Fast-food restaurants can take measures to help prevent incidents like the shootings at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine, according to security experts.
Whether through high-tech security systems or increased personnel, the cost of protecting fast-food restaurants from dangerous intruders can run as low as $800 a year or as high as $11,000.
Police and Brown's employees said the restaurant's back door frequently was left unlocked and the store's safe sat in view of customers near the back door.
Frank Portillo, an executive with Brown's, said he did not know whether employees at the Palatine store left the back door unlocked. He did say that the Palatine store, like other company restaurants, was equipped with an alarm system but did not have video cameras or a security guard.
Most other fast-food stores have similar security measures and rely on common sense safety procedures like keeping doors locked, always working in groups and refusing entrance to strangers.
"The sad thing about that incident in Palatine is it sounds like there are some things that could have been done to prevent this from happening," said Marianne Gajewski of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. "Like keeping the doors locked, or not letting off-duty employees in at closing time.
"Fast-food restaurants are such a target, the employees are so vulnerable. Very often, the employees are teenagers and robbers see them as vulnerable targets."
Portillo said there is a need for some security at stores and restaurants, but they also have to remain accessible to the public.
"You can't put a fence around the retail business," he said.
Representatives of other major fast-food operators also said they don't see a need for more intense safety measures, because their training programs are so focused on safety procedures.
"Anything like (video cameras) would be a gross overreaction to the problem of safety," said Mark L. Stine, vice president of corporate communications for Arby's Inc. in Miami Beach.
"We have a complete training program which everyone is required to attend," Stine said. "And it's very important for managers and owners to be cognizant of the safety procedures.
"This says a lot more about social issues than it does about the safety of working in fast-food restaurants. It really has nothing to do with, `If you follow `X' procedures, you will avoid it.' "
Spokesmen for Southland Corp., which oversees the nation's 7-Eleven convenience food stores, said that its stores generally rely less on security systems and more on deterrents like lighting, brightness and placing employees in work stations that are easily visible from outside the store.
By contrast, most Domino's pizza stores are outfitted with door buzzers that bar anyone from entering the store without first gaining permission from on-duty employees, said Tom Minick, vice president of safety and security for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino's Pizza Inc.
"Any business is vulnerable to this kind of attack, really" Minick said. "We just try to keep in mind what's reasonable, and we regularly have an update on our safety procedures, what we call `hardening the target.' "
Domino's stores in high-crime areas have bullet-proof windows, and most stores no longer have back doors, Minick said. Some also are outfitted with video cameras, and Minick said owners are encouraged to advertise they have little money in the store.
Robert Murray, manager of an Arlington Heights Burger King, said that in addition to self-locking doors, he also has installed deadbolts on his store's back doors. And since the Friday night shootings, employees have been ordered not to take garbage out at the end of the workday.
But Arcaro recommended much more elaborate security measures that would allow employees to call for help after intruders have entered the store, and even while robberies are taking place.
"Why not have an automatic alarm?" he said. "If no one had locked up and turned the alarm on by 11 p.m., an alarm company downtown would have tried calling, and if there was no answer, it would have called the police."
Gilbert McCoy, president of MSI Security Inc. in Chicago, recommended that stores install "panic buttons," which when pressed would set off an alarm or alert police and alarm companies, or a closed-circuit television system, possibly hooked up to a time-lapse VCR machine, that would allow a manager to view the restaurant lobby from a closed office.
Any of the above measures would cost, at most, $3,000, Arcaro said.
"That wouldn't be one day's profit for some of these stores," Arcaro said. "But look at the liability if you don't put one in."
McCoy said many Chicago fast-food owners already have started to install high-tech security measures, or at least hire security guards. The problem with suburban fast food restaurants is that most owners and managers feel too safe-a myth the Palatine killings will soon override, McCoy said.
"I'd venture to say that this particular community will have security systems in place after this is all over," he said. "Now, everybody realizes this can happen anywhere."