Protecting malls from active shooters

A look at the steps retailers can take to mitigate the threat

Earlier this week, chaos erupted at the Garden State Plaza mall in N.J after a man armed with what appeared to be an assault rifle walked into the building and began firing shots at the ceiling. The gunman, identified as 20-year-old Richard Shoop, was later found dead of a self-inflicted wound. In September, as many as 15 gunmen affiliated with the Somali terror group al-Shabaab, an offshoot of al-Qaida, laid siege to the Westgate mall in Kenya over a three-day period, killing more than 60 people. And just days prior to the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, two people were killed and another person was wounded when 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts opened fire at the Clackamas Town Center mall just outside Portland, Ore.

These incidents have prompted retailers across the country to review their security plans and examine areas where they might be vulnerable to an attack. As the busy holiday shopping season begins ramping up this month with the annual Black Friday sales event, ensuring the safety of patrons at stores both big and small is even more paramount.

According to King Rogers, who spent 18 years as the vice president of assets protection at Target and now serves as CEO of security management consulting firm the King Rogers Group, having partnerships with law enforcement authorities and training staff how to respond appropriately can go a long way in helping retailers mitigate the damages caused by an active shooter incident.

“Local law enforcement is always involved in an incident with an active shooter and therefore, local law enforcement, mall security and mall management ought to be involved in a collaborative effort for an incident training plan and implementing, through tabletop exercises, the practice of that training, so they know exactly what to do and when to respond,” Rogers explained. “Unfortunately, I think that the number of these types of incidents both in shopping centers and other commercial buildings appears to be increasing and it’s unfortunately going to evolve into a way of life for us and that’s why I think law enforcement and the private sector partnership is immensely important.”

Rogers said that drills should be held at least semi-annually and that mall management and security personnel should hold planning meetings with law enforcement on a quarterly basis.

 Pat Murphy, president of Houston-based LPT Security Consulting, agrees that thorough training is key when it comes to preparing for the threat of an active shooter and also for the potential fallout after an incident has occurred.

“Liability is very high for failing to plan or having a plan and not determining if it works.  Lawsuits will be filed before the smoke literally clears,” said Murphy, who formerly served as area loss prevention manager with Sears and as the director of loss prevention operations at Eckerd drug stores. “The question that malls must ask themselves is whether they have developed a defensible position for litigation.  It is a backwards way to arrive at the question regarding planning, but ultimately, that is the view. No one guarantees safety.  No plan guarantees prevailing in a lawsuit. Doing nothing is a guarantee of being found not providing reasonable care.”

Of course, Rogers said that U.S. malls could fortify themselves the way their counterparts do in Israel and parts of South America with heavily armed security personnel, but then we, as a nation, would lose a lot of the freedoms we’re accustomed to. However, Rogers said that a good audit program can help retailers evaluate the risks to their facilities and address any vulnerability the best that they can.        

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