Black Friday 2014 – has a specialist requirement arisen?

Going back a relatively short time ago, the concept of “Black Friday” in the UK was unknown to many of us in its current guise. Indeed, to a security professional, a paramedic, or a police officer, Black Friday often referred to something completely different – the day that most companies break up and cities and towns across the country become full of irregular drinkers, taking their consumption to excess and stretching the emergency infrastructure to its limits.

While for the most part in the UK we’ve been blissfully unaware of what Black Friday is, America have experienced the phenomenon since at least 1951, where Snopes attributes the name to the fact factories were in darkness due to the number of employees taking unauthorised absence in order to get four uninterrupted days off, and also take advantage of the Thanksgiving sales which were on in each city or town. In American pop-culture, Black Friday is often depicted negatively, whether through TV shows such as “Extreme Couponing”, or through the metaphor used by Green Day, suggesting the Thanksgiving day parade by New York department store Macy’s is the indicator that the “Night of the living dead is on it’s way”, and going on to describe the Black Friday sales as the “midnight special at the mausoleum”. A quick search on the internet is all it takes to show the police barriers and crowd surges which are reasonably common across America at key department stores and electrical retailers.

Fast forward to 2013, and for the first time the UK public are becoming aware of “Black Friday” in its American form, with American retail giants attempting to generate a flash sale environment in their UK subsidiaries.  Whether online on a well-known book trader, or on foot in the local American-owned supermarket, the ground was being laid to create a sensation which it feels will now be carved in history as a date for the diary.

It’s now 2014, and yet again, Black Friday has been bestowed upon us. For the day this year, I personally had to travel across the country to collect one of our dog vans from its old home, which gave me a rare opportunity to travel through county lines, listening to various radio stations along the way and hearing the reports of police being called to many supermarkets and out of town shopping centres through each region to deal with disorder. I witnessed disgraceful roadside parking as I drove through Bicester, with cars parked on the verge by the outlet centre in such a way that every vehicle on the A41 had to slow down and drive with extra care. I heard from friends and colleagues who work in shopping centre security how many stores had employed door supervisors, or bolstered security with an extra man or two, only to be rushed and be dealing with first aid incidents for most of the day.  The combined effects of me on this year’s Black Friday have led to this blog, and also to me having a long hard look at our offering, and see where we can help clients in the future.

There are very few security companies out there that have the same experience, and many customers are led to believe that the only thing that separates us is the price of our service. There are even fewer security companies that are happy to make the distinction between “bouncers” and crowd safety professionals openly and publicly, and say that it is very rare to find a universal security operative who can truly give each varying role what it needs. For many years, I’ve personally worked as a subcontractor to many of the largest companies out there. I’ve stood in pits for some of the biggest bands in the world for Showsec, managed teams for elements of the Olympic torch relay for Response Security Solutions, and provided high level retail cover to stores across the country, including Wales’ most expensive store. The unique blend of experience, complete with the skills I’ve learned along the way give me a privileged position when it comes to Black Friday – I see both angles, and as such I see the need for any security management plan implemented to satisfy both the trading and security needs of the retailer, but also the requirements for a safe crowd environment too.  Placement of sales within store needs to be more scientifically managed, with the crowd safety taken in to account as well as the need to sell. Only last week, a senior colleague pointed out to me that we effectively managed crowds of circa ten thousand patrons for a UK supermarket chain when it came to a celebrity meet and greet programme a couple of years ago – He’s right - of course he is, he’s Andy Hollinson; but the situation is different when it comes to the whole store being the patron’s target. Control becomes harder when the free flow of customers within the store is required, and a perfect opportunity for the crowd flow experts and modelling professionals to bring the science to the solution.

Whether you’re pro-capitalist and a fan of the economic system or not, one thing is certain : Black Friday is here to stay – and with that comes a new threat, and new responsibility on the part of the retailers, and the Health and Safety Executive.  It is clear that Black Friday needs a unique and holistic approach to security which must include a crowd safety plan; professionals need to be used who understand the needs of the retailer, and the needs of the crowd, and only by working together will the situation become safe. So many times in UK legislation I’ve seen the government give people the opportunity to get things right from within, only to be slated further down the line when self-regulation has failed and they have no choice but to step in – let’s not let our latest tradition be another area which they are forced to legislate.

About the author

Paul Green is currently Operations Manager for K9 Protection Ltd, and also behind the NeverAlone suite of security software applications. Paul's background in the security trade goes back to the late 1990s and has primarily been concerned with crowd safety functions and retail security management.

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