5 Best practices for navigating active violence

As retailers, restaurants, and food and beverage companies prepare for the holiday season, they should identify potential risks and familiarize workers with recommended responses to keep employees and customers safe. Active violence is often unpredictable and difficult to anticipate, underscoring the importance of planning and preparation that provides employees with tools and information to help protect themselves.

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5 Best Practices for navigating active violence 

Active violence — including active shooting incidents — is not uncommon in the US and can lead to injuries, loss of lives, long-lasting post-traumatic stress, and business challenges for organizations. According to the FBI, there were 61 active shooter incidents* in 2021, continuing an upward trend over the past five years.

For retailers, restaurants, and food and beverage companies, the upcoming holiday season will bring increased foot traffic, additional seasonal employees, and longer hours of operation. As organizations prepare, they should identify potential risks and familiarize workers with recommended responses to keep employees and customers safe. 

Active violence — which includes any incident involving an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined populated area — is often unpredictable and difficult to anticipate, underscoring the importance of planning and preparation that provides employees with tools and information to help protect themselves. Retailers, restaurants, and food and beverage companies should consider the following actions to prepare for a potential incident.

1. Identify risks and strengthen physical security measures

As a first step, companies should prepare a written response plan to include procedures for before, during, and after an active violence event. The plan can include details on responding to specific hypothetical incidents, as well as a list of potential red flags that employees may address immediately, such as challenging or suspicious behavior. Your plan should also establish reporting and escalation procedures. For example, in which instances should an employee immediately call law enforcement? And when should they contact their manager or head office? 

Work with physical security specialists to identify potential shortcomings on or around your premises, such as a poorly lit parking lot, unsecured access points, or blind spots in your security system. Take action to improve physical security, for example by implementing fob-based access to locations that are not open to foot traffic or are employee-only areas.

2. Connect with local law enforcement

Establish a relationship with your local law enforcement and discuss specific concerns, whether it’s the potential of aggressive retail customers in a location or warehouse employees walking through an empty parking lot late in the evening. A good time to familiarize local law enforcement with your organization and premises is before an incident happens. 

Similarly, retailers and restaurants situated in a mall or shopping center should raise any concerns with the property management or shopping center security and discuss actions to reduce risks. Discuss with both law enforcement and shopping center security the different roles during specific scenarios, including what is expected from employees and what you should expect from local responders.

3. Engage in regular training

Whether employees work in a warehouse with limited access or in a retail or restaurant environment that depends on foot traffic, they should know what to do in the event of an active violence incident. Employees should understand their roles and responsibilities and know how they should respond in different scenarios.

This knowledge can have a significant impact on the outcome, helping employees to be better prepared to respond and potentially save lives. Yet only 21% of respondents to Marsh’s 2022 Restaurant Risk Management Survey said they have developed training material, and just under 12% said training is provided at the time of hire, a slight decrease from our 2020 survey.

Specific training should be considered as part of the onboarding process, which is especially important for organizations that hire seasonal employees, whether in customer-facing positions in stores or restaurants or in warehouses and/or in food and beverage manufacturing plants. Training can cover the proper use of alarms, locks, and other safety and security-related features available on site, and help employees understand when a situation requires them to implement protective actions (evacuate, shelter in place, or lockdown). Employees and on-site managers must understand their roles and those of on-site security and law enforcement. Annual or biannual refresher courses should be encouraged to help reinforce the information. Make sure that employees are familiar with the three response actions when confronted by an active violence incident — run, hide, fight — and when to use each type of response.

Short online modules that provide information on different topics can be ideal for organizations that are unable to provide in-person training for employees. These sessions can provide information on the importance of situational awareness and how to respond to a variety of scenarios, such as a physically aggressive restaurant guest or an intruder in a food packaging plant. Training can also highlight the importance of identifying problematic behavior of guests or colleagues — characteristics or mannerisms that employees can quickly report. Organizations may consider including training on emotional wellbeing and offer guidance that can help employees manage their emotional wellness.

Consider scenario-based tabletop exercises that provide key individuals within your organization with the opportunity to play out their roles in different situations. Besides training and exercises, provide your people with user-friendly tools that allow them to quickly access information and respond appropriately. Well-marked emergency response flip guides can help employees — including managers — retrieve guidance that is pertinent to the immediate situation, for example, how to react when a customer or colleague demonstrates concerning behavior. The guide should include important phone numbers, such as local law enforcement or company headquarters.

4. Provide a safe space to report potential red flags

Senior leaders should be cognizant that not all employees may feel comfortable talking with their direct manager. Consider adopting an anonymous employee hotline that is available 24/7 to provide a comfortable place or avenue for your people to report potential issues without fear of ramifications. These issues could include recounting any verbal or physical abuse at the workplace or is related to work, alerting the company about colleagues who may be acting differently, or even discussing personal situations that could lead to violence at the workplace. Your focus, as an organization, is to have procedures in place for reporting, identifying a potential threat, determining whether it is credible or not, and how to respond once a threat is deemed credible. 

5. Respond effectively and learn from experience

The safety and well-being of your employees and customers should be your priority following an active violence incident. Senior leaders should keep in mind that how an organization responds to an incident can impact your people, customers, operations, and reputation. 

Understand that your employees and customers may need support to process what has happened. Assistance should go beyond the immediate medical attention provided to those present during the incident. Keep in mind the long-term wellbeing of both your employees and their families, including whether they need help to manage post-traumatic stress and could benefit from mental health support. Also, consider offering assistance to customers or vendors who were on site during the event. 

After any incident, analyze how your organization responded to identify potential areas for improvement. This is also a good time to review your response plans and training program and update them with learnings from this experience. 

Active violence can have a long-term impact on organizations.  Being prepared to identify the warning signs and respond quickly can protect your employees and customers, and help reduce potential reputational damage.

*These incidents include shootings in public places, shootings occurring at more than one location, shootings where the shooter’s actions were not the result of another criminal act, shootings resulting in a mass killing, shootings indicating apparent spontaneity by the shooter, shootings where the shooter appeared to methodically search for potential victims, and shootings that appeared focused on injury to people, not buildings or objects.

For more information, contact your Marsh representative or contact:

Renata Elias

Senior Vice President, Consulting Solutions, Marsh Advisory

renata.elias@marsh.com