Managing Risks for Acts of Violence on Restaurant Property

With more than 300 active shooter events in the U.S. since 2000,  property owners and operators everywhere are taking a hard look at security options. The focus is two-fold: minimizing the risk of such an event from happening, and also reducing liability post-event should a victim’s family or local authorities claim the property should have been more secure.

It is true that there is a “duty to protect” occupants in your establishments. However, the question of negligence revolves around the “foreseeability” of the violent event.

Foreseeability is tied to a building’s risk factors and prevention.

Foreseeability is tied to a building’s risk factors and prevention. Has the establishment received previous threats of violence? These could come from many sources including: disgruntled employees, significant others with domestic disputes, angry customers, etc.  It is important to take all threats seriously and investigate them thoroughly. 

Other questions to ask include: 

  • Does the building house any high-risk tenant(s)?  Some examples could include: healthcare organizations, organizations with political or ideological agendas, news media organizations and businesses that deal with significant quantities of cash.
  • If the building has received threats of violence and/or if the building has high risk tenants, has security been increased to a commensurate level, and were authorities alerted of possible ongoing threats?
  • Does the property owner/operator have a violence prevention plan in place?         

 Should an event happen on your property, at a minimum, property owners/operators will incur the legal defense costs. In many cases, this is just the beginning. A host of other expenses can follow, including: a victims’ medical bills, funerals and settlements, not to mention, building refurbishments and loss of business as well. These costs are typically not covered by a typical general liability or property policy and, when significant damage is done, or the case is high-profile, costs can quickly add up. 

Managing foreseeable risk = covering the basics.

Managing foreseeable risk = covering the basics 

True story: After being terminated from his job, an employee returned the following day with a gun and opened fire on the staff. During the investigation, it came to light that no one told the security team of the employee’s termination. Therefore, he entered the establishment legitimately with his employee key card and had full access to the establishment.

Physical security alone is no longer enough. Holistic violence prevention and intervention programs coupled with strategic physical security planning has been proven to be a significantly more effective approach to protecting people and property.  Consider the following when aiming to reduce a property’s foreseeable risk: 

Assess your establishment’s risk. Violent events are most often caused by someone who knows the establishment or is seeking it out, like a disgruntled employee or customer, as in the story above. Establishments that serve alcohol, or are in neighborhoods or areas prone to violence can face greater risk. If you own more than one establishment, assess and create a plan for each one, based on their individual risks. Consider partnering with reputable security professionals for the most accurate risk assessments.

Follow existing published violence prevention plan standards and guidelines from organizations like OSHA, SHRM, ASIS International, BOMA, and NFPA, which collectively include elements like physical security, dedicated HR policies, incident reporting channels, and a process to assess known threats as they arise.

Train your team, and consider coordinating training events for tenants. Training your staff is a critical. When you have developed a program with policies, procedures, emergency action plans, etc., your next step is to ensure your staff knows and understands resources available to them.

Local incident management teams (IMT) should be created, and specific training provided for these key individuals in regards to violence prevention and situation management.  Roles and responsibilities must be clear. Tabletop or functional exercises can give personnel the closest thing to hands on experience, short of an actual violent event.

In the event that an establishment has a third-party security firm, that group might shoulder a significant portion of the load during a violent situation, but it remains critical that your staff be in close communication with security personnel, law enforcement and building occupants before, during and following an incident. Crisis communication scripts and holding statements can be effective at addressing the media proactively, potentially preventing negative spin and damage to your reputation.

Establish a formal relationship with local police. Reach out to local law enforcement agencies and ask to meet with a business liaison officer to identify programs or support services offered to the local retail community. Local law enforcement will have valuable insights into local crime trends, as well as lists of known members of organized crime groups. Many jurisdictions offer free crime prevention assessments to local businesses. Some police departments will also assist with developing and running effective exercises to test your plans.

Assess the current property and GL policies together with a reputable broker. Find out what your current policies cover in the case of a violent event and with what limits. When necessary, consider additional protection including the following policy endorsements: Active Assailant, Bereavement Counseling Benefit, Crisis Management, Crisis Response, Employee Assistance Programs and Workplace Violence Coverage. Should you choose to engage one of these endorsements, pay attention to sub-limits. Make sure they are adequate enough to deal with a violent event.

While there’s no way to know when and where the next active shooter event will take place, it’s incumbent on all establishment owners/operators to institute safety best practices, physical security and risk transfer via an insurance policy, to protect both themselves and all building occupants from harm.