Shopping centers make security a priority

Publish Date: May 19, 2014

Topics: recon, security


Security has taken front-and-center stage in both the media and the shopping center world in the past few years as a litany of high-profile mall shootings has forced landlords and law enforcement agencies to reassess their readiness levels in preparation for the dreaded "worst-case scenario."

The Monday panel, “Shopping Center Security and the Changing Role in a Challenging World,” presented a sobering glimpse of the unpredictability of shooting events and stressed that training can — and has — saved lives. Security consultants for Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, N.J., talked about that mall's harrowing real-life experience last November when a gunman entered the center and started shooting, later taking his own life. No one else was injured. "It is essential that you get all stakeholders, be they managers, tenants, maintenance personnel or housekeeping, to understand that it can happen," said Shaul Maouda, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Professional Security Consultants. "And in this case it did. We strongly feel that preparation there saved injuries and saved lives."

Michael Lambos, vice president of national operations for Professional Security, said the mall's CCTV camera system was able to track the shooter from the instant he entered the mall. "We knew where he was going and what he was armed with," he said. The malls had previously conducted drills that showed stakeholders what roles they needed to play in the event of an incident, the evacuation routes for shoppers and personnel and how to shelter in place, he said.

Shootings are unpredictable because gunmen seldom have a typical profile that might tip off police beforehand, panelists said. Most are publicity seekers intent on going out in a blaze of glory, Lambos said. Terrorists involved in the mall shootings in Kenya that killed 67 two years ago had rented a storefront at the mall where they stockpiled weapons and ammunition over a lengthy period as they planned their assault on the facility and its shoppers, said moderator Joe Gehr, CEO of Technon, an Aventura, Fla.-based security consultancy.

Some malls fear that active shooter drills may carry negative connotations. To remedy that, Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, decided to stage an active shooter drill for its staff that involved the community as well as personnel from other area malls, in addition to the police and fire departments, said Kevin Cedik, director of security for the property. The mall invited the media and received favorable and even insightful coverage, he said. "Training is so crucial," Cedik said. It's also essential that mall managers establish a relationship with the local police to make sure they are familiar with the retail property in the event of an incident, said Clark Rice, director of Bellevue Square Managers of Bellevue, Wash. "It is critical that you are not introducing yourself to the police chief after it has become a crime scene," he said.

Rice said malls can get a better grasp of less-serious crimes occurring at their centers by collecting data on the location, time and gravity of incidents and analyzing it monthly to better allocate their resources. Bill Strother, director of corporate security for Houston-based Weingarten Realty, said a bored security guard can turn into a bad security guard. "You have to keep them engaged and motivated," he said. Bellevue gives its security guards three levels of tasks they can perform while on watch to address that issue, said Rice.

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