Minding the Gaps in Your Retail Security and Safety Plan

Retail security barriers are inherently tricky. Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions, and his team look at a lot of specifications and proposals—mostly prepared by trained designers and architects. It isn’t pretty. “When you look at specifications coming in,” he notes, “I’d say probably 70% of these [proposed systems] won’t work. Then you look at the drawings. And it’s just one thing after another: The checkout clerks will never hear through these windows, those package passers will never be functional, having the door hung that way will create a hazard. Or you’ll have three [or] four contradictory elements in the design. It’s a mess.”

The fault doesn’t really lie with the architects—bullet-resistant barriers and physical security are a niche topic. But it does speak to the importance of consulting with physical barrier specialists early on in a retail building or renovation project. Even in cases where the initial barrier design is fundamentally solid, it’s extremely common for gaps to emerge as the project progresses.

Retail Security Challenges are Rapidly Evolving and Expanding

“For example,” Jim explains, “think of a renovation in a retail setting. Alongside whatever else they’re doing—changing out fixtures, repainting, replacing flooring—they’re also upgrading security. In a project like this, it’s not at all unusual for them to get all the way to setting the counters and suddenly realize no one thought about cash trays. The glazier handled getting bullet resistant glass. The millworker did the frames for the bullet-resistant glass while they were preparing all of the other millwork. The contractor got the ballistic fiberglass to back the counters. But no one got the cash trays, because it wasn’t squarely in anyone’s wheelhouse.”

If anything, the current crisis has made such gaps and hiccups even more likely—and potentially more disruptive, and even dangerous. Retail sits at the heart of a perfect storm:

Businesses are straining under the COVID slowdown. Civil unrest and protests have created massive disruptions and property damage. In some areas, looters rush in to take advantage of the disruptions. Every organization is just one bad news item or thoughtless tweet away from becoming a global target.

The upheaval of coronavirus has placed new pressures on the workplace. It isn’t just the budgetary strains that come with shutdowns, slowdowns, and a skittish consumer base. In a June article for HR Daily Advisor J.P. Guilbault highlighted how our efforts to address worker and customer safety in the face of COVID-19 and coronavirus can themselves undermine existing security measures. He points out that building re-configuration and flexible scheduling are part of the solution to the pandemic. But they can also create new problems and security gaps.

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COVID-19 Introduces New Risks to the Workplace

Reconfiguring your retail space to allow for greater social distance will almost certainly disrupt the evacuation plans people have already learned. What was once an obvious exit may now be obscured by new signage, or inaccessible because of shifted fixtures. Similarly, once clear lines of sight may now be obscured, creating new vulnerabilities and avenues for attack. Changing business hours and flexible schedules make it easier for workers to get their work done while staying healthy. But these changes also make it harder for workers to immediately notice when something is “out of the ordinary” (and thus a potential threat).

Fortunately, these sorts of issues can often be readily addressed. A fresh security audit, the addition of well-designed transparent “virus guard” social distancing barriers, and the updating (and digitization!) of safety and security plans/procedures all minimize the security gaps created by COVID-19 accommodations.

But Guilbault’s primary concern, the mental health ramifications of a long quarantine followed by a race to re-open (and the cases that will follow), is harder to dispel:

“One of the most dangerous effects is also one that is the hardest to identify—that of ideation, often fueled by feelings of injustice, a lack of control, and extreme depression and anxiety. … We’ve seen several violent incidents stemming from arguments about wearing masks. As more businesses begin to reopen, the numbers and types of workplace-related disputes will only increase.” We already know that gun sales increased by roughly 60 percent during the lockdown, and that research has found a strong correlation between access to firearms and deadly workplace shootings.

Finding an Advisor to Help You Increase Retail Safety and Security

The need for physical barriers—either ballistic or virus—is clear. But not all physical barrier companies are created equal. Most bulletproofing companies grow out of a narrow specialization and farm out the rest of the work. For example, many bulletproofing companies began as glazing businesses. As a result, they’re great with windows and transparency. They can likely also handle the bullet-resistant fiberglass used to back walls and counters without problems. But for the rest of their components—the doors, the framing, even the installation itself—they must order pre-fabricated pieces and call in sub-contractors.

The coronavirus has strained supply chains and complicated travel. For some companies, this has translated into delivery delays (sometimes indefinite) as framing and doors fail to arrive from overseas. For others, they’ve struggled to pull together installation teams across communities in different stages of lockdown and reopening. And predictably, those retail security gaps are opening up: The forgotten deal trays, the neglected door hardware, the under-prepared install team, the glass that’s an inch too short, the frame that’s an inch too long.

“We started out building ballistic barriers for the banking industry,” Jim explains. “That’s a whole business built on custom design and in-person installation. In fact, we used to exclusively do all our own installs.” Even today, TSS boasts the largest installation team in this industry.

“We’ve never been a ‘here’s a catalog, pick a product’ business. Whatever size a customer wants, we’ll make it. Until this year, ‘whatever a customer wants’ was always bullet resistant. In March that suddenly changed with the addition of virus barriers, but at its heart, it’s no different from what we’ve been doing for the last decade: helping organizations protect their most valuable asset, their people.”

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