have them and are using them.
  • Proper lighting. It is amazing what a simple motion-sensor light can accomplish. Remember, the bad guys like to work in the shadows. Eliminate the shadows and you take away their safety net. Plenty of lighting also makes potential customers feel safer as they enter and exit your property or building. Proper lighting applies inside just as well as outside. Also, keep lighting on after-hours so you take away the bad guys’ comfort zone.
  • Controlled access and control points. As a business owner you can control who goes where, and when they go there. Keep track of and control people’s movements. Controlling access could be as simple as using an electronic key access system that will record employee’s movements and allow only certain people in certain places. Furthermore, control customers’ entry points into the business, including traffic if necessary. You are the business owner and have the right to control who comes into your business, and whether or not those people come armed. Determine a way to evaluate people who come into your business so you can keep undesirable people out.Remember though, the exit strategy is quite the opposite. You want to have plenty of wide-open, plainly visible exits that allow fast, easy egress. Then, you have to keep access into your business through these exit points restricted—a delicate balance, but doable. Always consider local building, occupancy, and fire codes when making decisions about what to do.
  • Train employees. Whatever your security plan, keep employees in the loop. Educate new employees during orientation and review with current employees regularly. You want them to know exactly what to do in an emergency. Make employees “stockholders” in their safety as well as the customers’ safety. Give them some control and decision-making ability over being able to survive an encounter. This will empower them to perform better when needed.Also, try incentive programs for identifying problems. If an employee comes up with a new idea or procedure, give him or her a bonus. If an employee identifies a potential threat that can be neutralized before anyone is hurt, award that employee handsomely. Let employees know ahead of time that this is your intention, turning them into active participants in your safety plan.
  • Arm your employees. This is definitely a hot button topic right now, and local and state laws will determine whether or not you can even do so. Many factors will go into this decision, but remember that anyone whose intention is to come into your venue and do harm to your employees and customers is less likely to do so if they know there are armed, trained employees on the premises. Even though they may be willing to die, they don’t want to die before they accomplish their mission.

The truth is, security can be almost anything you can think of. Every business is special and different, with its own unique combination of equipment, protocols and practices. The one constant is that no matter what you do, you must coordinate all of your efforts. No one measure will secure your business from every threat. Only a solid, coordinated effort, practiced and reviewed constantly, can have a chance at preventing a horrible event.

Lastly, I suggest you speak with a security consultant about the specific needs of your business. A good security consultant, or team of consultants, is going to take time to evaluate the facts and circumstances your particular business faces. They will help identify the kinds of threats your business faces, your physical concerns, the state of readiness of your staff, and how you can bring all of those areas up to speed.

Coordinate with local police, fire, and ambulance services. Most agencies have people tasked with meeting with business owners to help develop plans for major events and emergencies. As a business owner do not be afraid to ask for help. Your livelihood and the lives of your employees and customers are at stake.

The devil is out there, hunting for his next target. Don’t let it be your business. Send him next door.

(In future articles we will break down some of these concepts in more detail and give some specific examples of how to apply these concepts. We will develop further ideas into workable concepts on how to prevent an attack or protect a business.)