Protecting malls from active shooters

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

“Risk and vulnerability assessments should be done in every shopping center of any size throughout the United States,” said Rogers. “The U.S. media would like nothing better than to have some gun-toting nut come into a U.S. mall property and do damage. They would have a field day with issues of gun control and it allows them to sell more papers and airtime. I think that further erosion of mall traffic is going to be disastrous for the retail locations within these malls. Every mall location in the United States should undertake an audit program conducted by a third-party resource that knows what he or she is doing when it comes to physical security assessments.”

In an interview with SIW earlier this year, Mall of America Security Director Doug Reynolds said that awareness training for both mall staff and tenants can also make a difference.

“So often after these events when people are interviewed after the fact they say, ‘you know, yeah he seemed weird, I saw him, but I just didn’t want to call someone, I just didn’t think that it was necessary to call,’” Reynolds said. “If you make that threshold low enough and empower people to make those calls, I think it helps.”

In addition, Reynolds said that they hold lockdown drills at Mall of America in preparation for worst case scenarios.

“It’s a very short drill. The analogy we make is that it’s like fire drills. There isn’t a sixth grader in the United States that can’t do a fire drill, so we make it simple,” said Reynolds. “We sound tones to put people into lockdown, the tenants go into lockdown, they get people into their space, lock their gates, turn off lights, and get out of sight a little bit. When they get the all clear, they come out and the whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes.” 

Rogers believes that most of the larger retailers across the country are certainly cognizant of the risks posed by active shooters and perhaps take them more seriously than many smaller stores, which don’t have the resources or the “sensitivity” within their culture to know how to develop a response and business continuity plan to get them back up and running in the aftermath of a mass shooting.

Once a mall has a plan in place, Rogers said that employees need to be trained on how they should respond.

“They need to understand the physical layout of the facility and where the cameras are,” Rogers explained. “They need to understand where the exits are, where the safe spots are and they need to understand the various steps that they need to take in an incident like this – what to do with cellphones, for example, if they’re not able to run to a safe place but instead have to hide and shut off their cellphone ringer. Employees also need to know how to help customers, but first and foremost, they have to protect themselves because if they’re too busy concentrating on trying to protect others because they believe that is what they are there to do, unfortunately all too often, they’re going to lose their life in an incident like this.”

When it comes to security personnel, however, Rogers said that their responsibilities differ from that of other retail employees.

 “They’re really there to protect. They’re not sworn law enforcement, but they’re there to provide protection services for the mall and the people in the mall,” he said. “Therefore, as part of those protection services, they should be trained on how to safely get people out of the line of fire of the shooter and to a safe place. Security is an extension of law enforcement and they have to be aware that others are depending on them for their safety and therefore, they need to be trained on what to do and practice on what they have been trained.”

Editor’s note: SIW will be hosting a free, one-hour webinar on Nov. 14 at 1 p.m. ET on how the security team at Sacramento’s Arden Fair Mall is using video surveillance to improve their security posture. Click here for more information or to register.