April 12, 2017

Retail security in the shadow of Stockholm

Swedish flag (photo: fotolia)
Länge leva Sverige (photo: fotolia)
The heinous and cowardly terrorist attack in the heart of the Swedish capital last Friday was above all things a crime against humanity and another sad chapter in man's seemingly limitless capacity for inhumanity towards his fellow man.

As with the hostage-taking at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, this tragic event regrettably also has a retail context. A hijacked lorry was first deliberately driven at shoppers on Drottninggatan, Stockholm's busiest shopping street, and then into Sweden's largest department store Åhléns City.

All responsible retailers will therefore again be asking themselves what more they can do to protect their customers. Few, understandably, wish to discuss their security measures in public.

We therefore asked Will Geddes, CEO of International Corporate Protection in London, for his advice on enhancing retail security.

"The risk is medium to high"

Will Geddes, CEO International Corporate Protection (photo: ICP)
Will Geddes, CEO International Corporate Protection
Mr Geddes, terrorists have targeted many areas of life, including airports, gastronomy hotels etc. How vulnerable are retail outlets specifically to attack?

Terrorists attacks are, thankfully, still relatively infrequent overall, but extremists will continue to target large groups of people wherever they congregate, whether in city centres or music festivals.

The risk specifically to retailing is medium to high. In some respects, retail sites are the perfect kind of environment for terrorists because they potentially achieve mass casualties and fatalities, whether through an IED (improvised explosive device); a vehicle running into a building; or what we call a "marauding terrorist attack", where hostages can be taken as at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

This is bad news for mass retailers whose whole business model is built on maximizing customer frequency…

Many larger retailers and shopping centres are advantaged to some extent in that they usually already have some degree of security in place in order to prevent shop-lifting etc. This can be enhanced to incorporate counter-terrorist security solutions.

I therefore commend the active stance the UK's National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) has taken in extending the skill set of security personnel and shopping centre managers to include protection against hostile reconnaissance and better response times.

Would you advise security measures to be covert or ostensible?

Obviously both. In the first instance, however, a very robust profile should be presented to the would-be attacker. This is because potential attackers will always look for the path of least resistance. The harder it is for them to achieve a particular objective, the less likely they are to pursue it.

Often they have a wide range of potential targets. During hostile reconnaissance in the lead-up to an event, an attacker may look at three, four, five or more possible targets. He or she will visit these constantly until they decide which one is going to be the easiest target for the best results. The more robust the defensive profile, the higher the chances they may be detected or dissuaded during the pre-planning phase.

What retail forms are most vulnerable to attack?

It is less likely that more remote locations could be targeted. Unless they are landmark sites, they won't have the publicity values the current terrorist is also seeking.

They would also go by the profile of the shopping centre, department store etc. So the most vulnerable targets would be iconic ones which are virtually synonymous with broader ones such as London or Paris because publicity for the terrorist is almost as important as the means of delivery of the attack.

The one thing we know about terrorists is that they are looking for maximum publicity. The Berlin Christmas market was obviously chosen because it was frequented by many tourists as well as locals and is internationally known. Likewise, preferred targets are ones which are synonymous with a national holiday, as we saw with the Bastille Day attack in Nice.

If bricks & mortar retail outlets increasingly become targets, could this boost online home deliveries?

In the wake of a major attack on a specific outlet or shopping area there will probably be a short period where people will feel more confident ordering online. Longer-term, however, that won't replace the enjoyment of actually going to a physical store, feeling the goods with one's own hands, and interacting with sales staff etc.

Would it make sense to erect more bollards in shopping precincts and metal barriers on street curbs in order to limit the devastating effects of truck drivers on the rampage?

The chances of being hit by a car on a shopping street because of mechanical failure or driver failure are probably higher than being hit by a terrorist in a stolen truck. Fortunately, if you employ suitable protective measures against the first danger, you will protect against the second one by proxy.

However, any such measures should ultimately enhance the area and not signal that one has been frightened into taking any such protective measures against terrorists.

How would this look in practice?

There are a lot of user-friendly counter-measures which can be employed. Concrete barriers and bollards, for instance, can be planted with trees etc. This obviously works very effectively as a barrier and also looks nice. I have also seen areas where people have installed works of arts and statues etc.

These look normal to everyday people, but serve a double purpose in providing a physical barrier to rogue vehicles. Arsenal football stadium, for example, has a very large concrete statue which is both attractive and prevents vehicles from entering that particular section.

Should retailers use plain-clothes security people or police officers in uniforms?

Ideally both, but much of the deterrent effect will depend on how security officers present themselves, how vigilant they look, and how well they are trained. Are they, for instance, regularly tested to ensure that they are more than just a visual deterrent?

A massive security presence can easily feel oppressive. Few people want to walk past a burly man with a scowl and a broken nose in their leisure time. Isn't there a danger that this will put the customer off from shopping all together?

It is essential to strike a sensible balance between providing a strong physical presence to deter potential attackers and a welcoming profile to those who wish no harm. Security should never intimidate the customer. Companies often forget that the fundamental role of security officers is not merely to throw undesirable people out or to catch shoplifters.

Instead they should concentrate on "facilitation", which is to ensure that the customer has a safe and pleasant shopping experience. For example, many stores miss an essential interaction point with customers when they come through the door. This can be as simple as a "Good morning, Sir" with a smile and doesn't have to be done with a glare and a scary face.

But won't a friendly demeanour just seem like a soft touch to a hard-bitten terrorist?

No, quite to the contrary, friendly interaction also works highly effectively in identifying potential malefactors. It gives a properly trained security guard a small window of time to assess whether they might require further scrutiny and discreet monitoring or be asked to step aside for a random bag check.

If you were up to no good and the guard greets you personally with a smile and looks you directly in the eye, you would probably think: "He's already flagged me; I'm not going to get out of here without detection."

Lebensmittel Zeitung with digital sister (photo: LZ)
photo: LZ
Our German retail B2B newspaper, Lebensmittel Zeitung, in print & digital
Read in German: 'Der Handel braucht bessere Sicherheitskräfte' on page 24 of Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 15, 13.04.2017 and 'Verwundbar' on page 40 of Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 40, 04.10.2013 by international editor Mike Dawson

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Comments for this article are closed.

  1. Tim
    Created 12 April, 2017 18:49 | Permanent link

    Technological Solutions?

    With technological advances growing apace one wonders about the power of facial recognition CCTV coupled with algorithms highlighting frequent visitors in particular locations.

    Additionally the advent of autonomously driven trucks might preclude terrorists hijacking a vehicle if they do not have access to the cab. Eye recognition to start the vehicle?

    Is retail still a destination? Certainly seems to be decaying according to a report in the Atlantic earlier this week: What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?

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