Aisha Okasha knew it would happen to her. She had prepared for this. She had read instructions on what to do. So, when three armed and masked robbers burst into her Calgary pharmacy, she was ready.
The robbery happened just before closing. The robbers came in through the two sets of doors and locked the interior door. One grabbed a customer and Aisha’s assistant; the other two headed to the pharmacy counter. One of the robbers ripped down the plastic barrier and jumped over the counter.
Aisha tried to calm everyone down and let the robbers know that she would cooperate.
“I started to talk to my assistant and the patient,” recalled Aisha. “I said, ‘We are all going to be fine. We are going to give them anything they want, and they will leave. We’ll be safe.’ Then, I turned back to the guy, and I said, ‘What do you want?'”
The robbers were after narcotics and codeine, which Aisha pointed out to them. After collecting those, the robbers demanded a street drug Aisha had never heard of. Unable to provide it, Aisha tried to diffuse the situation by telling the robber to take anything that he wanted. With his arm, he swept everything he could reach into a bag. Then they left. It lasted about three minutes.
The police responded and started their investigation. Aisha acted on all the police security recommendations by installing a time-delayed safe, upgrading her security video cameras, and installing a panic alarm. Aisha ordered the time-delayed safe the next day and posted signs outside and inside the pharmacy. While the presence of the safe initially made her team feel more secure, they still suffer from anxiety, worried that they will be robbed again. Aisha has started locking the pharmacy’s inside door later in the day, and only admitting those they recognize.
“A robbery drains and traumatizes anyone both physically and mentally,” explained Kamal. “Even though the staff member was strong during the incident, it has resulted in scars that will take lot of effort to repair.”
After the incident, Kamal’s pharmacy also installed a time-delayed safe. Signs about the new safe were placed at the front of the store and at the prescription drop-off area inside. He believes time-delayed safes are only part of the solution to make a practice site completely safe. His pharmacy also hired a security guard.
After installing the time-delayed safe, Kamal admits he was initially concerned about the safety of his pharmacy team due to armed robbers potentially waiting around for the safe to open.
“As I learned more about results of time-delayed safe installation in the United States and in British Columbia, I have gained confidence that they will deter the robbery because the culprits do not like to wait around and have their mission to rob a pharmacy delayed,” said Kamal.
Police evidence indicates that time-delayed safes, when used in concert with other security measures, are an effective deterrent to pharmacy robberies. Based on recommendations from police, ACP Council approved amendments to the Standards for the Operation of Licensed Pharmacies (SOLP) making time-delayed safes mandatory in all community pharmacies. Existing pharmacies must meet the amended standards by July 1, 2022.
Both Aisha and Kamal are part of social media groups, helping to stay informed about any robberies or break-ins that are happening in their area and across the province.
“We need to be on the lookout for weaknesses that could make the pharmacy vulnerable to a break-in or put our team’s safety at risk,” said Kamal. “If we spot any, we need to fix it right away.”
ACP’s Pharmacy robberies and burglaries webpage provides information to help pharmacies implement safety measures to keep team members and patients safe. You will also find advice on what to do if your pharmacy is being robbed and how to report a robbery to ACP.