Fundamentals of Retail Safety and Storefront Security

Safety and security are increasingly top-of-mind for U.S. retailers—and with good reason. In a February 2021 presentation for ISC Security and the jewelry store trade group JCK Pro, Rob Reiter, co-founder of the Storefront Safety Council, noted that even for high-end retail "the notion that safe and secure is no longer very safe and secure has been tested in 2020 and will continue to be tested… The attack on the Capitol on 6 January 2021 was an experience I think that's a wake-up call not just for government, but certainly for high-end retail and even mom-and-pop jewelry stores in shopping malls or on Main Street."

Reiter's observations seem to be proving out. The National Retail Federation (NRF) regularly surveys retailers. They've reported a broad rise in retail crime over the last several years, as well as a consensus among store owners that in-store violence has also been on the rise, especially since the beginning of the pandemic.

As NRF vice president Robert Moraca told Loss Prevention Magazine, “There is a level of violence that we’ve never really seen before, and it’s not just an active shooter or active assailant, but just more aggression in general.”

According to the NRF, roughly 75% of retailers saw organized retail crime incidents increase in 2020. That’s up from 68% in 2019 and 49% in 2018. And these incidents are more often turning violent: 65% of retailers reported that “ORC gangs now exhibit greater levels of violence and aggression” in 2021 than before.

But security issues (specifically workplace violence) aren't the only—or even the biggest—part of workplace safety. Even in retail—where losses to theft and robbery have climbed 16% to 300% in some sectors since the pandemic began—security is only one aspect of safety.

Ideally, when you help your clients increase their storefront security, you will improve their overall safety as well.

Safety vs. Security, Risks vs. Threats

Workplace safety is about addressing risks and hazards that are part of the job and its surroundings. Local traffic, weather events, having to lift heavy boxes, working with power tools or dangerous chemicals—these are all perfect examples of common workplace safety risks and hazards.

Storefront security is about addressing threats that might arise in that workplace. Threats range from armed robbery to protests, civil unrest, disgruntled former employees, angry customers, domestic abusers, or even violent extremists (as was the case at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York on May 14, 2022).

Safety and security clearly overlap. That means there are many opportunities to select and design mitigations that increase both safety and security. For example, replacing exterior storefront windows with a laminated product that includes both glass and ballistically rated polycarbonate (like Level 3 LP1250) both reduces the risk of storm damage (because polycarbonate is so durable) and threats of violence (an abusive spouse can't pull into the parking lot and start shooting into the building).

But, all too often, businesses inadvertently create unneeded tradeoffs. A poorly thought-out safety measure can create a hole in security. Meanwhile, a poorly designed or installed security barrier can create a safety hazard—or simply make the retail setting less attractive, comfortable, or efficient for staff and customers.

In order to avoid this, businesses and the trades they hire need to understand the key components of a storefront security barrier and answer three key questions about the business they’re helping to secure. This approach helps lay the groundwork for a systems-based approach that will yield increased security and safety.

Three Components of a Storefront Security Barrier System

There are three key components to every retail or storefront security barrier system. Each of the hardware components is entirely customizable, with many options—not just in terms of what amounts of force they can endure, but also in terms of aesthetics and operability. For example, ballistic windows protecting a clerk can be operable, so they can slide away during low-threat, high-traffic periods. Glass can have a variety of tints or talk-ports. Secure passers can be made in almost any size or configuration.

  1. Exterior Doors and Windows: These are the first line of defense. Most retailers want an all-glass storefront—natural light and an open, inviting entry are the shopkeepers' best friends. In many situations, those doors are the entire security barrier. They need to have ballistic and forced-entry rated glass, as well as frames rated to match. You're not very safe if the glass stops bullets and bricks but the frames can be shot through or kicked down.
  2. Counters/Point-of-Sale: Many retailers pull their "storefront" security further into the store, securing the clerk rather than (or in addition to) the entrance. Security at the register usually includes:
    • ballistic fiberglass reinforcing the counter
    • ballistic glazing protecting the worker
    • a built-in deal tray or passer so that products and payments can pass through the barrier
    • a ballistically-rated reinforced interior door so that workers can securely access the protected area of the store
  3. People: People are the last item on this list, but first in importance. There is no door so secure that it cannot be defeated by an employee propping it open with a rubber doorstop. In order for any measure to improve worker safety and security, it needs to work for the worker. If the deal tray is too shallow to accept a clipboard, workers are going to have to open the door to sign for deliveries.

Three Key Questions When Installing Enhanced Storefront Security Solutions

As you consider storefront security barriers, three key questions will help make sure that the barrier works with the workers:

  1. What is the "perimeter" they want to secure? How "permeable" is it? In some retail settings, like a gas station, the secured perimeter is just around the register. And that perimeter is fairly permeable: the clerk needs to be able to accept cash and credit cards and possibly also bulky items like gallons of milk or canned beverages in order to scan them for sale. In other settings—like high-end jewelry or cannabis shops in some regions—the exterior of the building is the perimeter and it's much less permeable: the only people buzzed in are those who've been vetted.
  2. What does this barrier system need to accommodate on a normal business day? Take some time to either talk thru business operations or directly observe them. Don't just hear from owners and managers, but also people who regularly interact with customers at the various points that need to be secured. What do those interactions entail? What sorts of items need to be exchanged? What is the conversation like? Is there ambient noise to think about? Regular deliveries that need to be handled?
  3. How does their threat/risk change over the course of operating hours? Shops that have safe peak operating hours but more dangerous "off" hours (like 24-hour fuel stations) might prefer an operable window that they can push aside as safety and traffic dictates. A cannabis shop, pawn shop, pharmacy, or jeweler might have midday "lobby hours" when their retail space is open and earlier or later "window" hours when they transact business through a transaction window on the outside of their building.

Secure Staff and Business with a Systems-Based Approach

As Reiter pointed out last year, for retailers "the risks are changing quickly, [and] the threats are changing quickly. If mobs can take over the Capital, you know [retail shops] need to be more careful… If you do everything you can to make your employees safe, you probably make them more secure. And if you make the outside of your building more secure, you will go a long way to making your business and your employees safer."

Ready to learn more about modern "systems-based" approaches to storefront security? Download our free security "window film vs bullet-resistant glass" explainer.

Have a specific project in mind—or simply some nuts-and-bolts questions about how to enhance retail safety and security? Contact our ballistic security experts to get started today.

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