Open Offices and Holidays: A Parade of Risks

‘Tis the season for many businesses to stay open through the holidays and for some to take part in the tradition of partying or watching a parade warmly from behind office windows. That’s why businesses located near public events should inform employees of how their offices will be impacted during the holiday season.

Parades pose various operational risks to property owners and businesses, both inside and outside their buildings. On Nov. 23 alone, at least five large parades will inch their way through the streets of major cities like Chicago and Detroit. Macy’s anticipates 3.5 million spectators to pack New York City’s streets for its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. That means 2.5 miles of barriers and street closings in the “frozen zone” between 77th and 34th streets, and businesses in the country’s most congested city should prepare for some disruption.

Theresa Morzello, the managing director for asset services for CBRE in New York City, has advised many companies who stay open or host events coinciding with parades and holidays. She said the first steps in mitigating disruption involve communicating with the event organizers and disseminating that information to tenants.

“This way they’ll know, for example, if one of their building’s entrances will close because of a parade,” Morzello said. “We also make sure that employees and their guests know the protocol for providing documentation for entering and exiting. That is usually handled in advance and lists are provided to security. And there are protocols for what to do when someone doesn’t have it. These are all things we do on a daily basis, but amped up a few levels because of the holidays.”

Morzello also said that property managers often try to utilize vacant office space because there is less potential for damage or disruption there. Wherever the gathering takes place within CBRE’s properties, she advises tenants to consider the following:

Hire elevator operators to help keep guests on their assigned floors.

  • Obtain a temporary alcohol license, if necessary.
  • Confirm that outside caterers are insured.
  • Address if the windows are operable and ensure they are kept closed.

But parades and crowded events are not relegated to big cities, as many major retailers take part in the festivities. Acadia Realty Trust manages hundreds of retail and office properties in the U.S. and Kellie Shapiro, vice president of risk management said clearing a physical path is the first step to mitigate safety risks during a high-traffic season.

“We issue a moratorium on any work during the holiday season. We email tenants reminding them to get everything done before Thanksgiving,” she said. “From then until New Year’s is not the time to have scaffolding and things like that.” She added that capital improvements are suspended across most of Acadia’s portfolio to avoid interfering with tenants’ operations during their busiest season.

Businesses can easily lose track of who’s coming and going during the busy holiday season, Shapiro noted. Acadia’s focus is on knowing its vendors, and she reminds tenants to be diligent about vetting third-party contractors for the sake of safety and reputation.

“You can protect your company by being diligent about who you bring in to your site. You should know who your contractors are – you don’t want to let some criminal just walk right in because you handed over the keys to your building,” Shapiro said. “You would hope tenants, if they saw something suspicious, would pick up the phone. We’d all like to secure something 100% but you have to know your limitations.”

Public safety in the U.S. has been headline news, considering the recent high-profile violence involving weapons and automobiles in just the last two months in Las Vegas, California, Texas and Manhattan. In a recent interview with Risk Management Monitor, Rezwan Ali, risk solutions group head of security at Falck Global Assistance, discussed how businesses and employees should review their emergency plans during high-volume times. He maintained, however, that the odds of being impacted by a terror attack is very low.

“When participating in larger events, such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, people tend to focus only on the parade and their phones taking pictures and posting on social media,” said Ali. “However, it is important to stay alert and aware of one’s surroundings. Not just to be prepared for terror, but also to prevent being a victim of crime. It is recommended to download apps either provided by the authorities or by media outlets that generate alerts allowing you to get direct notifications should anything happen in your vicinity.”

How Retailers Can Better Mitigate Black Friday Risks

Black Friday Shopping Risks

With the biggest shopping events of the season, retailers face tremendous amounts of both risk and reward as sales and door-busters draw in eager consumers all week. In 2013, Thanksgiving deals brought in 92.1 million shoppers to spend over $50 billion in a single weekend, the National Retail Federation reports.

