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Crisis control: Why you can’t think it will never happen to you

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By David Fuller-Watts, CEO, Mallcomm

When the unthinkable occurs reactions need to be fast, communication clear and the crisis handled with clear purpose and confident authority to minimise impact and potential danger to life. 

But how can you do that before panic sets in and maintain control in a situation that you never dreamt that your organisation might face?

Having preventative measures with a strong plan that helps to define an emergency, who to inform when it happens – such as local security or the police – and solid actions to take are good starting points. Such information needs to be clear and quickly accessible.

A sense of denial

There’s limited scope to what can be done to stop the unimaginable happening in places that welcome the public without constraint, such as within the shopping centre environment. Recent events have tragically proved that. 

Sometimes there’s a sense of denial that anything could happen, especially in smaller centres that might not think they could be a target. Such naivety can be dangerous.

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Martyn’s Law aims to bring home the point that size doesn’t matter and to scale up preparation in the UK for terrorist attacks in any venue, regardless of size. The bill requires premises “to fulfil necessary but proportionate steps, according to their capacity, to help keep the public safe” and has been led by the mother of Martyn Hett. Martyn died with 21 others in the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. Under the proposed law venues of 100-799 people will be considered standard tier while those with a capacity of 800 or more will be classed as enhanced tier.

Scenario planning, accessible information and ease of contact

Scenario planning and having protocols in place to deal with the unexpected can help in regaining control if it does happen. Martyn’s Law, for example, would include procedures for evacuations and lockdowns in a terror attack, training and heightened security measures. 

Locations such as shopping centres and stores within them need clearly communicated protocols and procedures that are readily accessible should staff and tenants require them.

That allows them to react quickly and decisively should an emergency situation happen with clear information on what they need to do to reduce panic and danger. This is especially important when the loss of life is a potential factor. Previously the focus would be on the evacuation of staff and the public but today lockdown is more common, to hold people safely in a secure place such as a locked store while professionals are handling the situation. This can help to minimise confusion and risk.

Constant communication to maintain control

It’s the staff on the ground – the eyes and ears of a shopping centre – that are also likely to be the first to identify that an incident is in progress. They need a defined process to report any fears or concerns and the confidence that they will be dealt with quickly, whether they turn out to be a false alarm or a very real threat.

A centralised communication system is also essential during emergencies to prevent the heard through the grapevine effect that could otherwise escalate a situation. In the absence of controlled communication, even within the contained environment of a lockdown, hysteria can quickly spread thanks to mobile phones and social media. Maintaining constant communication, as well as control of communication is also vital.

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A controlled communication flow allows those responsible for dealing with a crisis event to ask the questions they need and for store staff to share the information they have to keep shoppers safe. Such a process helps to manage fear and to let those involved know when the threat is over.

It’s also important to convince those caught up in emergency procedures, such as a lockdown, that the threat is real, rather than an inconvenience from which they might try to leave – rather like someone asking presuming a fire alarm is a false alarm.

Supporting staff post-event

The impact of a crisis can be devastating and long-lasting for all those involved. Follow-up communication and care and easy access by staff to ongoing help and support is essential in helping them to process and recover from such incidents. 

Effective, speedy responses supported by the right information and controlled communication help to resolve situations quickly, hopefully without escalating into a major incident. But the best preparation is not to assume that it will never happen to your business because it just might, and you need to be ready to manage it if it does.

Speak to our team today to discover how we can ensure your property is prepared and secure for any eventuality