To keep their centers from becoming playgrounds for hoods and thieves, owners and tenants are turning to technology, strategic planning and lighting design for added security.

Comprehensive security programs enhance a property's public safety record and can be effective marketing tools for attracting tenants and customers, says Geoffrey H. Glazer, AIA, principal of Kann & Associates Inc., a Baltimore-based firm specializing in shopping center design.

"Owners and retailers want consumers to feel safe approaching and leaving the mall and individual stores day and night," Glazer says. That safe feeling can be achieved with a variety of affordable hi-tech products that are applicable for many security purposes. Options range from low-light cameras with Internet video capability to scanners recognizing hand and fingerprints to card access devices.

For new facilities, anchor tenants and owners may agree from the outset to incorporate a single, facility-wide closed-circuit television (CCTV) into the design, providing everyone with access to the same system, Glazer adds. Surveillance points can include interiors and parking lots.

Technology tactics "The shopping center industry is not as sophisticated as it could be regarding use of new technology," says David Levenberg, CPP (Certified Protection Professional), corporate director of security and loss for Chicago-based General Growth Properties.

"Shopping center owners should evaluate the effectiveness of high technology vs. the cost," he says. "Though payroll is always an issue, effective use of technology should supplement - not eliminate - staffing. If 150 tenants are all using alarms, cameras and loss-prevention personnel, sharing the overhead can benefit everyone by lowering costs."

Good-quality outdoor color cameras can operate in low light, along with high-resolution, high-quality cameras and color monitoring systems. Black-and-white monitors offer poor detail definition, critical when identifying suspects or potential problems. Cameras and lenses should be adjustable for pan, tilt and zoom for parking areas, and they should be selected based on their planned locations.

If only one camera is specified, a pan-tilt-zoom is most versatile. Panasonic's latest market entry is the new Super Dynamic II, featuring Digital Signal Processing circuitry to capture high-resolution color and/or black-and-white images under low lighting conditions within the same scene.

Modem-equipped cameras enable remote CCTV monitoring via phone lines, offering mall owners both surveillance and marketing advantages. For example, Levenberg can log onto a camera in a networked mall through a phone line and view it on his laptop anytime, anywhere. Prospective tenants can view a property at their convenience, eliminating the need for on-site visits.

General Growth successfully utilizes electric patrol vehicles. Benefits include maintenance-free vehicles and lower operating costs. Utility companies promote electrically powered vehicles because the necessary charging stations may be located on shopping center properties, allowing consumers to recharge their vehicles while shopping.

"Drive-thru burglaries - when a car is driven into a window or door of a jewelry store or retailer - are occurring more frequently," says Levenberg.

In response, more shopping centers are installing hydraulic bollards and planters near parking areas to discourage dangerous drive-thrus. The only drawback is the difficulty in driving a car into the mall for display purposes.

A technique borrowed from military technology is the use of window film by department stores on exterior windows and by jewelry stores on outside glass and under countertops.

The film is often used for security purposes to minimize flying shards of glass in explosions and blasts. It can also serve as an anti-graffiti device because it can be replaced if damaged.

Smoke Cloak is an anti-burglary device developed for jewelry stores when alarms are armed and set after hours. When motion detectors pick up movement, a thick, opaque fog is released on intruders.

Several national chains are considering this device, but are cautious because smoke escaping from a tenant store into a mall can set off smoke detectors.

Parking areas Technology is a necessity in parking garages and surface lots, where it can be used for assisting visitors, deterring crimes and serving as a proactive response to potential liability issues.

CCTV is often used in parking structures, surface lots and loading docks. Cameras should be located on poles at elevators, stairs, entryways and exits - mounted at proper angles to capture license plates and faces on tape.

Emergency call boxes, panic alarms and intercom systems often include big, red, mushroom-shaped buttons, located at regular intervals. When pushed, they activate an intercom connected to a staffed, central control station. Parking garage intercom units should be mounted 5 feet above ground to ensure visibility above cars.

Seasonal factors Seasonal shopping days are prime times for crime. "Criminals understand as well as anyone that during the holidays there is more cash, merchandise, customers and purchases left in cars," says Levenberg.

"We combat that by increasing staff, parking lot horses, bikes and vehicular patrols and adding both on-duty and off-duty police officers," he says. "The purpose is to deter crime, maintain a visible presence and make potential criminals so uncomfortable they will go elsewhere."

Property owners tracking regional crime waves find that organized groups of criminals typically travel from the Midwest in summer to Florida or California in winter.

Statistics indicate the same group, or gang, is often responsible for many mall burglaries, robberies and drive-thru incidents. Levenberg regularly alerts local property managers about anticipated problems based on national tracking statistics.

The role of lighting Good lighting provides the best security. When working with owners on new or renovated retail centers, Glazer provides a typical lighting plan with main facility overhead and signage lighting.

He also develops parking lot and site perimeter lighting that is appropriate for the surrounding landscape and community. Exterior lighting is also important at road entries, parking decks and property access points.

General Growth uses a minimum of 2 footcandles (fc) on exterior open lots, even though some standards call for 1 fc or less. Energy-efficient metal halide lamps provide adequate light for camera surveillance systems.

Crisis planning Like all open public facilities, shopping centers are susceptible to any group choosing to make a political statement through biological and chemical warfare. These threats may not seem imminent, but they will likely remain a concern in an increasingly global society. Staff training and preparation are important for ongoing crisis planning.

General Growth's in-house crisis-planning program requires each property to maintain a written plan to address natural and manmade disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, bomb threats or chemical biohazards.

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd bypassed seven of the company's shopping centers in the Southeast, but the properties were well prepared to minimize damage through evacuation, boarded-up windows and sandbagging. When a major earthquake hit Southern California several years ago, Levenberg recalls, the corporate crisis response team flew in with equipment and manpower for damage control.

Depending on size and resources, some owners opt to outsource security planning to a contractor or maintenance company. Either way, this function should not be overlooked. By enhancing security, owners also strengthen marketability of their properties.

Security risks will continue to be a factor throughout society for the foreseeable future. However, owners must seek a balance against function, aesthetics, public perception, costs and preventive measures.

Shopping center owners should be aware of these challenges and, with technology and good planning, prepare for opportunities to enhance public safety in their facilities.

Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) service calls and armored car pick-ups present high-risk situations because both are hold-up targets.

Sensible precautions include:

* Make every effort to control timing of cash pick-ups and routes.

* Don't allow unholstered guns in common areas; use service corridors for armored guards.

* Suggest tenants avoid taking cash to their cars for a bank-drop by offering a bank-drop in the mall or by recommending an armored car pick-up instead.

* Locate ATMs in high-traffic areas, close to a service corridor entry or exit, not in a remote location, where bandits can hide and wait. Install an alarm and video surveillance in the area.