Strategies for Safety and Preparedness with Brea Chapman

Welcome, Brea, and thank you for joining me today for this interview. As our Head of Operations Risk and Resilience, your firsthand experience during the recent incident at the Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s West is incredibly valuable. We aim to delve into your insights regarding the events of that day, highlighting what worked effectively, areas for improvement, and strategies for enhancing preparedness for similar occurrences.

  1. Can you briefly walk us through your experience of the incident that occurred at the Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s West last Friday?

“Early Friday afternoon, I attended the centre with my little boy and my mum. While shopping, my mum was with my son while he was playing in one area while I completed some errands. It was during this time that I was alerted to the fact that there was a man brandishing a knife in the centre. From that point on, there was a lot of confusion, panic and a lack of communication to both workers and the public. With the recent events in Bondi fresh in my mind, I managed to get the employees in the shop I was in to immediately lock the doors. I called my mum and told her to enter the closest shop and tell them to do the same. They agreed to close the doors after some initial back and forth but did not lock them.

I did see men, walking with the security guards and brandishing makeshift weapons. While I don’t advise this, I understand why some people took this approach.

There was what felt like a very long wait before we were given any official information which was simply that the situation was now under control. There was a collective sigh of relief however the atmosphere remained tense and uneasy, with people struggling to find out what exactly had happened and what the outcomes actually were. While it turned out to be somewhat of a non event with the perpetrator being stopped quickly by workers at nearby stores, the risk for another event like Bondi was very real.”

  1. As Head of Operations Risk and Resilience, what were your immediate observations during the incident?

“It was clear to me that the retail employees have very little understanding of what they should do during a situation like this, from locking down in the first place to when to reopen their stores. I will say that the staff where I was were wonderful and remained as calm as they could, however, I’m not sure it would have been the same had I not been there to guide them on what to do throughout the event. Many times they asked what they should do and whether the actions they were taking were correct, I did remind them that it was better to ensure our safety unnecessarily than to get stabbed unnecessarily. From what I witnessed, its evident that uncertainty was overwhelmingly the case throughout the centre.”

  1. Were there any challenges or gaps in the staff’s preparedness that became evident during the incident?

“Its hard to speak to any challenges that the employees of the centre itself may have faced, as I didn’t witness this first hand, however there are so many gaps that I experienced and many challenges for the retail staff. For me, the biggest gap was the lack of any communication until the threat was resolved. I understand that there is concern about creating mass panic which could worsen the outcome for an event such as this, however, there are always communication options for centres to use to contact their stores, such as bulk text messaging or colour coded announcements such as we hear in hospitals. This would allow stores to immediately go into lockdown. This would also tell customers that there is an issue which would allow them to either seek refuge in the stores they are in or exit the building to find safety.”

  1. What aspects of the current response mechanisms do you believe worked well during this event?

“The centre did eventually advise over the loud speakers that the incident was resolved and that business as usual could resume, this gave everyone a sense of safety and security, however a lot of people, myself included, decided that their shopping ventures for the day were done.

I also think that the tragic events in Bondi were still very fresh in the minds of most retail workers, meaning that those who became aware of the incident took it seriously and responded accordingly. I wonder if that will still be the case in 12 months time?”

  1. In your opinion, what role did effective communication play during the incident?

“I don’t think there was effective communication from the centre itself as discussed, this led to panic for those who knew there was an incident and allowed others who did not know to continue to put themselves in danger unknowingly.

I will say again though, that the employees where I was told their customers what was happening, and communicated well with their own management while seeking further information through many and diverse platforms. They should really be commended for their response, though it wasn’t necessarily company procedure.  There is an opportunity for the company to now document the ways this worked well to assist all of their stores if they face similar events.”

  1. Did the incident highlight any specific areas where additional training or resources may be beneficial for the staff?

“Unfortunately, in the current climate, employees need to be prepared to face these kinds of situations. While we can all agree that its not what we want, it is what we need. All retail stores need to implement policies and training for events such as this, just like they do for events such as fires or fire alarms. This then needs to be rehearsed frequently to ensure all staff know what to do and it becomes second nature when a real incident occurs.”

  1. How can the shopping centre ensure that all team members are adequately prepared and empowered to respond effectively in emergency situations?

“Much like the retail obligations, shopping centres now need to ensure that armed offender or violent persons responses are included in their emergency management plans and communication strategies. It is not acceptable following the events at Bondi for centres to be ill prepared for an event like this.

They also need to ensure that they are practiced at discharging their responses. Centre wide fire drills are conducted at regular intervals, maybe its time for centre wide armed offender drills as well.”

  1. What strategies do you suggest for maintaining a high level of operational resilience in dynamic and unpredictable environments like shopping centres?

“One of the best ways to maintain or mature resilience is to conduct after action reviews following incidents like the one I witnessed. At both a retail store level and the shopping centre level. Understanding and documenting what went well, along with what needs improvement and then ensuring it is included in a continuous improvement cycle is the best way to evolve and increase resilience.

I could go on forever about this as there is so much to consider however, I know we are supposed to be keeping this brief.

“Thank you, Brea, for sharing your insights and experiences regarding the incident at the Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s West. I appreciate your time. As incidents like these become more common, ensuring safety in a retail environment is vital to compete with online shopping. If you need assistance or guidance in developing or refining your emergency management plans, conducting AARs, or organising emergency exercises, reach out to our team at Resilient Services. We’re here to help enhance the resilience and safety of your retail operations.”

The full video of the interview between Brea and Sammy can be viewed here:

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