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The young manager knelt in front of the safe, a thousand thoughts cluttering his head. His fingers were nearly frozen with fear as he fumbled with the combination. His heartbeat was pounding in his ears. A few thoughts came into focus; “please just get through this,” as the cold steel of the handgun pressed against his temple. He couldn’t remember if he kissed his wife goodbye when he left for work, or if he grabbed the sippy cup that was lying on its side, leaking milk on the baby seat in his car. The last number on the dial clicked into place releasing the handle of the safe. He pulled down on the handle and the door creaked open. In a sigh of relief, he leaned over and placed his back against the wall of the office, as the armed robber pushed passed him, greedily grabbing the cash. The robber’s attention, now focused on grabbing the money, was diverted and he laid the gun at his foot. The manager staring at the weapon quickly weighed his options. Should I grab the gun? Stay where I am? Get up and run?” The next chapter is yet to be written.

The young man is dealing with a physiological response to a situation that is terrifying, either mentally or physically known as the flight or flight syndrome, also known as an acute stress response. It’s the body’s rapid response to either fight or flee the threat. We’ve seen the fight response many times with news accounts of a threatened victim turning the tables, disarming the assailant and turning the weapon on them. Socially, we love it when that happens. Last month, in a Spartanburg, SC Waffle House, during an armed robbery, a customer pulled his own gun, shot and killed one of the robbers. Social media comments hailed the customer as a hero, eliminating another thug who will no longer prey on others.   Sadly, the fight response has resulted in tragic consequences. During a robbery of a small family grocery store in Tampa, FL, the unarmed owner confronted the robber. He was shot and killed defending the $7 in the cash register. News accounts quoted friends and relatives describing the victim as brave and that he would never let anyone take what was his; a weak consolation for his wife and children.

The flight response in the course of a robbery may take the form of running away. Such actions have also turned tragically into homicides. Would these situations have turned out differently had the victims received training on how to react during a robbery? Loss Prevention professionals agree that armed robberies can be decreased with a comprehensive crime prevention program, employee training, and the right equipment. A sound crime prevention program includes the security operational strategies that reduce vulnerabilities, as well as teach employees what do during and after a robbery. Employees trained in such a manner have less need to react to an armed robbery by wrestling for a weapon or running from the scene, both of which could put them a serious risk of being seriously hurt or killed. They have been trained to recognize suspicious activity, never open the back door after dark, and keep only a minimum amount of cash in the registers. In the event of a robbery, well trained employees know to follow the demands and to make a mental note of surfaces touched by the robbers and any distinguishing scars, tattoos, or speech patterns. These are a part of a more comprehensive approach to preventing and reacting to robberies.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists several factors that may increase a worker’s risk for workplace assault. Those pertaining to restaurants are:

  • Contact with the public
  • Open late at night
  • Exchange of money
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Working in high crime areas 

These vulnerabilities can be minimized with a well trained, well equipped staff. OSHA mentions recommended training and procedures in the document, “Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late Night Retail Establishments.” It encourages employers to develop a written program for workplace violence in which the components in writing are “less important than how effective the program is in practice.” In other words, “do employees know what to do in the event of a robbery?”

It is important that employees receive on-going training to protect their workplace from violent acts and take appropriate measures to protect themselves if it does occur. With the noted vulnerabilities to robbery and other violent crime, it is essential that a commitment be made to provide the training and resources to employees to operate as safely as possible.

In our story, on-going training provides the manager much better decision making during the terror of the armed robbery. The next chapter can be written with a positive ending. He does know what to do, he does get through it, and he remembers what he did with that sippy cup.

For more information on developing a crime prevention program suitable for your business, visit www.LossBusters.com. Follow us on Twitter @LossBusters.

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Loss Prevention

Latest posts by D. B. "Libby" Libhart
D. B. "Libby" Libhart
D.B. “Libby” Libhart has more than 30 years of experience in the loss prevention industry. He has provided security and safety leadership in retail settings such as department stores, drug stores and quick-service restaurants. Before launching his own company, LossBusters, Libby served as the Senior Director of U.S. Security and Safety for McDonald’s Corp. He entered the QSR industry with Taco Bell and subsequently YUM Brands.
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