In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

According to a D&D Daily “Retail Violent Death Report” for 2018, retail deaths are up 15% and criminal acts are up 10% since 2017. Of 488 total violent deaths in 2018, 47% involved customers (up 29% from 2017) and store associates where involved in 22% (up 32% from 2017).

Yet, research from Everbridge (Active Shooter Preparednesss) shows only 1% of retailers hold active shooters drills once a month and 61% don’t run drills at all. That same research also found that 79% of retailers don’t feel prepared for an active shooter event (ASE).

Unfortunately, the level of training often varies from location to location within the same retail organization, with differing results depending on who is rolling it out within the individual store. This lack of consistency introduces risk.

Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, stresses that retailers and other security enterprise can and should implement training that can become instinctual, adaptive and give associates the tools needed to look for red flags, reduce risks and better handle emergencies.


What are retailers doing right concerning violence and active shooter training?

Carol Leaman: The fact that retailers are taking steps to address this issue at all is a good thing. Having a plan that involves formalized training is critical, but the best retailers understand that it isn’t a one-and-done situation. Retailers that supplement their violence and active shooter training with continuous, personalized reinforcement, recurring drills and ongoing conversations are the ones that are really doing it right. Not only do they have a plan but also getting their employees to practice it means, when the pressure’s on, they’re prepared and know exactly what to do to stay safe.


What are they doing wrong?

Carol Leaman: To fully understand what organizations are doing wrong, we need to understand what “doing it right” looks like when it comes to training because not all training is created equal. The right kind of training is:

  1. Short: When training is delivered in frequent bursts that are just a few minutes long, it’s easier to digest and remember.
  2. Adaptive: When training automatically grows with and adapts to your employees, you can deliver the specific information needed to fill personalized knowledge gaps.
  3. Reinforced: When information is reinforced at just the right time, it drives long-term retention.
  4. Fun and engaging: When training is fun, employees are more likely to participate. Wrapping learning up in gamification is proven to trigger and sustain employee engagement and ongoing participation in training.
  5. Convenient and accessible: When training conveniently fits into an employee’s day-to-day routine, it makes it easier for employees to participate. Making training (and training materials) accessible from any device, at any time also removes barriers to participation.

This, in a nutshell, is the philosophy behind microlearning. When you look at how most organizations deliver training, it’s quite the opposite. By comparison, training is:

  1. Long: Training often takes the form of hours- or days-long sessions. These intense sessions cover way more information than employees can retain. So they forget most of it.
  2. One size fits all: Training content is designed for a broad audience and doesn’t take into account individual employee’s roles or levels of experience, so much of the content that’s covered doesn’t apply.
  3. One time: Training is delivering in one big, overwhelming dose. And there’s no follow up to reinforce concepts or confirm that employees retained the information.
  4. Boring: Let’s be honest. Long, classroom-style sessions are anything but fun.
  5. Inconvenient: In many retail environments, employees have to juggle shifts or come in on days off to take training. Additionally, it can be difficult to locate supporting documents and training materials that are tucked away in a long-forgotten reference binder that’s buried on a shelf.

And this is the second thing many retailers are doing wrong. They’re delivering the wrong type of training, so they might not see the results they hope for. The good news is this can easily be fixed!


What about employees that still won’t follow training and rules?

 Carol Leaman: I think there’s some truth to that. There’s no doubt that different methods of training yield different results. When employees are taught using less effective methods of training that leave too much time between training events and don’t reinforce critical concepts, it’s very likely they won’t follow directions or know what to do during an active shooter event (ASE). It’s not that they choose not to follow directions. No one intentionally does the wrong thing during an ASE. The reality is they simply forget or just don’t know what to do (even if they passed a test during the initial training session). But it’s not their fault. In fact, it’s human nature. Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve shows that people forget 90% of what they’ve learned after 30 days if the learning isn’t reinforced.

