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Deterring Terrorists, Not Shoppers

Two studies suggest that malls could decrease vulnerability by implementing relatively inexpensive security measures.

Five people were shot dead at the Trolley Square shopping center in Salt Lake City on Valentine’s Day by an 18-year-old who had, according to CBS News, “a bandolier of shotgun shells under his trenchcoat.” Had he not been stopped by an off-duty policeman, it could have been much worse.

While the shooter is not reported to have had any terrorist ties or motivation, the episode raises again the question of what malls should or can do to provide security against acts of terrorism or other violent attacks.

A recent RAND Corporation report concludes that if malls implement six to ten security measures rated as highly effective, they could cut their vulnerability to attack substantially. But even that focused approach could cost a mall from $500,000 to $2 million.

Among the top recommendations, however, are some inexpensive options, such as encouragement of suspicious package reporting and daily searches of kiosks and pushcarts.

To arrive at that conclusion, RAND researched 39 possible security measures and how cost-effectively they might—in theory—reduce the risk of 17 terrorist attack scenarios at three unnamed malls. (They were not looking at actual implementation.)

Researchers drew up their list of 17 possible terrorist scenarios by looking at the types of shopping center attacks that were carried out around the world between 1998 and 2005. By far the greatest historical risk to shopping centers is bombs placed by outsiders, followed by pedestrian suicide bombs, then vehicle bombs, set off either in parking garages or outside buildings. Ninety percent of all recorded attacks employed explosives, and 71 percent did not require the attacker to commit suicide.

The National Institute of Justice has also issued a mall study, based on surveys of 33 state homeland security advisors and 120 indoor-mall security managers. Eight U.S. sites and two Israeli malls were visited.

This study found that while most malls had created emergency management plans, they often lacked input from police and first responders.

In many states, homeland security offices had not placed a priority on working with large malls to improve security. The only sites to increase security spending beyond the rate of inflation had received money through the federal Buffer Zone Protection Program (BZPP).

Of the eight U.S. malls visited, only five had conducted risk assessments, all instigated by BZPP or the state homeland security advisor.

Among measures that malls had implemented, the most common were CCTV surveillance (50 percent of malls surveyed), telling staff to watch for suspicious dress and behavior (50 percent), and vehicle barriers (30 percent).

Of U.S. malls visited, most had policies to monitor and restrict store deliveries, and all had some form of antiterrorism training for security personnel, but the programs varied widely, and about two-thirds of security directors said they believed their training was inadequate.

Nearly three-quarters of the security directors reported that they had developed written protocols for security staff to follow in the event of a disaster. Site visits, however, revealed that none of the U.S. malls had a plan for coordinating with first responders, and only two had conducted drills. In addition, there was a lack of coordination between mall security and counterparts at anchor stores.

Many malls appeared to have good relationships with local law enforcement, and just over a third of them said those relationships had improved since 9-ll. But, again, there was little cooperation in rehearsing a response to emergencies.

The data for the study was collected by the Police Foundation, the Vera Institute of Justice, ASIS International Foundation, and the Midwest Research Institute.

Click here to read the Rand report.