My first thought on August 3, 2019, when learning about the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, was if a good friend of mine who lives there was safe. Whenever one has a friend or family member who may have been hurt or killed in an incident, it changes how one perceives and reacts to the news of that incident. In addition to cognitively interpreting the facts of the incident, there is also a state of emotional angst that occurs. I soon found out my friend and his family were safe. While I felt sorrow for the victims and anger toward the shooter, I felt a tremendous sense of relief.
I watched media reports as the story unfolded. It became clear fairly soon that the number of individuals who had been killed and wounded were far beyond that of a domestic, robbery or other type of crime where individuals are killed and wounded. I also learned that there was one male shooter and that suspect had been taken in to custody by law enforcement after he left the store.
Since the Coward Killer (as I call him) was taken in to custody and the direct threat was over, my attention turned to the scores of victims of this shooting rampage. At the time, all news media sources reported that 20 people died and “dozens” of people were reported as having been injured. A few days later, two of the originally injured people died at a hospital. The toll to date is 22 people dead and 26 people injured.
According to the El Paso Times, the Coward Killer got lost ate a meal inside the Walmart store before returning to his vehicle, retrieving his rifle, and then opening fire outside the store, where he attacked a soccer team group conducting a fundraiser. An eyewitness reportedly saw him also firing on customers in the parking lot before he entered the building. The Walmart store manager observed the shooter attacking the soccer team group and then ran into the store to begin evacuating customers. The store manager reportedly issued a "Code Brown" after he witnessed the shooter firing a rifle in the parking lot. A "Code Brown" at Walmart reportedly signals to the employees that an active shooter event is in progress at the store. Were customers notified that there was an active shooter event taking place?
As this incident turned from an emergency response mode into a slow and methodical procedure of processing the crime scene, the magnitude of how this massacre could have occurred, was highly perplexing to me. As one who has been in law enforcement and professional private security for more than 44 years, and who has managed more than 1,000 workplace violence threats and personally responded to nearly 300 workplace violence threats, I could not help but wonder what went wrong. While it will be some time before an after-action report will be issued, some disturbing facts have come to light, which was there was inadequate security at the store.
Of course, the sole blame for this massacre rests solely with the Coward Killer who carried out this horrific act. While no employee at the Walmart store pulled the trigger on the rifle that killed and injured so many people, Walmart leadership should have known that type of event was a possibility and thus should have taken reasonable and prudent security measures to protect employees and customers.
No On-Site Tactical Response Capability
There is no evidence that there was an off-duty law enforcement officer or armed, professional security officer on duty at Walmart. There should have been on site, an expertly-trained, well-paid and professionally-certified security officer who possess law enforcement level training. Had this one security measure alone have been in place, there is a good chance this shooting would have been prevented. When the shooter entered the Walmart store to eat, he would have observed an armed presence and might have returned to his vehicle and left the Walmart parking lot instead of carrying out the massacre. On the off-chance that the presence of police presence did not dissuade the shooter, he/she would have had the opportunity to tactically engaged and stop the act. This may not have saved every life, but it would have greatly reduced the number of people who were killed and injured. Unless an organization has qualified armed personnel on-site before an incident occurs, law enforcement personnel often cannot physically arrive at the scene in enough time to make a measurable difference in the outcome.
Emergency Plans for Employee or Customer Safety and Security
The questions need to be asked: What occurred immediately after the Walmart store manager issued a "Code Brown"? What were Walmart employees instructed to do? What was their role, if any, to help ensure their safety and the safety of Walmart’s customers? What was the Walmart store manager’s duties once he announced a "Code Brown" alert? Were the stores security cameras being actively monitored? Did Walmart have any “command and control” mechanism or any plan to protect the life safety of its employees and shoppers?
Effective Emergency Response Protocols
From a professional security and risk management perspective, Walmart stores should have an adequate on-site security operation that would effectively facilitate day-to-day security, as well as to execute an increased state of security during emergency situations. Did this happen? In fact, there is demonstrative evidence this was not the case, as was evidenced by Walmart’s failure to have either an off-duty law enforcement officer or armed professional security officer on duty, as well as not having a rapid lock down plan. Walmart should have had emergency plans that included a lock down plan as well as the ability to quickly and effectively implement a lock down of the store. There should be a security control room located on-site, which the El Paso Walmart has. This security control room should be reinforced so the security control room personnel can devote their full attention to what is occurring outside and inside of the store at all times without having to worry about their own safety. Typically, one of the primary duties of the security control room personnel is to actively monitor store’s the CCTV cameras and stay in touch with the Walmart loss control personnel who are on the floor via two-way radio. Oddly enough, loss control personnel are the only “security” Walmart typically has, and the main objective of Walmart having loss control personnel is to catch shoplifters.
Walmart stores should be equipped with ballistic glass in the front of their stores as well as ballistic glass in their entry and exit doors. Their entry and exit doors should be able to be electronically locked, so that no one can get in or get out of the store when those doors are locked down in “emergency secure” mode. Had these controls been in place, and had the security control room personnel been paying attention, then someone in the security control room should have initiated a lock down of the store as soon as the shooter was observed walking toward the Walmart stores with a rifle. Had this occurred, the shooter would literally not have been able to enter the store. At that time when the shooter should have been observed shooting in the parking area, someone in the security control room should have called 9-1-1 to alert the police of the individual firing a rifle and providing a location and description of that person to the police. The security control room personnel should have sent a photo of the individual shooting a rifle to the police and stayed on the line with the 9-1-1 operator to provide real-time updates, so that responding police officers would have had timely and relevant (actionable) information as they arrived on scene. Knowing what the shooter looked like and where the shooter was located would have dramatically increased the safety of the police officers as they arrived on scene. None of this appears to have occurred and it would have likely saved lives had these systems and protocols been in place.
All organizations have a duty to provide reasonable and prudent security measures that will adequately protect their employees, customers and guests against harm. That duty is not able to be delegated and is a strict legal, moral and ethical obligation. Organizations need to start taking their security seriously. The safety and security of an organization’s employees, customers and guests is not the government’s job. Rather, it is the job of the organization’s leaders. Yet, whenever there is a major security failure like there was at Walmart, it is the men and women of public safety who have to clean up the mess.
Any large retail store like Walmart must change the way they do business and build in a culture of safety and security at all levels for their employees and for their customers. They cannot rely on “security by chance” to protect their employees and customers. Rather, all safety and security measures need to be calculated and “security by design” measures and controls should be implemented based on professional security and risk management procedures, processes, methods and principles. Unless and until organization’s leaders do so, massacres will likely continue at locations like Walmart because they are ultra-soft targets. Organizational leaders have to take immediate and meaningful action now before the next Coward Killer shows up at their doorstep.