Issued by Perfect Word Consulting (Pty) Ltd
Public shooting incidents do not end when the gun fire stops. They have far-reaching effects and consequences that shopping malls, their tenants, contractors, employees must deal with effectively.
Across South Africa, many shopping centres are targeted by mall heists. Over the festive seasons and the special sales period in January, these malls are quite possibly going to have the terrifying scenario of gun shots randomly fired. Even if the mall is able to remain open and individual shops continue to trade, the wide reaching physical and emotional scarring can go on for months and even years.
In addition to an intense re-evaluation of security measures while facing possible lawsuits, the individual shops and the mall management have a responsibility towards those who have suffered emotional trauma. To deal with an event of this magnitude effectively, and to stand any chance of restoring public confidence in the mall, strong communication strategies and rapid support plans must be a top priority of management, believes Kyle Condon, Managing Director of D&K Management Consultants, a leading investigation and risk consultancy.
“Further to this is the issue of business continuity,” adds Condon. “This is something that is all too frequently overlooked. Shopping centres may well be faced with law enforcement closing down a particular area for crime scene analysis, or bodies may be lying in areas that the public can see. Each incident is unique but that is no excuse for malls to be unprepared. They must have a strategic plan in place to implement immediately after an incident has played out.”
In Condon’s opinion, there are still far too many shopping malls that either choose to ignore the possibility of attacks, or seem to think that what happens immediately after an active shooting is not their concern. He shares the four key elements that mall management and store owners must consider when preparing for, and dealing with these incidents; communication, tenants and employees, emotional support, and bringing in the right help.
International best practice has proven that the cornerstone of any well prepared crisis plan starts with a sound communication strategy. While some may have these plans in place, executing these plans during a real live event much more challenging. “An open communication approach is by far the most effective. News travels incredibly quickly and any shopping mall hit by a shooting incident can expect the media to be on it within minutes,” states Condon.
The general rule is to expect media presence within a 30 minute period after an active shooter incident. Talking to a journalist can have future consequences and management needs to be well versed in how to approach media questions. Shopping centre management must ensure that they have a calm, skilful spokesperson ready to handle the barrage of questions and queries that will come flooding in.
“Putting out carefully worded information on social media platforms is another area of importance,” remarks Jacqueline Condon, Head of Media and Client PR at D&K Management Consultants. “It is crucial to ensure that whatever information is put out is done in such a manner that it cannot be turned against them at a later stage.”
Responses on social platforms will give the world insight into management’s empathy and dedication to help ease the negative emotional and commercial effects resulting from these tragic events. Jacqueline puts strong emphasis on centre management having several pre-planned responses to fall back on, and modify as and when needed.
“Well constructed communications plans are adaptable to virtually any crisis that may occur,” advises Condon. “One of our shopping centre clients has used prewritten press releases drafted by D&K on two separate occasions.” A significant amount of time was spent creating statements that would cover just about every conceivable crime incident that could occur at the shopping centre’s premises. Secondly, every potential question that the media, attorneys and public may pose after a severe incident has occurred was considered. “The result was that on both occasions there was not a journalistic question asked that Jacqueline could not confidently answer on the client’s behalf.”
Tenants and Employees
Direct and immediate communication with families of tenants and employees is a priority that must never be ignored. Malls must carry out the task of communication with employees’ families straight after a shooting event. Many people in the human resources sector may disagree on this, but Condon is adamant that this is not about the “HR handbook” but about doing what is right. “It is also prudent to point out that although social media is a platform to inform, it is not the one to use when notifying family, especially if the family member is hurt or killed,’ he adds.
The trauma experienced by those who witness an active shooting will vary between individuals. Shopping centre management and employees must never underplay the severity of the emotional trauma and its side effects. “Providing mental health support and counselling is your responsibility as the employer,” comments Condon.
Bringing in the right help
Although shopping malls can never know when each potential incident will occur, having a pre-determined plan and a crises blueprint, compiled by a professional risk consultancy, is without question the least you can do. “Over the last two decades we have learnt first-hand what works best and consistently help our clients to overcome tragedy when it does occur,” concludes Condon.