By: Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, FMI
There is perhaps no greater evidence of the troubled and challenging times we’re experiencing than the increased number of inexplicable acts of violence erupting without warning in unexpected places. And food retail outlets have not been exempt from these crises, with several FMI member companies experiencing devastating violent situations that left employees shocked and communities rattled. While it is impossible to make sense of these traumatic circumstances, there are lessons we can take from them to improve our vigilance and enhance awareness of the best steps to take if the unimaginable happens and a violent event takes place.
In the spirit of cooperation, two FMI member companies that weathered the devastation of workplace violence graciously participated in a recent conversation with me about their experiences. My thanks to Former President and CEO of Martin's Supermarkets Rob Bartels and Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer of The Kroger Co. Tim Massa for their willingness to revisit these circumstances and candidly share their learnings. I am also grateful to William Flynn, cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer of The Power of Preparedness (TPOP), a security training company, for the expertise he brought to this discussion.
“Our company experienced something that it wasn’t prepared for,” said Bartels, referring to an active shooter event that took place in a Martins store in January 2014. The Kroger Co. also faced two shootings in March of this year, one at a distribution center in Oconomowoc, WI and one at a Kings Soopers store in Boulder, CO.
While somber to think about, active shooter events and other acts of workplace violence can happen to any company in any industry. That’s why preparedness for these events is essential.
As FMI Vice President, Industry Relations Doug Baker said regarding the panel: “The way to ensure effective crisis preparation, response, and recovery is to build muscle memory through training and practice.”
Workplace violence, verbal de-escalation and active shooter preparedness training, like that offered at TPOP, can train individuals to notice, react, and respond to violent situations before police arrive. It can also aid in prevention, according to Flynn, because there is often an observable pathway to violence that assailants are on before committing a violent act. If these signs are noticed, workplace violence can be prevented.
After a violent event, companies go through what Flynn calls “the crisis after the crisis,” when they must respond to the event and recover. For The Kroger Co. and Martin's Supermarkets, both focused on healing not only the associates and victim’s families, but the community as well. Massa described providing grieving resources, holding vigils, consulting experts in trauma and resiliency, and establishing a community resource center for counseling and support. Both companies also found strength in others.
“We relied on a lot of friends in the industry, law enforcement professionals, and community leaders at large to recover,” said Bartels. “And while the sorrow and grief will always be with us, it was our ability to recover and embrace each other that pulled us through. And it woke us up as an institution.”
Since their incidents, Martin's Supermarkets and The Kroger Co. have enhanced their preparedness. The Kroger Co. required associates across the company to take active shooter preparedness training again and has elevated their mental health resources. Martin's Supermarkets has added to their preparedness training by teaching associates to notice anomalous behavior.
“We went through a very, very meticulous follow through and follow up over the next few years that made us more aware and prepared, and more vigilant in our efforts to be a safe place, not only for our customers and also our employees, but for the community at large,” Bartels said.
While difficult to discuss, these events can be learned from to better protect grocery associates, customers, and their communities. These events also show the strength that can come from partners, competitors, and communities during a time of tragedy.
As a follow up, the FMI community has free access to the Midsummer session On-Demand Video: Emergency Preparedness: Workplace Violence. Dive in to hear more on:
- Supporting victims emotionally and financially.
- Supporting employees and associates affected by the violence.
- Working with the community and community leaders.
- Communicating effectively during – and in the aftermath.
- Determining when and under what circumstances is it appropriate to reopen.