How small businesses can plan for mass crime and other emergencies

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Shootings and other incidents in commercial areas are becoming more common.

Just this summer in the Twin Cities, a man was shot at Marcus Cinemas in Oakdale, the Mall of America was closed after a shooting at a store, and shoppers and employees were shocked when a man shot himself at a Shells store in Eden Prairie.

These emergencies are rare for business owners and managers, but they can be deadly and traumatic for employees and customers.

While many large corporations and regional destinations practice disaster planning for critical incidents, small businesses should have one as well, security experts say.

Businesses can be liable if they don’t have critical risk plans in place to help mitigate foreseeable risks.

“It’s no longer ‘can’t be here,'” said Randy Spivey, CEO and founder of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety, a consulting firm in Tysons, Va.

One of the first key things business owners should do is analyze their biggest risks. That starts with looking at the size of your business, location, type and size of customers you serve, number of employees and public access, says Jason Matlock, a longtime Twin Cities security consultant and Minneapolis schools security executive.

“Not every business can face the same risk,” Matlock said.

Businesses need to put policies in place to make it clear what is acceptable behavior and when something becomes a threat that needs intervention, Spivey said.

He said they should train staff on the indicators of when the danger might lead to violence.

Good customer service can often help prevent incidents from getting out of hand, Matlock said.

Another part of planning is knowing how a business should respond to risks in real time. Matlock suggests involving people who are part of the response, such as store employees, in planning.

Matlock said owners should have “table discussions” with their employees to walk through various emergency situations. Use the same framework for different risks to make it easier to remember who calls for help and who for other roles.

Emergency planning not only helps organizations become more resilient in times of crisis, but also helps individuals, Spivey said. If people are trained in how to respond at work, then they will have more situational awareness in their personal lives during emergencies, he said.

While each situation is different, in general, if people can remove themselves from a violent incident, they should. If not, they must restrain themselves until it is safe to do so. There are also situations where you can fight if you’re in a group, Spivey said.

Business owners need to know what they can afford and what they are willing to compromise on. A business can hire an armed security guard, but the owner must evaluate whether the benefits of that outweigh the potential negatives of some customers being uncomfortable with armed personnel, Matlock said.

As part of a response plan, businesses need to understand what resources are available, such as who to call if someone has a mental health problem.

After responding to an incident, a recovery plan must be in place to inform the public what happened inside and outside the organization. Other services, such as trauma counseling and family support, should also be considered, Spivey said.

While businesses must prepare, owners shouldn’t just focus on worst-case scenarios, Matlock said.

“It’s not the most likely thing to happen to you,” he said. “It is much better to bring yourself into the world prepared to meet more and more likely and perhaps less horrible things.”

Plans should be reviewed regularly. Organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Better Business Bureau offer free resources for businesses on how to create emergency preparedness plans and training.

Police departments can be great resources for serious incident training, said Bloomington Police Officer Andy Rysdal. Some large police departments, such as Bloomington, regularly reach out to businesses on crime prevention topics such as emergency preparedness. Sometimes local law enforcement conducts businesses when asked to comment on security concerns.

Businesses in smaller communities can turn to building owners or business organizations such as local chambers of commerce to help organize training, Rysdal said. Rysdal said he often sees more demand for active shooter training after a high-profile mass shooting is reported in the news.

A professional emergency assessment can cost between $1,500 and $5,000. Online training for workplace assault prevention at the Center for Personal Protection and Safety (CPPS) can range from $70 for a basic course to $1,500 for more in-depth training and exercises. Many insurance companies offer discounts to organizations that achieve CPPS Safe Workplace certification, Spivey said.

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