The recent horrific terrorist attacks at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, Israel four days earlier, are stark warnings for U.S. restaurant, bar and entertainment owners and operators. Events like these spotlight the urgent need to establish effective and integrated crisis communications strategies and plans, and/or to update existing strategies so that U.S. restaurants and bars, and all other entertainment venues, are fully prepared in the event of terror attacks or active shooter scenarios.

On June 12, 2016 at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, an armed Muslim man was challenged at the door by an off-duty police officer working security. At around 2 a.m., shots were exchanged, and the gunman shot his way into the club where he held about 100 of the 350 patrons hostage. He massacred 49 people before a SWAT team killed him when they stormed the club at approximately 5 a.m. Over 50 people were injured.

Earlier that same week, on June 8, two Muslim men dressed as Orthodox Jews ordered dessert at Max Brenner’s Restaurant in the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, Israel, then opened fire with automatic weapons they had concealed in their bags. They fired indiscriminately at patrons, murdering four Israelis. The two terrorists were taken into custody; one was shot and injured by security personnel.

On May 17, 2015, members of the Dallas chapter of the Bandidos bikers club gathered at the local Twin Peaks Restaurant in a shopping center in Waco, Texas. About 60 members of the much smaller Cossacks biker’s club had arrived ahead of them. A shootout between the two motorcycle clubs ensued. In less than two minutes, nine bikers were fatally shot and 18 wounded. 177 bikers were arrested.

Police and prosecutors in Texas alleged that the clash “was the result of an ongoing turf war between the Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the Cossacks Motorcycle Club.” However, defense lawyers claimed that the bikers acted in self defense and that at least four people died as a result of police fire. By the time the dust settled and police swept the parking area, the restaurant, and the bikers, they had collected machetes, pipes, hatchets, hammers, and 151 guns.

On October 15, 2014, in Sydney, Australia, a lone Muslim gunman burst into a Lindt chocolate shop and took 10 hostages. After a standoff, specialized Australian police units stormed the shop. The gunman and two of his hostages, the shop manager and a mother of three, were killed.

Whether it’s a club, restaurant, bar or chocolate shop, any business can be a potential target for a terrorist attack or random shooting. It makes no difference where in the world a business is located, who the employees, customers, passersby etc. are, or who the terrorists or perpetrators are. Upgrading security and risk management at a restaurant, bar or entertainment venue begins with accepting the hard truth that any establishment could be targeted by anyone, irrespective of its size, brand, or location.

Past and recent attacks and the specter of unknown attacks in the future evoke these crucial questions for owners and operators in the restaurant, bar and entertainment industry:

  • Does the establishment review crisis management and crisis communication plans on an ongoing basis?
  • Is the establishment fully prepared for a terror attack or an active shooter incident?
  • Has the business reviewed and updated security plans and crisis communication plans in response to recent attacks?
  • Are plans in place that include a terrorist attack, hostage taking, or active shooter situation? Is the business prepared to communicate about such scenarios?
  • When a restaurant, bar or entertainment venue has specific scenarios built into crisis plans, are they certain their strategies will actually work for these incidents?

With these questions as a backdrop, how can U.S. restaurant, bar and entertainment operators optimally prepare for an active shooter incident or terrorist attack? Remember, assessing, evaluating, and planning is not about fostering panic and creating or communicating a feeling that “We’re next!” It is about investing in an ongoing state of readiness while managing a successful business that provides a safe environment for patrons who are there to enjoy themselves.

A twofold approach is called for. First, security and risk management should be upgraded. At the same time, a rapidly deployable crisis communications plan should be developed and tested.

Jonathan Levy, Managing Director of Condor Security Enterprises, a specialist global security contracting and training consultancy, explains that U.S. restaurants, bars, and entertainment facilities are attractive targets for terrorists and shooters. “These places are congested and it is very easy to access them and commit different hostile activities with minimum resources,” he says. “The perpetrators are varied and can range from a lone wolf to an organized act of terror, which will be characterized by a much greater impact to human life. Clearly, the consequences of such acts of terror that target these facilities will create a large number of casualties. Keep in mind that protecting these structures is not about bouncers or regular guards. It must include a specific apparatus that can prevent and react in real time to limit damage.”

It is best to turn over the security and risk management review process to qualified consultants, such as the current security company or an independent contractor managing the security posture at a restaurant, bar or entertainment venue. Investing in an experienced and reputable security-consulting firm is highly beneficial in the long term. Levy advises four top measures for venues to implement to upgrade preparedness for violent attacks:

  1. Invest in on-site security intelligence
  2. Implement proactive security strategies, tactics, and threat measures
  3. Establish surgical response mechanisms for identified threats and risks
  4. Develop strategies that respond to a potential or actual event with the objective of surprising the attacker–and not the other way around

Levy maintains that these four pillars of security need to be conscientiously implemented to proactively prevent and rapidly react to hostile activity. “First responders will take time to arrive at the scene and take their time before storming and initiating physical contact with the perpetrators,” he says. “Most of the people involved in the attack will be killed by the time the first responders arrive. Therefore, it is imperative to apply these four pillars independently.”

