Bentonville AR Aug 6 2019
Walmart Inc., WMT 0.02% whose stores act as a community gathering place in many U.S. towns, encounters thousands of crimes every year on its property, including thefts and homicides.
But the retail giant has never before experienced the kind of carnage left by a mass shooting at one of its stores in El Paso, Texas, this weekend.
After Saturday’s shooting in El Paso, where a lone gunman killed at least 20 people, some Walmart workers expressed concerns in online forums about their safety and how prepared their own store was for such an attack.
“I have to be cognizant of it. What’s my game plan if something does go down?” Alexis Rodriguez, a 21-year-old Walmart cashier at a store in Morristown, Tenn., said Sunday morning in an interview. There isn’t security at the entrance to his store, Mr. Rodriguez said. “It’s just an associate—they check receipts” to stop shoplifters, he said.
In high-crime areas, Walmart sometimes hires security contractors or off-duty police officers to patrol stores. It has its own shoplifting-prevention staff in all locations.
On social-media platforms, Walmart workers posted a picture of the company’s yellow spark logo overlaid with a black ribbon, and some workers said they plan to add a black band to their nametags to honor those killed. Many said they are afraid to head to work.
“No one expects to walk into a Supercenter and just get shot,” one Walmart worker in Missouri said in an interview on Sunday. “It does really worry me as a retail worker.”
The company’s response is being managed by Jason Jackson, the executive responsible for the retailer’s global crisis operations, according to a person familiar with the matter. A former Arkansas state trooper, Mr. Jackson has worked at Walmart since 2004, according to LinkedIn.
Walmart said no workers were killed and two were injured in the shooting. The company is the country’s largest private employer, with around 1.5 million U.S. staff.
The shooting on Saturday was the deadliest in the company’s history, a spokesman said
Locations that are designed to be open to the public, such as supermarkets and shopping centers, are vulnerable to such violent attacks, but many businesses are taking steps to limit the potential carnage by training staff how to protect themselves and speed police response times.
“Anyone can walk in anywhere and start shooting,” said Jesus M. Villahermosa Jr., who runs security consulting firm Crisis Reality Training Inc. and whose own son’s school in Tacoma, Wash., was the scene of a shooting.
Mr. Villahermosa said there is only so much retailers can do. Many are reluctant to add invasive security checks near building entrances because that could make it more difficult for shoppers to quickly enter and exit a store, one reason he said many retailers have focused on training in the event a shooting does happen. “If I can’t stop something from happening, then I better have a plan when it does,” he said.
In 2015, Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by revenue, introduced computer-based active-shooter training for store employees and, in 2017, started requiring workers to take the sessions once a quarter. Much of Walmart’s visible security efforts, including the staff who greet shoppers at store entrances, are focused on preventing shoplifting.
Behind the scenes Walmart uses an emergency operations center in its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters to coordinate with law enforcement to stop more serious incidents, including active shooters, a former executive familiar with the systems said. Staff includes former law enforcement, forensic experts and others.
In the wake of traumatic store events, Walmart provided counselors on location for workers and other services. The retailer turned off the music played in all stores Saturday, a Walmart spokesman said, but would resume playing music Sunday after reviewing the playlist for insensitive content.
The company is one of the nation’s biggest sellers of rifles and shotguns, though it stopped selling handguns in the 1990s and has put in new restrictions in recent years after several deadly mass shootings. It stopped selling assault-style weapons in 2015, such as the AK-style semiautomatic rifle that police say the El Paso gunman allegedly used.
In early 2018, Walmart took a public stance on gun violence. Days after a mass shooting left 17 dead at a high school in Parkland, Fla., the company said it would restrict gun and ammunition sales to those 21 and older.
Saturday’s rampage was the second shooting at a Walmart in a week. On Tuesday, in Mississippi, a Walmart employee who had been suspended last weekend shot and killed two other workers in the store, the Walmart spokesman said.
“I can’t believe I’m sending a note like this twice in one week,” Walmart Chief Executive Doug McMillon said in an Instagram post on Saturday evening. “My heart aches for the community in El Paso, especially the associates and customers at store 2201 and the families of the victims of today’s tragedy. I’m praying for them and I hope you will join me.”
Mr. Villahermosa, who spent three decades in law enforcement in the Tacoma area, said his own training company is busier than it has ever been because people tired of waiting for a “magic button” to solve the nation’s gun violence are now focused on how to survive a potential attack. “While we’re waiting for a solution, we better have a plan,” he said.
Wall Street Journal