Foul play was not high on the list of probable causes of the explosion at the West Fertilizer facility, but the events of that tragic day have caused retail managers to take a new look at everything they do to protect and secure their property from all sorts of hazards, accidental and otherwise.
J. Billy Pirkle is one of agriculture’s most respected experts on safety and security at the retail level, and he has the daunting task of establishing and communicating best practices to the more than 750 locations that comprise the industry’s largest retailer, Crop Production Services (CPS).
In addition to his work at CPS, Pirkle has been highly active with the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) on issues of safety and security, and is always willing to share his thoughts and research on what works, and what doesn’t at the retail outlet.
His reaction to the West Fertilizer tragedy was not dissimilar to that of most retailers — shock and horror over the images and reports. In the days that followed he was driven by a desire to find out exactly what happened so he could work to ensure that something like this never occurs on his watch.
The exact cause of the explosion was still unknown when we caught up with Pirkle, but we asked him what steps retailers should take in its aftermath to improve safety and security at the retail outlet.
1. Use The SVA Tool. The Security Vulnerability Assessment tool was developed by Agribusiness Security Working Group, and is supported by the ARA, CropLife America and The Fertilizer Institute in cooperation with the Asmark Institute. “I would strongly recommend that retailers use this tool to assess vulnerability, and to work on continuous improvement,” says Pirkle. “It will also necessitate that you involve your local fire department and emergency responders in answering some of the questions, which is a good way to start a dialogue.”
2. Always Be Assessing. There should be some type of weekly or daily assessments or walk-arounds. “You should be looking at access points, looking for unwanted traffic across property and trying to minimize it,” says Pirkle.
3. Work To Limit Access. When it comes to keeping outsiders from coming into the retail facility, there’s not a clear-cut approach to what works. Perimeter fencing, cables, bollards and even ditches can serve to provide some level of deterrence. “The goal is to minimize unwanted traffic, and there are many approaches retailers are using,” says Pirkle.
4. Add A Security System. “We strongly encourage the use of a security system, and at CPS we require a security system in the office and the chemical shed,” notes Pirkle. “Systems used include everything from motion detectors to video cameras to alarm systems. A relatively new security system CPS is starting to use called Tattle Tale pairs up a laser motion detection system with a phone modem, and will automatically alert law enforcement if the laser is tripped.
5. Pull In Local Law Enforcement. “We will typically meet with the sheriff or local law enforcement and have a conversation with them about security,” says Pirkle. “Our facilities are not manned 24 hours a day. We’re here a lot, but much of the year we’re on site only 10 hours a day so our facility would not have personnel on site the other 14 hours. We encourage law enforcement to come by, drive through the property and turn around … we give them full permission to park on property and have as much presence as possible.”
6. Report Everything. “Back when I started, when we had small petty thefts like a stolen battery from a vehicle, or even graffiti, we may not have reported them,” he says. “These days we are encouraging outlets to report all trespassing to law enforcement no matter how minor. It helps law enforcement understand what is going on in the community.”
7. Control Inventory. Good inventory habits are essential to security. “We will go in and review high dollar and hazardous material every morning to ensure we did not have any theft overnight,” says Pirkle. “Inventory control and accountability are critical.”
8. Do Background Checks. “We’ve made security background checks on all new employees a requirement of our new employee hiring process,” says Pirkle. “It’s not as costly or labor intensive as it was even a decade ago. Today it is automated to the point where you can get a background check in 48 hours in some cases, especially if states have electronic databases.”
9. Limit Key Access. Limit access to keys, and minimize the risk of duplication of keys by marking them “do not duplicate.” “Locksmiths and key makers are supposed to abide by the ‘do not duplicate’ mark and refuse to make copies,” says Pirkle. “Also, take keys out of vehicles and lock them up at the end of shifts.”
10. Lock Down What You Can. In rural communities folks may not feel the need to lock-up the house, but the retail facility should be closed up tight every night. “Lock-up valves, pull down and lock windows and doors and secure all access points to discourage intrusion,” says Pirkle.