Based on Levy’s suggestions, restaurants and bars should develop and implement an effective security plan with a vigorous security and risk management program that is non-invasive for the guests and allows employees to deliver great service while keeping everyone safe.

Many restaurant, bar and entertainment venue owners and operators may complain that they have no additional funds for specialized security services. In response, Levy asserts that most of these solutions can be implemented on a very limited budget. “The problem is not the budget but the contents of the budget,” he maintains. “The solutions need to be more human based than technology based.”

The foundation of a sound plan is an extensive field analysis of the establishment as seen through the eyes of an attacker. “Once the plan has been formulated, the professional entity will need to see what the current level of capabilities to prevent and to react to the threats is,” adds Levy. “The last phase will be to build an operational plan based on realistic solutions. The array of solutions can either be outsourced provided the supplier has the required know how, or the bar, restaurant or entertainment venue can have a security department.”

But what if the owners/operators feel that the fire system and CCTV cameras and maybe a bouncer or front of house manager are sufficient? Levy explains that, “CCTV cameras are a passive tool and do not deter a terrorist or replace the highly trained human factor. They can only serve as a tool that documents what has already taken place. Cameras are not going to respond or react to any incident or suspicious behavior. Behind any camera there needs to be a person that can analyze what the camera is showing.”

Levy points out that observation is most effective when a trained staff member is dedicated to that task. “The cameras cannot observe, communicate, respond, neutralize and perform the basic activities of a professional person. The venue needs to be protected with security rings that allow the detection process to be fast and reliable and translate observation into reaction.”

An effective crisis communications plan for a restaurant, bar or entertainment venue encompasses the following strategies:

  1. Implement a risk audit focused on identifying all the man-made risks that the business could face. Assess technical and naturally occurring risks as well.
  2. Once all terror/shooting risks are identified, determine the impact on the business of those risks should they occur.
  3. If the restaurant, bar or entertainment venue is in a mall, retail space or a location where there are other businesses, reach out to the landlords/owners and see what risks they have identified and what plans they have in place. Once an establishment has created its own crisis communications and security plan, it will need to integrate it with the plans of neighboring facilities, landlords, and owners.
  4. Appoint a crisis communications and management team and leader; include external advisers as appropriate.
  5. Create a crisis communications plan that contains basic information including a call tree, roles and responsibilities, contact information, strategies, media list, and template holding statements.
  6. Ensure that social media assets form part of the crisis communications messaging delivery process as conduits to proactively transmit emergency instructions and information. The same platforms can be used as monitoring and listening tools to watch and understand what the venue’s patrons and the media are saying.
  7. Integrate the crisis communications and management plan with the venues’ emergency management and business continuity plans to ensure that if an active shooter or terrorism event occurs, all plans work and do what they are supposed to do.
  8. Train the crisis management team on using the plan and how their plan integrates with the security plan.
  9. Ensure spokespeople are media trained.
  10. Hold a tabletop exercise for the first round of training on using the crisis plan. Include security consultants in the exercise.
  11. Gather feedback and make tweaks and changes to the plan.
  12. Hold an event-specific/scenario-driven exercise to help crisis team members become more aware and fine tuned in activating and implementing their plan. Involve the restaurant, bar or venue’s security team, law enforcement, security consultants, and other first responders.
  13. Identify shortcomings and update the plan.
  14. Implement a risk monitoring process that can continuously monitor and assess risks and identify them. Make plans to mitigate identified risks should they develop.
  15. Make patrons aware, via appropriately positioned signage and messaging, that if they see something, they must say something, and that they know whom to alert.

An old adage goes, “The bad guys have to be lucky once; the good guys have to be lucky all the time.” In the world of crisis readiness, safety and security, sound plans based on assessing risk and vulnerability, along with staff who have access to actionable intelligence and are thoroughly trained to proactively respond with precision to a potential or actual threat, can save lives, neutralize threats, and minimize reputational damage. It is best to be ready and safe than unprepared and sorry!

—ENDS—

Fortress Strategic Communications provides specialized strategic public relations and crisis communications consulting to companies that offer products, services, and solutions designed to manage and mitigate all types of risk. The company is able to draw on a combined 20 years of global experience from its executives in a wide array of vertical markets. For more information please visit: www.fortresscomms.com

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