Supermarket shootings may not be commonplace, but their statistics are eye-popping nonetheless: more than 90 people were killed in and around stores between 2000 and 2021, according to FBI data.
Add in last month’s assault on a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo that resulted in 10 deaths, and the number of casualties surpasses 100.
“People don’t just wake up one day and decide that they’re going to commit mass murder – there is a pathway to violence,” said Bill Flynn as he preached preparedness and awareness on a webinar hosted last week by FMI: The Food Industry Association, a trade group that includes supermarkets as members.
Warning signs preceded the shooting in Buffalo and one at an elementary school in Texas 10 days later, Flynn said. But while “anomalous behavior” may be apparent in 92% of mass killings (defined by the FBI as involving three or more deaths), authorities are alerted just a quarter of the time.
“There’s no perfect security plan,” he said, but to mitigate the risk of an active-assailant incident, oddities must be recognized and acted on.
Flynn, formerly with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after retiring from the New York City Police Department, co-founded The Power of Preparedness, a Michigan-based training consultant on workplace violence.
Earlier this year, his company and FMI released an active-assailant guide for food retailers. In the webinar, Flynn stressed the importance of pre-incident training, or developing the “muscle memory” needed to respond quickly to armed assaults, since many last only a matter of minutes.
The FBI’s annual report on active-shooter incidents puts the number for 2021 at 61, up from 40 in 2020, including four at supermarkets. In all, 103 people were killed and 140 were wounded in incidents last year, the FBI says.
Right now, the U.S. is under a “heightened threat environment” from internal and external actors, according to Homeland Security’s National Terrorism Advisory System, due to the “convergence of violent extremist ideologies, false or misleading narratives, and conspiracy theories.”
Flynn also cited the additional stressor of COVID and its impact on health and the economy.
Supermarkets are recognized “soft” targets for such violence, along with schools, colleges, churches, synagogues and mosques.
Both Price Chopper/Market 32 and Hannaford have active-shooter plans, say representatives of the supermarket chains, the region’s largest.
Hannaford spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said that in addition to various safety tools, “huddles and conversations occur at a regular cadence to discuss topics like workplace violence and reinforce existing procedures for stores during major incidents.”
Mona Golub said Price Chopper/Market 32, which merged with Tops last year, utilizes “expert safety professionals” to continually review and refine safety plans.
“We advocate for preparedness – training to a playbook and reference guide from prevention through aftermath – and encourage heightened situational awareness on everyone’s part,” she said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].