Our April cover story on the federal backstop for terrorism insurance focused exclusively on office buildings, but all property sectors are vulnerable to acts of violence. In fact, the threat of a terrorist attack on shopping centers is not only possible, but likely, according to a recent report released by Washington, D.C.-based Kerodin International Security & Policy Consultants. As I prepare for my eighth annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas this month for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention, the report's disturbing predictions are top of mind.

Titled “Terrorism Forecast: 2003,” the chilling eight-page analysis offers a logical explanation as to why terrorism attacks against American shopping centers, malls and fast-food restaurants using chemical and biological agents, backpack bombs and firearms could occur within weeks or months, not years. It behooves the industry to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

The Bush Doctrine, a compilation of policies and initiatives to protect Americans from further terrorist events has inflamed anti-American and anti-Western sentiments across the Middle East, Kerodin International argues. “Weekly attacks designed to break the will of the average American will commence as bombings begin in public buses and metro rail facilities, coffee shop, malls and shopping centers,” the report warns. Given the dozens of Al-Qaeda operatives here in the U.S., I believe the grim forecast is justified.

While not every shopping center is at risk, what steps can the owner of a high-profile mall take to ensure his property doesn't become an easy target? First, avoid complacency and hire an outside firm to conduct a thorough security assessment of each site to pinpoint all potential security risks. For example, are the entry ways to the HVAC systems and gas mains secure?

“Across the business spectrum, the vast majority of companies are taking a far too lax posture on this security issue,” says Christian Kerodin, president of Kerodin International Security & Policy Consultants, who has 20 years of experience in security protocols, foreign policy and counter-terrorism. “You need someone to identify the weak spots for the landlord and offer him some deterrent without breaking his budget.” Owners also should monitor security personnel closely to make sure they are doing their job properly. “If you have a security division in place and you think your assets are secure, consider it a fallacy. Prove to yourself that they are effective,” says Keordin.

The need for constant vigilance is much easier said than done, however. Yes, we'll never forget 9-11, but the more days and months that go by without a terrorist incident, the more likely we are as a society to lapse into complacency. I'm certain the terrorists are well aware of that tendency and will use it to their advantage. What's so frustrating about this war on terrorism is that it is seemingly a war without end.

The objective for shopping center owners shouldn't be to turn their properties into fortresses because doing so obviously would be bad for business. Instead, it's important to determine whether a particular center is a potential target and implement security measures that act as a sufficient deterrent. A detailed security needs assessment for a high-profile shopping center costs a few thousand dollars, a small price to pay for peace of mind. As Kerodin says, “When the terrorists are looking for a target, you don't want your center being the easiest one on the block.”