Agencies provide fundamental intelligence/training: Federal agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the FBI have a good understanding of terrorism, potential suspects and weapons commonly used to perpetrate attacks. If retailers know what to look for, they are much more likely to be able to spot suspicious behaviors, purchases and individuals when they see them. Information provided by federal agencies is critical to arming retailers with the information they need to identify potentially problematic individuals, purchases and behaviors.
Establish an information clearing-house: Having a single, central location where information is collected, reviewed and processed is critical to enabling federal agencies to analyze data to see what is most important. It also gives retailers clear guidance on how to and to whom to report suspicious information, findings, etc. In many cases, retailers — even if they see something suspicious — do not know what to do with it. Often they will report this information to local law enforcement and it can fall between the cracks. A central clearinghouse for information makes it much more likely that relevant information is discovered.
Work with local law enforcement: Another key to success is for retailers to partner with local law enforcement. This means forming relationships with local police and emergency responders. By getting to know these players, retailers can learn a great deal and also share fundamental concerns and information with those who will be responding in case of an incident. This could mean having lunch to get to know the players, conducting drills to practice response, or establishing meetings to discuss best practices and how to respond. When an emergency does occur, retailers have a much better idea about how the response process works, what resources they can expect or not expect, depending on the situation.
Protect retailers: The retail community is often hesitant to provide information to law enforcement for fear of lawsuits. If they suspect something suspicious and it turns out to be nothing, the retailer risks lawsuits from that customer that they conducted racial profiling, defamation or a number of other charges. This makes retailers think hard before reporting that someone came in three times in a row with odd photos of the back of important landmarks or federal buildings.; or, if they purchase substances which, combined, could be used to make an improvised explosive device (IED).
Federal agencies can provide protection by passing clear and singularly purposed laws requiring retailers to report certain kinds of information, or providing an umbrella of protection for reporting a clearly defined case of suspicious behavior. For example, under the Child Pornography laws, any photos of nude children are to be immediately reported. It is not up to the retailer, but in the hands of law enforcement officials to determine if it is a case of a doting mother making cute photos of her baby in the tub or a child predator creating sexually explicit materials. The retailer is protected and therefore far more likely to report suspicious behavior that leads to a break in the case.
Reaping the Benefits
Obviously, any ability to help thwart a terrorist attack is to the benefit of everyone: the public and private sectors, the community and the United States. The most effective way to prevent those attacks is to increase awareness and communication. By increasing knowledge and general awareness, retailers can go a long way toward potentially foiling terrorist attacks before they occur.
Retailers have access to valuable information, as many terrorists can and will purchase the goods they will use to make IEDs from retail stores. Using their sophisticated point of sale (POS) systems, retailers can determine if suspicious combinations of items were purchased and/or particularly large quantities of items.
Likewise, if federal agents identify a terrorist suspect, retailers can use POS systems to provide information about how that individual’s purchases were funded, which can lead to information about accounts and finances used to fund terrorist activities.
With the combined high-level information on suspected plans for an event, and retailers’ ability to point to specific actions taken, we have a much better shot of identifying and stopping terrorist attacks. Avoiding a successful attack prevents the obvious: loss of life and property, irreparable emotional damage, devastating financial consequences and fear. The community as a whole benefits and terrorists sense that conducting the impromptu attack is not as easy as they had once believed. Retailers that engage will discourage terrorists.