The National Retail Federation issued crowd management guidelines for retailers and mall management officials to use when planning special events, including Black Friday, product launches, celebrity appearances and promotional sales. General considerations to plan for and curtail any crowd control issues include:

  • Remind and retrain all employees about your store’s emergency protocols to address potential risks facing employees and customers.
  • Dedicate knowledgeable employees to communicate and manage crowds, from arrival to departure, and resolve any potential conflicts that may arise.
  • Strategically place sale items throughout the store to help disperse crowds and manage traffic flow.
  • Request the assistance of local law enforcement if large crowds are expected and arrange for additional security services.
  • Educate employees about relevant policies and procedures and advise them who to contact in the event of a situation.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration also issued a public letter to retailers urging companies to plan ahead for better in-store safety for both employees and customers. According to OSHA’s “Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers,” crowd management plans should, at least, include:

  • On-site trained security personnel or police officers
  • Barricades or rope lines for pedestrians that do not start right in front of the store’s entrance
  • The implementation of crowd control measures well in advance of customers arriving at the store
  • Emergency procedures in place to address potential dangers
  • Methods for explaining approach and entrance procedures to the arriving public
  • Not allowing additional customers to enter the store when it reaches its maximum occupancy level
  • Not blocking or locking exit doors

Brick-and-mortar retailers are not the only ones at greater risk. Companies that operate call centers must also be prepared for a drastic increase in customer inquiries and purchases. According to communications intelligence firm Cognia, 69% of U.S. contact centers carry out credit card payments over the phone and 84% record calls, making their archives particularly vulnerable to potential breaches.

“The first thing to highlight with respect to call center compliance at peak times is that this pressure is unlikely to create new issues, but will amplify existing ones. Attackers / threat actors (the bad guys) will also be aware that this is the time at which procedures are most likely to slip, and social engineering vulnerabilities that have previously been identified can be exploited,” said Tom Evans, Cognia’s chief security officer.

“There are challenges but, from a risk perspective, there is also an opportunity to fine-tune the risk management system under pressure. At these peak times, issues will be visible that would go undetected during business as usual operation,” Evans noted. “There is an opportunity to be proactive and to use the pressure around these peak sales times to identify bad practice that, during less pressured periods, is probably limited to one or two individuals or occasional occurrences, and therefore very hard to spot. Even the most dependable employee under the pressure on big queues may resort to a shortcut to get the job done. Identifying these means that controls can be put in place to prevent them being used again, and therefore the overall risk management position improved.”

To improve security and PCI compliance, Evans recommends that companies focus on areas that have lower security controls overall. For example, seasonal employees, over-spill call centers, and work at home agents may all be components of a contingency plan for peak periods that introduce vulnerability that can be mitigated.

Gearing Up for Black Friday on Thursday

Remember when Thanksgiving was one of the few days of the year where every store was closed and Black Friday mayhem was reserved for, well, Friday? Well, not anymore. These days more and more stores are starting their Black Friday sales on Thursday – sometimes as early as 6 a.m. At least it’s good to know we have options when we get tired of turkey and/or family.

If you are one of the 140 million people that the National Retail Federation expects to shop this weekend (33 million of whom are planning to shop on Thanksgiving Day), remember to have fun and, most importantly, stay safe. To that end, insurer Chubb has provided the following infographics for both retailers and consumers who want to stay out of harm’s way and make sure their experience is a success.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Stay Safe From Turkey Frier Fires

According to State Farm, there are more cooking fires in the United States on Thanksgiving than on any other day. Or, as William Shatner puts it: “Fire, metal, oil and turkey are glorious when in harmony … but their power is unrelenting in careless hands.”

State Farm’s turkey day safety campaign is both entertaining and informative, which should help get the message out. Hopefully it reaches the following, top ten states for fire insurance claims on Thanksgiving over the past five years.

So, listen to the advice of Shatner in the video below. Or be prepared to deal with the fallout of a burst of flames like those in the video below that.