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U.S. Site Visits Confirm Lack of Preparedness

Date Published
March 16, 2008

Sidebar to the article Shopping Malls: Are They Prepared to Prevent and Respond to Attack? by Robert C. Davis

As part of our assessment of the preparedness of U.S. malls in the post-9/11 world (see main article), we visited eight malls in the United States. At each site, we spoke with the mall security director, local police, and local fire officials.

One of the most striking findings was that, at that time, the malls had not significantly increased their investment in security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Only four sites, which received Federal money through the Buffer Zone Protection Program (BZPP, funds for protecting critical infrastructure), had increased security spending beyond the rate of inflation in the 4 years after 9/11; the other four sites had not. In fact, one mall had dramatically cut its security budget.

Five of the eight malls we visited had conducted risk assessments at the instigation of the State homeland security advisor or through the BZPP application process. Without undergoing some form of risk assessment, it is difficult for mall managers to determine what to protect and which strategies to employ.

Most of the malls had prevention tactics in place, such as policies designed to monitor and restrict deliveries. Security officers were visible throughout the malls and were instructed to observe suspicious dress and patterns of behavior. Seven of the eight malls had some form of closed-circuit television, although the systems varied in sophistication: Some systems were monitored closely; others recorded events for review only after an event occurred.

All of the malls that we visited had some form of antiterrorism training for security personnel; however, the programs varied widely. Most consisted of about 4 hours of classroom training that focused on identifying potential terrorists, spotting suspicious packages, and responding to an attack. We did not find any programs that evaluated what the staff may have gained from the training.

All eight malls had written procedures for responding to a threat or emergency. Typical post-threat protocols included limiting access to critical areas of the mall and increasing security personnel. Other procedures covered evacuations, emergency communications, and, in the event of an attack, contacting emergency services and providing first aid.

At that time, none of the malls had a plan for coordinating with first responders, and only two conducted drills to rehearse emergency responses. We also discovered a significant lack of coordination between mall security and the security staffs of the mall anchor stores. Only one of the eight malls involved tenants in the emergency response plan.

Finally, we did not find any standards for evaluating the adequacy of the malls’ preparedness plans. With no tabletop or live exercises—and no clear standards for evaluation—it is impossible to say how well staff would respond in a disaster.

About This Article

This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 259, published March 2008, as a sidebar to the article Shopping Malls: Are They Prepared to Prevent and Respond to Attack? by Robert C. Davis.

Date Published: March 16, 2008