Organizations need to acknowledge and address this so that they can get those employees – the ones who, despite much training, forget things – to follow procedures. But most methods of training are limited in their ability to counteract the forgetting curve. That’s why continuous training that reinforces information and tests and measures each individual employee’s knowledge is so important. When you can identify that a particular employee has forgotten something – whether it’s locking the door at the end of a shift or knowing what to do during an ASE – you can push out refresher training to fill that employee’s knowledge gaps. This allows you to take training further – from one-time, one size fits -all and forgettable to ongoing, personalized and memorable.


How do you implement training that’s instinctual? And how does it differ from Run, Hide, Fight and other methods with regards to active shooters?

Carol Leaman: The concept of “Run, Hide, Fight” is understandable at the most superficial level, but take it one step further and it’s clear that there are many variables underlying each action. For example, what does “Run” actually mean? Run where? What are the best places to “Hide”? What should an employee do or not do once hidden? What we know is this: people will instinctually do what they know. If they don’t know, they will guess in the moment and in a state of panic not necessarily choose the safest course of action. So how do you hone instinct? It’s actually fairly simple: you do it through practice and repetition. A good example is something many of us learn to do as children: ride a bike.  It involves many thought processes and physical actions, but once you learn you instinctually know what to do, regardless of the type of bike, the type of terrain you are riding on or the traffic around you. You aren’t “actively” making each choice when you’re in the moment, you are acting on instinct that’s been ingrained in your brain through practice.

Just because someone can recite “Run, Hide, Fight” because they heard it in an onboarding session two years ago, doesn’t mean they actually remember the contextual advice that falls under each of the three pillars. That false sense of security that comes with knowing something only superficially can be extremely dangerous – especially in a high-stakes situation, where even the slightest doubt or hesitation can mean the difference between life and death.

 In life-threatening situations, employees need to be able to act automatically and with confidence. It takes more than a poster on a breakroom wall or a reminder during a pre-shift huddle to adequately prepare people to act instinctually in a critical situation. Getting employees to this point requires ongoing training.

 If you want employees to engage with training regularly, you need to make it convenient. That means seamlessly weaving it into their daily routine. One of the best ways to do this in a retail environment is to make training available on any device (like a PC, POS terminal, tablet, smartphones, etc.). Almost every retail employee has a smartphone in his or her pocket. Imagine how convenient it would be if they could do a few minutes of training (before, during, or after their shift), receive real-time updates, or access training documents and supporting material – all from their phone and without having to leave their post.

This kind of access to training and information allows employees to develop the right behaviors and habits by building knowledge and confidence, which can help them stay safe.


What retailers are doing it right?

Carol Leaman: Both Bloomingdale’s and At Home Décor are fantastic examples of retailers that are “doing it right” when it comes to preparing their employees to deal with violence and active shooter events. At Home leadership shared an anecdote with us about a robbery that took place in a store. After the event, one of the operations leads received an email from the store director letting her know that, thanks to the training received via the Axonify Microlearning Platform, every employee who was in the store during the robbery knew exactly how to respond. Employees were able to prevent what could have been a very serious and violent event from escalating – all because they knew what to do in that high-stakes moment.

Bloomingdale’s has spoken quite frequently about how they use our platform to continuously train their employees, including their loss prevention detectives on apprehension and de-escalation techniques and their store associates for active shooter events.  In fact, shortly after the serious terrorist threats in New York City near their flagship location, Bloomingdale’s updated their active shooter training within 24 hours. Active shooter training was given highest priority – which meant, regardless of the training topic individual employees were previously scheduled to receive, everyone would receive active shooter training first.

Bloomingdale’s also uses the platform as a primary channel for communicating with employees. A large percentage of their employees (like those in warehousing, stocking, cleaning and maintenance) don’t have corporate emails or company phones. But they do have access to training via departmental PCs, POS terminals or even their own smartphones. Bloomingdale’s was able to prepare employees on duty near Times Square by delivering active shooter refresher training as well as critical advice on how to respond if needed. This helped to calm employees’ fears and empowered them to understand what to do.