Following the recent suicide bomb attacks in London, security personnel in America's private and public sector agencies should be preparing for the further spread of such tactics. In the private sector, particularly the retail trade market, special concerns must be addressed in preparing for, and responding to, the various potential threats posed by terrorists. Security professionals are aware of the sensitivities involved when protecting the retail shopping industry. Their challenge is in finding the balance of security measures that provide customers with confidence in their safety while allowing them to shop in a friendly, welcoming environment.
Looking for a Model Response
Since September 11, the subject of protecting America's public venues from terrorist attack has received varying levels of media attention. Many in the retail and security industries have studied how Israel has responded to this reality with relative success, and have debated whether Israel could provide a helpful model for our country. While Israeli counter-terrorism tactics have generally proved effective in that nation, it is our opinion that the Israeli model is in several key ways unsuitable for application in America. There are many differences between the conditions of life in Israel and conditions of life in the United States.
Since the outset of the Second Intifada, Israeli citizens have lived in constant fear of suicide bombings and have had to adopt a permanent state of vigilance and extraordinarily high security awareness. As there have yet been no suicide bombings at shopping centers or other public venues in America, the perceived threat level does not justify such a response in the mind of the general public. Dramatically increased military or police presence at America's shopping centers would present a chilling atmosphere as well as possibly raise certain legal issues. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of security professionals to work with the commercial sector to ensure that proactive steps are taken to reduce the likelihood of suicide attacks in America, weighing the balance of increasing threat levels and the willingness of the American public to bear the intrusions of heightened security measures.
Low cost, Low tech
We believe that a low-cost, low-tech strategy is an effective and advantageous approach to enhancing security at America's shopping malls. Central to this approach is increased and improved security personnel training and exercises. By raising standards for security personnel and providing them with training in advanced observation skills, we will effectively and subtly increase our security posture. We suggest a focus on risk profiling. Risk profiling concentrates on particular behavioral characteristics which can be identified by security personnel and trigger predetermined responses.
Suicide bombers do not arm themselves and then haphazardly or randomly seek out a location to attack. Considerable planning and deliberation are involved in their target selection process. In this regard, American security personnel can use lessons learned from their Israeli counterparts. Security personnel must be trained to look for the particular clues that will give away a potential terrorist or bomber as he goes about various activities such as casing a potential target or practicing a “dry run.” Security personnel can be better trained to spot persons filming a structure, measuring distances and other behaviors unique to a potential terrorist or criminal.
With this counter-terrorism strategy of improved risk profiling, the American public will gain the additional benefit of enhanced anti-criminal activity and loss prevention, better emergency medical response, and the No. 1 goal of keeping citizens feeling happy and safe in their shopping environment.
Our “blanket” approach to retail center security employs not only a well-trained security staff but also the application of multiple layers or concentric circles of security in and around the shopping center.
The outermost layer should consist of roving, uniformed security officers in marked vehicles equipped with radios and overhead flashing lights to advertise their presence. Additionally, parking areas (lots or garages) and public transportation stops should be equipped with well lit and obvious emergency call stations where shoppers can quickly access and communicate with a central security operator.
The next layer of enhanced security should be at the entrances to the centers themselves, consisting of two primary measures. Currently, most shopping centers employ closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring only on loading docks and at employee entrances. We encourage a wider application of CCTV, whether monitored or recorded, at entrances and common areas. CCTV does not stop an attack as was proven by the events in London but may provide a deterrent during the casing phase of an operation.
Another measure to consider here is the placement of aesthetically pleasing vehicle barriers, such as planters or bollards that would prevent a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) from being driven into the shopping center. Properly designed and placed bollards and/or heavy concrete planters make excellent barriers to car or truck bombs, and are currently used at many federal buildings and military facilities. Most of these barriers will go unnoticed by the shopping public.
The next inner layer of security is within the so-called anchor stores of the shopping center. Shoppers are aware of both the uniformed “mall guard” who patrols common areas inside the mall, and the loss prevention specialists that work within the actual anchor stores. We suggest the addition of casually attired security specialists (all in uniformed appearance such as khaki slacks, company golf-type shirt) located close to the exterior store customer entrances, as well as at these stores' respective entrances into the mall common area. This casually uniformed specialist should have a radio and perhaps a small, belt-worn first-aid kit giving the appearance of customer service. Given his typically paranoid and suspicious nature, the terrorist sees a security specialist with a radio whereas the shopper only sees a customer service representative.
The final layer consists of traditional, uniformed mall security guards. These individuals should be encouraged to liaise with casually uniformed security specialists at the anchor stores. The two should be able to communicate with each other by radio to exchange information and share observations.
In addition to continually promoting and improving the training of his security staff, the professional security director must develop and nurture ongoing relationships with the local police, fire rescue and emergency management agencies. Currently, police respond to malls to assist with shoplifters, disorderly conduct cases and parking/traffic issues. Given the nature of the terrorist threat today, taking this relationship to a higher level is necessary, and in most locales, encouraged by local governments. This increased liaison relationship can be a cost-efficient means of improving a shopping centers' counter-terror strategy as the costs involved for meetings, training exercises and the like are often borne by the local government.
Mall security must now address the new and developing threat of a suicide bomber, to which every American is theoretically vulnerable when they go to a shopping mall or another large venue. There are costs to be borne in the implementation of any new security regimen, but the possible solutions outlined above are relatively low compared with relying on purely “high-tech” security solutions as some might suggest.
At Telemus Solutions, we believe that the better use of basic physical security techniques and equipment, coupled with improved training and professionalism can significantly enhance retail shopping security and safety. As Americans, we will always venture out to shop as long as we can feel reasonably assured of our safety and security. Creating and maintaining the atmosphere of safety and security, both real and perceived, is the goal we continually seek.