William Flynn is co-founder of The Power of Preparedness, which provides comprehensive online training for situational awareness, verbal de-escalation techniques and active shooter preparedness. Flynn is a former principal deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection and former assistant commissioner of the New York City Police Department.
Five minutes or less — that’s how quickly 70% of active shooter incidents end, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But once an assailant is neutralized, what’s next?
This is a question supermarkets have increasingly had to ask themselves over the years. Between 2000 and 2020, 78 people were killed in 28 shootings at grocery stores, according to FBI data cited by The Washington Post.
Since the pandemic started, grocery stores have stayed open, and workers have been exposed to increased workplace violence due to societal stressors brought on by several factors, including COVID-related health concerns, pandemic fatigue, economic uncertainty, record levels of inflation, social unrest and political divisiveness.
In the aftermath of these events, incident sites become active crime scenes. While most security and risk management leaders focus on preventing and responding to active threats, food retail managers must include post-incident recovery in their emergency management planning.
Once a threat no longer exists and after the wounded have been evacuated, management should engage in post-incident assessments and activities in coordination with local law enforcement and emergency personnel, including:
- Accounting for all individuals (including any casualties)
- Staffing/standing up a Family Assistance Center (FAC)
- Assessing the psychological state of individuals at the scene and referring them to health care specialists accordingly
- Employing business continuity plans to ensure mission-essential functions are carried out
- Communicating to victims, staff, families, and the media
- Determining a transition plan that includes when to resume normal business operations
Corporate and store management should plan for the possibility of an extended impact on the business, and mass casualty or disaster plans should be activated to manage the evolving situation. Expect that daily activities will be altered so law enforcement and first responders can investigate, clear the scene, and rehabilitate the facility, allowing for an acceptable level of work activity.
Be prepared to communicate
A critical component of post-incident preparedness planning is crisis communications. Corporate headquarters and store management must be able to respond promptly, accurately, and confidently during an emergency and in the hours and days that follow. The organization’s image can be positively or negatively impacted by perceptions of how they handle the active shooter or other emergency incidents.
For any active shooter incident, the news media will be on scene or calling to obtain details. There may be numerous requests for information from local, regional, or national media. While primary responsibility for dealing with the media lies with law enforcement, corporate and store management must be prepared to support and take a leading role, depending on the circumstances.
Management should have a list of prepared talking points as well as subjects to avoid. The organization should consult with communication specialists and/or attorneys to determine their response with compassion and condolence as the primary message rather than placing or deflecting blame.
Set up support for people impacted by the incident
Victim and family support are essential to ensuring a successful overall recovery following an active shooter incident. The quality of the overall operational response to an active shooter incident will, in large part, be judged by the response to victims and families and should be based on trust, cooperation, and respect for all parties.
Recovery planning should include the establishment of a Family Assistance Center (FAC) to provide families and loved ones with information and services during the immediate aftermath. It is essential to establish trust and provide family members with a sense of control.
One way to do that is to identify a safe FAC site located away from the media, the incident command post, and the incident site, as the roads surrounding the incident site could be blocked or inaccessible due to a high volume of emergency response vehicles.
It’s important to advise family members of the FAC location to help minimize family members responding and creating traffic around the incident site and schedule periodic updates even if additional information is unavailable.
Be prepared to speak with family members about what to expect when they are reunited with their loved ones and ensure effective communication with those who have language barriers or need other accommodations, such as interpreters and sign language interpreters for deaf or hard of hearing family members.
It is most important to determine how, when, and by whom family members will be informed if their loved one is missing or has been injured or killed, keeping in mind that law enforcement typically takes the lead on death notifications related to criminal activity. This will ensure that families and loved ones receive accurate and timely information in a compassionate way.
The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about a third develop acute stress disorder. Grief counseling is critical for victims, those who knew the victims, and others less directly affected who may still experience PTSD or other anxieties. The role of management is, at minimum, to facilitate appropriate counseling to restore affected persons to a baseline emotional well-being as quickly as possible.
In certain circumstances, federal and state laws mandate the care of crime victims. Therefore, substantial resources and processes are already in place to aid victims and their families, most notably through state agencies, the Department of Justice, and the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance.
Prior familiarity with these resources, such as toll-free numbers for victims and their families, will permit organization officials to immediately provide valuable information to victims, families, staff, and others affected by the tragedy.
Additional resources to have on file
More planning resources for corporate and retail grocery store managers can be obtained at the following sites:
- Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crimes: Helping Victims of Mass Violence and Terrorism resources
- The National Incident Management System provides a framework for preparation and response to major incidents.
- ACA Disaster Mental Health resources
- National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Impact of mass shootings on survivors, families, and communities
- Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration resources
- American Red Cross offers resources to help people following mass violence events