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Shooting in Omaha (Part II)

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Picking up from where we left off yesterday.

Several media outlets are now trying to understand what malls can do to prevent this sort of thing from happening. WCPO couldn't get a single mall to comment with many saying, "it could give information to would-be shooters," but did talk to a local security expert. That person said what a lot of us know: Malls are soft targets.

"Malls by their very nature are wide open, they are inviting, easy access."

When you combine that with malls having thousands of people –all potential targets under one roof – and the fact that most security guards are unarmed, malls can be a downright dangerous place.

CBS2 in Boise got a similar response from its local mall. The station had done a report back in 2006, though, so had some information on the mall's considerable safety measures.

They declined to comment this time, but in March of 2006, we reported that they had just finished installing a 64 camera surveillance system. At that time a mall spokeswoman also said they rely on security officers to patrol the corridors and parking lots around the mall, in hopes of deterring any type of suspicious behavior. And it seems some shoppers have taken notice.

"They always seem to have security guards. I worked there for a while and they always were patrolling, lots of people around employed by them," said shopper Heidi Adams.

Retail Traffic has written extensively on mall security. Here is some of that coverage.

Update 1 (10:22 AM): There's a discussion going now over at Retail Wire (registration is required). A snap poll on the site shows that, so far, 86 percent (As of 12:30 the number was down to 56 percent) of respondents feel that malls can be doing more to provide security. The discussion does present both sides of the issue. Some feel that it's time to have metal detectors at malls (which does happen internationally) while others say there's really no way you can stop one individual bent on destruction.

Update 2 (10:25 AM): More reports are popping up with media outlets checking in with local malls to see if they're altering security. Here are reports from Fort Worth, Texas, Altamonte Springs, Fla., Houston and Des Moines, Iowa.

The last one includes a lengthy statement from Jordan Creek Town Center's general manager. That mall is also owned by General Growth.

"We have a strong security system in place here," said Randy Tennison, Jordan Creek's general manager. "We are constantly monitoring the inside and outside of the mall with security cameras."

Jordan Creek Town Center also has uniformed security officers visible in the mall at all times, he said.

Mall owners monitor only the parking lot and common areas of the mall, with stores taking responsibility for security inside their businesses, he said.

"If they need us to go in a store, we will," he said. "We want to make sure we continue to keep people as safe as possible."

Update 3 (10:36 AM): Von Maur has issued a new statement. The statement mentions that company president Jim von Maur has been in Omaha since yesterday and that the retailer has set up a venue for employees and families to gather, made grief counselors available and is already planning a memorial fund.

Update 4 (11:30 AM): A report in the South Bend Tribune includes a statement from Simon Property Group on the Omaha shooting.

"Today's horrific shootings in Omaha demonstrate yet again another random act of violence that happens far too often in communities around our country. These random acts of violence can strike anywhere - at schools, office buidlings, post offices -- anywhere law-abiding citizens are present in the process of living their lives.

"These random events are very challenging to prevent and difficult to deal with when they occur. Law enforcement and security prevention measures, no matter how good, cannot forestall a tragedy such as this from happening.

In the aftermath of an event like this afternoon's, one of the challenges is the response across the country from the institutions that receive the public every day. We do not disclose or discuss our enhanced security measures and/or procedures that we have in place or may institute at any given time, some of which are visible to the public, with others intentionally less noticeable. Disclosure of such information could potentially compromise our efforts to provide a safe and secure environment. We maintain a close working relationship with local law enforcement authorities to ensure that the appropriate security measures are being taken to help provide and maintain a safe environment at our mall.

Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy."

Also, Omaha City Weekly Media Watch has extensive analysis of the local media coverage.

Update 5 (12:20 PM): A story says the gunman may have hid the gun in his shirt.

Police Chief Thomas Warren said the young man ``appeared to be concealing something balled up in a hooded sweat shirt'' he was carrying, according to a surveillance video.

The weapon was reportedly an SKS semiautomatic Russian military rifle. (The police updated the report and now say the weapon was an AK-47.

The names of the victims have also now been released. Most were employees of the Von Maur store.

The customers killed included Gary Scharf, 48 of Lincoln and John McDonald, 65, of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The employees killed included Angie Schuster, 36, of Omaha; Maggie Webb, 24; Janet Jorgensen, 66 of Omaha; Diane Trent, 53 of Omaha; Gary Joy, 56 of Omaha; and Beverly Flynn, 47, of Omaha.

A story in the Cincinnati Enquirer quotes an expert saying there is little that malls can do to prevent these kinds of incidents.

He responded to several security topics involving malls:

-Metal detectors at entrances?

“I don't think we're at the point of where that's warranted,” he said. “You have belt buckles, change in pockets. Going through a checkpoint could be the kind of thing that drives people to QVC.”

-Revoking in-mall bans that prohibit weapons on customers?

“I spent good deal of time in Israel with the Israeli national police and just about everybody in Israel is armed,” Bridgeman said. “As a result, basic street crime is unheard of – there is a certain deterrent effect when you don't know if others around you are willing and able to defend themselves.”

-Should shoppers be more aware of threats?

“The malls are probably doing everything they can and should, given the level of threat and vulnerability,” Bridgeman said. “There's a certain amount of responsibility all of us have to be a little more alert, a little more “situationally” aware. You can have a Bambi in the headlight reaction to something like this – stand there as a shooting range target. Or you can school yourself to engage in duck and cover.”

Update 6 (12:51 PM): Police are saying the shooter first entered the property unarmed, cased the store, then went back to his car to retrieve the rifle.

Update 7 (8:31 PM): Here's a long list of local news outlets taking a look at local mall security in the wake of the Omaha shooting. In most cases, mall companies declined to talk about their security strategies. The most comprehensive is a story from CNN, Malls debate how to protect shoppers from violence, which includes quotes from ICSC.

"There is always a fear of copycats when something like this happens," said Malachy Kavanaugh, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. He said malls would be considering whether to close some entrances, bring in additional officers, and make security more visible.

...

The International Council of Shopping Centers has conducted focus groups with shoppers to test how they would react to even tighter "airport style" security measures, including bag checks and magnetometers.

According to Kavanaugh, the results have shown that shoppers would accept the measures only if the national threat advisory system was raised to its highest level, red. Such extreme measures are "in the mall industry playbook ... but it is something no one wants to do," said Kavanaugh.

While some mall owners have increased training of security personnel and have upgraded their emergency systems, many security experts believe more should and can be done. Those experts suggest it's a matter of money. They say until shoppers start staying away, mall owners will not make significant changes.

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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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