As the U.S. approaches the four-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, terrorism remains a persistent threat. While it's clear that shopping malls are a tempting target for terrorist attacks, it's not clear to what degree the mall industry has created a system of defenses (see cover story, p. 91). What is clear, according to a recent online poll of Retail Traffic readers, is that retail real estate professionals think more should be done.
Only 17.8 percent of Retail Traffic readers who responded to the online poll think the industry has gone far enough to prevent a terrorist attack. A little more than 40 percent felt the industry has not gone far enough to prevent an attack and 41.5 percent had no opinion on the matter.
From the sample, it seems that the threat of terrorism does not loom large in the industry, even though the Department of Homeland Security lists malls as likely “soft” targets. Most respondents said that terrorism was either only a moderate concern or no concern for them. Only 9.3 percent of readers said they were “very concerned” about a terrorist attack on a mall. The majority, 64.4 percent, said they were only moderately concerned. Meanwhile, 24.6 percent said they weren't concerned at all.
“We are doing fine,” one reader responded. “We do not need additional security.” Another added: “It's the government's responsibility. Nothing the retail industry does will make any difference to either a terrorist or a [potential] target.”
Meanwhile, 40.7 percent of respondents said that they haven't raised their security spending at all since Sept. 11. Many (37.3 percent) identified the increased costs of security as the biggest barrier to introducing greater mall security. Others included “Fear of scaring off customers” (16.1 percent) and “Lack of expertise among property/company managers” (12.7 percent). In addition, 21.2 percent had no answer to the question.
“Malls are an open environment,” one reader wrote. “We have an inability to restrict access to public areas.”
The most common tactics that owners and retailers have adopted since September 11 include installing more cameras and surveillance equipment (37.1 percent), improved coordination with first responders (34.3 percent), restricted access to service areas (32.9 percent), provided additional training for security personnel (32.9 percent), and hired additional security personnel (30.0 percent).
Terrorism insurance is another hot-button issue for the industry. Many owners say they are concerned with the Congressional delays in renewing the federal backstop, which expires at yearend (see related story, p. 107). In our survey, 20.3 percent said the backstop was “essential” while another 34.3 percent said it was “important.” Only 14.4 percent thought the backstop was unnecessary while 30.5 percent said they “didn't know” or had no opinion on the matter. Only 34.7 percent were confident that Congress would pass an extension while 33.1 percent said they weren't sure and another 19.5 percent had no answer.
While 40.7 percent of respondents said that they have not changed their spending on security since September 11, most owners have: According to the survery, 22.9 percent said they've increased spending up to 5 percent; 15.3 percent have increased it between six and 10 percent; 11.9 percent have increased it between 11 and 25 percent and 4.2 percent have increased spending by more than 25 percent.
The poll was conducted over a 10-day period in late August. In all, about 120 readers responded to the poll. About 60 percent of the respondents were owners, developers, managers or retailers. More than half the respondents identified themselves as owners, presidents, vice presidents, directors or principals.