February 12, 2014

The Culture of Storefront Crashes: A Commentary on Corporate Decisions to Install Barriers

Charles G. Oakes, PhD
GUEST POST — By Charles G. Oakes, PhD, Blue Ember Technologies, LLC

I first met Mark Wright by phone several years ago when he called our Sykesville, Md., office to learn more of our selection of bollards and their use as barriers to protect storefronts from errant drivers. In the months following, I’ve read with interest Mark’s and more recently Rob Reiter’s explanations for the crashes, such as head-on perpendicular parking, bumper curbs, older drivers inclined to pedal error, and, of course, the absence of bollards or other barriers.

This commentary looks at storefront crashes from the perspective of “culture,” referring to the numerous factors interacting over time to explain how and why crashes occur, who is involved at different points in the life cycle of a crash, and what the outcomes are. (The more technically-trained reader will recognize the similarity between culture and “systems analysis.”) Although there are many cultures, they have one thing in common: they change slowly, and for this reason an understanding of them has value for marketing plan development.

Heading the list of factors in our culture is a predisposing condition—the public image of the convenience store business and those who use it: Convenience stores attract and serve hurried and rushed customers who seek the most convenient place to park, enter quickly, choose one or two items, make payment, and rush back to their cars. The convenience store—its building and site design, and its stated purpose—is a magnet for people not given to thoughtful deliberate behavior. They’re impatient, rushed, inviting a crash to happen!

Convenience store industry leaders tell us the “convenience image” is about to change—to a more classy architectural design on the outside; to a more community-gathering environment catering to leisurely fellowship on the inside. Perhaps industry leaders will also include recommendations to add protective barriers and a more secure horizontal parking design. Architects for the industry I’ve interviewed have not confirmed this.

Then there are the after-accident personages and activities of the crash culture:
  • First responders and the instant press, with cameras rolling. Crashes are quickly reported on television, in the local press, and make their way to the Internet. Once on the Internet, a meme emerges. This is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas and symbols. This website testifies to the existence of the meme. The meme of storefront crashes demonstrates a mixed impact on other audiences within the culture.
  • Personal injury attorneys have their eyes on this relatively new cash cow. As case law based on premises negligence (e.g., defined as absence of bollards) increases in favor of awards to injured parties, at the expense of the defendants, the industry might seek remedies through more site protection.
  • Response of the insurance industry has been negligible, simply because premiums are spread over 150 thousand convenience stores, and the number of annual crashes is small by comparison.
  • Corporate owners of convenience stores sometimes deny even having a storefront crash problem. This is partially explained by the failure to see loss in terms of the security industry’s threat/vulnerability/risk paradigm (see below). Considering the relatively limited and infrequent loss to the typical four thousand square foot convenience store, corporate CFOs have merely made the decision to spread loss—risk—to their insurance carriers. Only when crashes threaten the corporate bottom line will site security be improved.
  • Communities have been slow to respond to the injury and death of innocent bystanders. This is reflected by the relative absence of municipal or state building codes requiring storefront barriers or horizontal parking designs. However, in the past few years city councils have begun to discuss the need for codes and at least one has instituted them (e.g., Amherst, N.Y. and Miami-Dade County, Fl.).
  • Guidelines, and standards for site security have been addressed by the American Society for Industrial Security (now called ASIS International), are in abundance, and leave no excuse for ignoring the propriety of a protective barrier separating store and parking area. There are many articles on site security design, and by implication storefront safety is not left out, nor is parking lot design. Where bollards are the main hindrance to errant traffic, The National Institute of Building Sciences’ premier Internet portal—the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG)—devotes two industry-standard articles on bollards. One focuses on traffic control barriers meant for a civil people intent on obeying community statutes (The Bollard: Non-Crash and Non-Attack-Resistant Models). The other is in the family of “force protection” (The Bollard: Crash- and Attack-Resistant Models). These are hefty bollards of varying resistance designed to prevent deliberate intrusive crashes or attacks by enemy forces or terrorist groups. Although we’re reluctant to put storefront intruders in the same group as terrorists, the results are the same.
  • ASTM, the organization devoted to establishing standards, has convened a panel to address the bollard needs of storefronts. But a standard already exists among market-ready bollards referenced in the WBDG article (see foregoing) featuring the force protection styles. These have been calibrated to stop vehicles of different weights, traveling at different speeds, and limiting the amount of penetration beyond the point of impact.
  • Corporate chief security officers’ response. The essential model for security decision-making requires answers to three questions: 1. Is there a threat? 2. How vulnerable am I to the threat? 3. What is my risk?
Within the storefront crash culture, corporate officers define vulnerability to one or more of: a court judgment based on premises liability, new ASIS or ASTM standard for bollards, increased insurance premiums or cancelled policies, or new municipal codes. Based on their collective impact within the cultural context, risk will be determined.

In conclusion, the storefront crash culture meme has gained legitimacy by virtue of this website and its statistical documentation of crashes and the various groups involved before and after the crashes. Cultures by their very nature change slowly. So patience, persistence, and knowledge of culture forces are needed to understand corporate decision-making and vendor company marketing and sales strategies.

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