AUSTIN — A heightened sense of urgency seemed to hover over the National Retail Federation’s Loss Prevention Conference & Exhibition, held here last week.
In light of FBI warnings of possible terrorism aimed at American shopping centers, the NRF’s conference couldn’t have come at a better time.
Held at the Austin Convention Center downtown, not far from the State Capitol building, the conference was lead by a roster of loss prevention, security and human resources executives from leading retail chains and specialty stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, J.C. Penney Co., Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and May Co., among others.
The five-day expo also included an internal audit executives conference and an exhibition of the latest security monitoring and computer programs available to retailers, including some that were designed by the CIA and FBI.
AMONG THE HIGHLIGHTS:
“It’s not a matter of if, but when terrorism strikes America’s shopping centers,” said John McNamara, vice president of Loss Prevention at J.C. Penney Co., who moderated a presentation called “Retail Loss Prevention and Shopping Center Security: A Strategic Partnership.” “Since Sept. 11, the people I took for granted and did not communicate much with have become my best friends: mall security managers and security teams. Improve your communication among stores, shopping center management and security personal, including the police.”
McNamara said Penney’s has a corporate relations crisis team in place that’s ready to swing into action in the event of a terrorist strike or any other disaster.
David Levenberg, vice president of security for General Growth Properties Retail Development Services, also underscored the importance of solidifying relationships between loss prevention executives and their staffs and shopping center owners and managers, citing areas of mutual interest and benefits ranging from emergency response and disaster planning to sharing resources for training, preemployment screening and manpower.
The retail industry has been put on notice that it’s the new primary target of protest organizers, said Robert Rice, director of loss prevention operations at Nike Inc., during “Protecting Against the Anti-Corporate Protest Storm: Loss Prevention Implications of Protest Management.
The most likely targets of such protests include stores selling cosmetics, fur, or those who do business with vendors sourcing in Southeast Asia, he said.
The program spotlighted protesters’ tactics and motives, including group violence, and called for retailers to install a response model to deal with terrorism that can be quickly put into play. The plan includes not relying solely on police departments, but instead beefing up mall and store security teams and having action plans for store associates that include warning signs of possible trouble and pragmatic solutions such as knowing when to close a store and providing alternate entrance and exit routes.
“You don’t want to be drafting policy during a crisis,” said Rice. “Get a crisis management team in place now that also collects data to try and predict a possible terrorist hit. Standardize your company’s response. Identify your vulnerabilities. Establish methods for early detection, including training your associates on how to interact with crowds and continually monitoring associates’ attitudes.”
Dr. David Walsh, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California at Irvine, closed the seminar with an intriguing profile of terrorists and some retailers who are more likely to be targets of violence.
“Nine out of 10 crimes in the U.S. are committed by men ages 18 to 25, and men become more aggressive in crowds,” said Dr. Walsh, who outlined the characteristics of protesters and differentiated among the types of protest crowds such as students, unions and fringe elements, which are most likely to be violent and committed to a long-term effort to obtain dramatic changes. Such fringe elements, which he called “plate glass revolutionaries,” include domestic terrorist group Earth Liberation Front. They typically have training camps that educate members on causes.
“Leading During Crisis: From Natural Disasters to Financial Ones” looked at traits that help managers lead during the threat of terrorism or disaster. The consensus? The best leaders, whether faced with terrorism or a financial or natural disaster, act quickly yet thoughtfully and communicate broadly and deeply while protecting employees as well as the brand. Speakers included John Woodward, senior vice president of human resources at Saks Fifth Avenue; Stephen Cerrone, senior vice president of worldwide human resources at Burger King Corp., and Kim Villeneuve, partner at Villeneuve Associates, a human resources consulting firm.