After El Paso Walmart shooting, advice for retailers from security experts

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With thousands of customers shuffling through their doors each day, retailers face a unique set of challenges in responding to an active shooter situation but can take several steps to protect employees and consumers from potential threats.

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The susceptibility within the industry to incident was highlighted over the weekend with the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas that left 22 dead.

Experts say it is too early to tell whether any parts of the massacre stand in stark contrast to other shootings. Still, while many companies have taken training more seriously, experts say the latest attack highlights the need for even more frequent and sustained education and security protocols.

“You would be very surprised at the number of corporations that have virtually zero or little active shooter response plans,” Greg Shaffer, a former FBI agent who runs Shaffer Security Group, told FOX Business. “Those that practice it are those that are most successful in diminishing the loss of life in an active shooter event.”

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The tragedy on Saturday occurred during the historically busy “back to school” season -- which often includes lucrative discounts on educational supplies and other products -- during one of the top shopping days for August, according to consulting firm Strategic Resource Group. Prior to the shooting, for example, the El Paso location ran 24 pages of promotions.

The incident is raising concerns that copycat shooters could seek to repeat the incident at other retailers. A man in Florida has already threatened to "shoot up" a Walmart in Tampa after reportedly being inspired by the El Paso massacre.

Among the steps retailers should take is implementing a robust warning system with different procedures than those used for fires and other emergency incidents to alert customers and employees when they should flee or seek protection, experts say.

Those warnings are likely to come well after the attack is underway, however. Another option is to train employees to react quickly to an incident and move customers either out of the store or to safe locations.

“If you have your store employees trained to do the right thing then people will start to follow them,” said Pete Blair, professor of criminal justice and executive director of the Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.

Companies can also construct hardened rooms like restrooms that can be locked from the inside to protect individuals in the event of an active shooter and put panic buttons at cash registers or other high volume areas.

And while more expensive, retailers can hire off-duty cops or other armed guards to secure the store. Companies, however, have been hesitant to take that route due to the liability it poses and the financial cost, Shaffer says.

“Most retailers do not have an armed response, they know that they don’t have the money, time or desire to have that highly trained of a response,” he said in a recent interview. “Those that do decide to go with an armed guard, my strong point to them is you’ve got to make sure they’re trained and they continue to train.”

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The standard rate for an off-duty cop, for example, is $45 per hour. But with some locations spanning over 100,000 square feet, a more robust presence would likely be necessary to protect customers and employees in the event of an active shooter.