THE MAGAZINE

How Should Malls Address Terrorism?

By Donald W. Story

Much attention has been paid since 9-11 to securing America's most prominent potential targets of terrorism, such as airports and government facilities. But as these primary targets are "hardened," terrorists may well turn their efforts to "soft" targets, such as shopping centers, which symbolize American opulence in the minds of many people throughout the world.

If even one American shopping center is targeted by a suicide bomber or other form of attack, all malls will be considered unsafe and will need to reassure the public. For that reason, it is imperative that every mall manager begin to think about how security should respond to an attack.

To help answer that question, I recently went to Israel to see some of the best protected shopping centers in the world. These businesses offer an effective model of how to protect malls in times of crisis. Of course, the threat for U.S. malls is currently remote. Therefore, the point is not to implement these measures now but rather to develop contingency plans so that security can be elevated quickly if the threat profile changes.

Concentric perimeters.
Israeli shopping centers are protected by a series of concentric perimeters. Motorized patrols surveil the exterior area, including parking lots, outside the mall property, supplemented by some foot patrols; and each vehicle that enters the property is subjected to a search.

At pedestrian entrances, each person is also subject to search by officers equipped with explosive detection technology. Bomb detection dogs are now being introduced as well.

The interior is patrolled by both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Surprisingly, the length of time required to enter the property or to gain access to the internal area of malls is minimal, and customers and employees do not find the few moments of extra time an inconvenience.

All security officers are armed. Given the compulsory military service in Israel, the populace is trained in weapons handling and military discipline. So recruitment of security officers with military training is simpler than it is in America. Additional security training is continually provided to the officers.

Plan elements.
The Israeli model, though not directly applicable, offers lessons for U.S. malls that want to prepare contingency plans. The following elements, drawn from the Israeli example, should be incorporated in any such plan--to be implemented only if events warrant a heightened security posture.

Increased staff coverage. A strong showing of visible security will be necessary. Malls should have plans for how this staffing will be achieved. Acquiring additional security officers and depending upon increased assistance from local police will probably be difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, one option would be to have provisions for how and under what circumstances security officers and other staff will be required to increase their shifts to 10 or 12 hours. For example, the plan should explain that if the plan is activated, days off may have to be cancelled. Management may also want to establish service-provider agreements for supplemental staffing in an emergency.

Shopping center access. The plan should also address the circumstances under which the mall would heighten access controls and how this would be achieved. For example, since many malls would not have sufficient staffing to monitor all entrances, the plan might call for closing some entrances if the threat level is elevated. In that way, access to the property would be limited to as few entrances as possible and such access could be monitored (controlled) by security officers. Clearly, this step would be an inconvenience to customers and would only be implemented if necessary.

Similarly, the plan should consider under what threat conditions the use of explosives scanning technology and/or bomb dogs would be warranted. The plan should also address how this equipment could be acquired in an emergency.

Reassignment of tasks. During an emergency, officers will be pulled away from routine duties to strengthen access controls and surveillance. The contingency plan should address whether these routine security tasks will be curtailed or completed by nonsecurity staff during this time. Operations, housekeeping, or management staffs should be considered as alternates for minor security tasks.

Deliveries and contractors. Deliveries should be restricted to time periods when personnel are available to verify documentation. Contractors and their material should be similarly checked. The plan should address how these protocols will be implemented.

Specific training. Officers will require an additional level of training on how to recognize certain behavior profiles and intercept potential terrorists. Instruction in how to make observations and assessments of behavior, without being accused of inappropriate profiling, will be required. Malls should consider putting some staff through these training programs well in advance of plan activation.

Preventive measures.
While most measures need not be implemented until the threat profile warrants such action, some properties have already taken more moderate steps to tighten up mall security. More stringent fire lane parking enforcement, guarded access to roof hatches, visible waste containers, and closer monitoring of deliveries and contractors are some of the cost-effective measures currently being adopted.

Many additional individualized mall strategies can be devised. What matters most is not the specific steps but the overall commitment to take reasonable preventive steps today and to have plans in place to handle the worst-case scenario should an attack occur.


Donald W. Story is a former police chief, college instructor of criminal justice, and director of corporate security for two major shopping center developers. He advises malls on how to upgrade security and serves as an expert witness in security liability cases.

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