Most retailers have plans in place to deal with an active shooter, like the one that terrorized a Walmart Inc. store this past weekend in El Paso, Texas. But a hot job market has hit worker retention rates, making it harder to ensure that every employee has had the proper training.
“The majority have a plan, but the turnover in a store with any retailer is high,” said Pat Murphy, president of LPT Security Consulting in Houston. “The employee gets bombarded on their first day with a bunch of training material and how often that’s revisited, who knows?”
While most Americans grow up learning how to react to a fire — stop, drop and roll — active shooter response isn’t as instinctual, said Greg Shaffer, founder of Shaffer Security Group and a former member of the FBI. Today, active shooters present a greater threat to retail establishments than fires, and repetitive trainings need to be put in practice to encourage preparedness, he said.
That especially becomes a problem when teenage workers go off to college or seasonal employees leave after Christmas and a new rotation of employees come through without proper training. Part-time hourly store employees have the highest turnover rate of any retail position, an average of 81% in 2018, up from 76% the prior year, according to a survey from Korn Ferry, a management consultancy.
“In retail, turnover is so great that the communication and training becomes problematic,” Shaffer said. “Under duress in certain situations, people will freeze in fear. Retailers need to train that out of them.”
Beyond training employees to identify exits and flee in the event of a shooting, retailers can also invest in active shooter alarms — distinct from fire alarms — to more quickly alert employees and customers to what’s going on. Many retailers also teach workers to usher as many people as possible out of the store and run away, especially through the back doors, as 86% of active shooters come in the front entrance, Shaffer said.
“We need to treat active shooter plans like we treated fire in the last few decades,” Shaffer said. “There are very few fires in America in retail establishments because we’ve been so effective with sprinkler systems and drills. We need to do the same for active shooter.”
Both Murphy and Shaffer said that a majority of retailers have active shooter preparedness plans in writing, but many aren’t implementing drills frequently enough. In malls, safety plans are generally outsourced to security companies, and retailers have to carry the payroll burden to send employees to meetings, Murphy said.
“Some don’t take it seriously and that’s just the way it is,” he said. Murphy said he’s never seen a training manual that mentions how employees should handle customers sporting guns in open-carry states.
Stores that avoid frequent security training have the mindset of “it’s not going to happen to me” and neglect to confront the threat of gun violence, Shaffer said. Not doing these trainings is a huge liability if something were to happen and most retailers don’t want to take the risk, said Bob Moraca, vice president of loss prevention at the National Retail Federation.
The Walmart shooting last weekend that killed more than 20 people gave a reason for retailers to revamp their active shooter policies. The shooting occurred at a store where every employee received required “active shooter” training, given four times a year in association with Texas State University, the company said.
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