When Retail Turns Violent

by Nate Hunter

The cineplex shooting in Colorado this past summer has retailers asking themselves: What would we do to handle a violent incident?


On July 20, 2012, the devastating shooting at a Colorado movie theater complex once again brought public attention to the danger of violence in public places. Unfortunately, events such as shootings and robberies are not as uncommon as we would like them to be. In fact, many of these violent events happen in restaurants, retail stores and other commercial and public gathering spaces.

According to a report released last year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2003 and 2008, 944 homicides and 8,700 non-fatal assaults occurred to persons in the retail sector. About two-thirds of these homicides occurred in food and beverage stores and gasoline stations. Even more alarming is the fact that each year, Black Friday and the holiday season becomes a playground for crime and violence targeting retailers across the U.S.

During my 25 years in the maintenance industry, I have unfortunately encountered dozens of violent scenes, and although we cannot control their occurrence, we can be prepared to handle them appropriately.

In the aftermath of an incident, crime-scene cleanup is the most important step to protecting your business and your employees, and reinstating some sense of normalcy. In order to limit fear and restore trust, facility owners or managers have to act quickly by calling in maintenance professionals that are experienced with working with crime scenes and the authorities.

crime scene tapeEmergency maintenance and repair has to be quick, effective and discreet. It is extremely important to work with a maintenance company you are confident can get the job done as quickly as possible. The more time it takes to perform the cleanup and restoration, the more it will impact your daily business operations and cost you in maintenance fees.

Not each incident is alike, but understanding the process and taking the proper steps to defuse the situation can make a significant impact on the future of your business.

When your facility becomes a crime scene, you won’t have control over how long the authorities will hold it to gather the evidence and photos they need. This can be a few hours, or a few days, but you should be ready to move in once they wrap up their duties. As early as the authorities allow it, involve your facility maintenance team or company, which should be on call around the clock to service these types of occurrences.

With an early start, the maintenance company can be on-site to get a preliminary assessment of the scene before it is fully released to them. This will help them execute the clean up faster by having the right crew and materials on standby.

Once the scene is released, the maintenance company should move in immediately to conduct a full assessment and identify all impact areas. This assessment will ensure each affected area is addressed properly and professionally.

Cleanup of a crime scene typically involves disposal of any damaged property (including products and display furniture), and most importantly, any bodily fluids and other dangerous biohazards. If biohazards are involved, a professional team specializing in crime and trauma scene decontamination will be needed. These teams are trained to test and remove materials to ensure public health and safety. Biohazards should not be taken lightly and should always be cleaned up by a trained and certified company. Check and make sure your maintenance team partners with a great company that provides this service, in case they need to be called in one day.

Once all damaged materials and hazards are properly removed, restoration becomes the next key step. This can involve replacing flooring, drywall, concrete, lighting, fixtures and storefronts. Facility restoration can be time-consuming depending on the severity of the situation. Essentially, the maintenance team is removing all traces of any incident to get your facility looking like it did. It’s a good idea to keep on hand a record of your facility’s materials, fixtures and finishes. This will help the maintenance team speed up the process of material procurement and replacement.

A full-service maintenance company will handle each restoration job in-house or through its network of preferred vendors.

Anytime after an incident, you want to make sure your employees don’t tamper with the scene, or try to clean anything up on their own. Workers often think they are helping, but they can expose themselves or others to unnecessary dangers. Letting workers go home once they have made their statements to the authorities is usually the best option. Because these incidents can be very traumatic, a business should take the extra step to offer employees some sort of counseling to handle any loss of feeling safe and secure at work.

Media involvement can put extra pressure and further damage an already stressful situation. If the local media does become aware of the incident, direct employees and others involved to avoid discussing cleanup procedures that will need to take place. As more of these incidences have happened, the media has become very good at identifying maintenance workers and pursuing them for information. We dress our maintenance technicians in uniforms that are less industrial and more business professional to help them blend in and avoid being spotted. We also used unmarked vehicles, which helps keep our work discreet.

Also be advised to prohibit the media from entering or capturing the scene, if possible. Allowing them on the premises after a scene has been released will only postpone the process and keep the incident top of mind with the community and your customers.

In all emergency recovery situations, the maintenance crew is your strongest ally. Lean on them to help you get your businesses back up and running quickly and discretely. Be sure that all of your actions are discreet and that you hire a professional team. This will help minimize the impact an incident will have on public opinion and your ability to provide a safe and clean environment.







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