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Malls Still Not Using Planters

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On Monday night, a distraught teen attempted to commit suicide by driving his car into the Altamonte Mall in Florida. The car plowed through one of the mall's entrances, went down a concourse and then tumbled through an atrium down to the mall's lower level. You can see the surveillance tape here.

The incident illustrates that malls still aren't adopting some simple, low-cost, low-tech security measures, such as the ones described in Retail Traffic's September 2005 story about malls as terrorist targets.

According to one story:

The teenager bumped a planter out of the way to gain entry through some glass doors before traveling down a hallway and knocking over a couple of signs and a perfume kiosk before falling to the first floor.

Several mall employees quickly came to the aid of the driver. Mall officials said they're considering changing the planter structure in front of the entrance for security reasons.

That seems to indicate that the mall had a planter in front of its entrance, but not real security planters.

In our story, two security experts talked about placing large security planters or pylons in front of mall entrances--items that cost less than $400 each. These unobstrusive measures make it impossible for anyone to be able to drive a car into a mall interior and wreak havoc.

From our story:

West and Filyo walk the mall's exterior. They are troubled by what they don't see: any more surveillance cameras. They arrive at the outside entrance to the anchor department store. The all-glass facade creates a bright, warm selling space. Mannequins in designer outfits beckon to shoppers driving past on the entrance road, separated from the front doors only by a small plaza.

Very inviting — to consumers and terrorists. There are no concrete barriers, no big planters. “You could easily drive a minivan or pickup truck right through these doors into the middle of the store,” West says.

That creates the opportunity for a far deadlier attack. Terrorists driving a minivan packed with hundreds of pounds of C4 explosive could turn the store into rubble in seconds. Or, Filyo suggests, they might even drive through the pretty dresses and blouses and jewelry and perfume cases and into the mall beyond. “I bet you within five minutes we can pick out a route to drive through the store and into the main mall area,” he says.

It would take little money to make the drive-through scenario impossible And it would not require making the plaza look like a piece of the Berlin Wall. A giant planter, or a few statues (spaced close enough to prevent a car from passing through) would do the trick. “We call that aesthetically pleasing landscaping,” Filyo says. “Most people wouldn't realize what it's there for.” But it would take a terrorist out of a vehicle and force him to strap on a backpack. He could still wreak havoc, but not nearly on the same scale.

Luckily, the incident on Monday happened before the mall was open for business. So no one besides the driver was injured. But how many more close calls is it going to take before owners start taking steps to make their properties safer?

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Elaine Misonzhnik

Senior associate editor Elaine Misonzhnik has been writing for National Real Estate Investor since June 2006 and has covered commercial real estate for more than 12 years. She first became...
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