Expert Q&A: Jonathan Lusher on Security at America's Malls

Mall security auditor and expert Jonathan Lusher of IPC International assesses the situation for mall security today


One of the differences between us and the Israelis is that their society has learned to live with intense security and intense surveillance. They are using metal detectors and very controlled entrances with limited access points at their malls. They search everybody. But even more important is to detect terrorists before they can even get to the secured areas. They focus on keeping the bombers out, and they have succeeded because there have been instances where the bombers have had to explode themselves outside the facilities or even across the street because they were identified. They are looking for common denominators and are using behavioral profiling extensively.

We have adopted behavioral profiling based on their models, but of course, it's hard to tell how good you've done if you don't see those incidents.

To prevent terrorism at malls, the sharing of information is important and has to improve dramatically. I think that the strength of the connection for the local mall security director is that local knowledge. As they'd say in Chicago, "You gotta know a guy." Security directors need to know and work closely with the local and state authorities. There are also bulletins, like a new one created jointly by the CIA and the FBI about pre-operational terrorism indicators, and while it doesn't directly address mall terrorism, these things give information that security directors should be looking at.

Are you aware of any malls using metal detectors or X-ray systems today?

I'm not aware of any, though there are some mall directors who have the technology waiting in the wings, whether that's in a storage closet to be deployed or a standing order for the technology. But our society really isn't prepared for that yet. We feel about terrorism the way that Londoners felt after the Underground bombings, and that is that terrorists aren't going to keep Londoners out of the Underground. One day after the Tacoma shootings, the mall reopened and people were back in strong numbers and the stores were reopened.

The recent incident at the Tacoma, Washington, mall with the shootings and hostage-taking is on everyone's mind. What can be learned?

I think we know that these incidents are virtually impossible to predict. The often don't send signals or warnings. The best to hope for is that you can respond as soon as these events start unfolding. I was reading more about this incident this morning, and this young man had felonies on his record, but none of these were violent. No earlier behavior indicated that he might try this kind of thing. I know that all law enforcement and the customers there were quite satisfied by the way the situation was handled.

What's happening in terms of raising the bar for mall security guards?

Our guards are being trained on behavioral analysis. I can't say that they're getting years of training like a psychologist would, but we have a series of training tools constructed for anti-terrorism situations. We have an expert on staff to teach our guards who has background in both and psychology and worked in Naval intelligence, and who has taught counter-terrorism analysis.

It's 2005 and video surveillance is booming. How are surveillance camera systems being used at malls?

We're seeing a general increase in the installation of video surveillance solutions; certainly you could call this a major increase in the number of systems installed in shopping centers. We are also seeing the use of leading-edge surveillance technologies that focus on monitoring rather than just recording. Smart video technologies are just jumping by leaps and bounds by the minute. We are also working toward the use of remote monitoring, whether it's for late night camera monitoring when the malls are closed, or full-time monitoring for the smaller centers where budgets don't allow an on-staff monitoring.

While malls are not super high-tech environments, we are starting to use these smart video systems to spot when a package has been left or when a door has been opened at a time when it should have been closed.

How are surveillance systems being used in parking lots?