Securing shopping centers in the United States poses a number of challenges for developers, retail management, law enforcement, emergency responders and security professionals. During the last few years, our understanding of the security needs of retail centers and the expectations placed on security personnel have changed dramatically. At the same time, the very nature of the retail experience is also changing.
Security professionals serving retail centers are faced with maintaining a difficult balance between providing reasonable, appropriate levels of security programming and ensuring customers have minimal obstructions to their shopping experience. A key objective of this process is to ensure that customers are safe and “feel safe” in their surroundings. Concerns about crimes such as theft, assault, sexual assault, robbery and gang activity must now be meshed with programming in response to terrorist concerns, critical incident/emergency planning and coordination with community law enforcement and emergency response organizations.
Sometimes, it may be difficult to immediately discern the type of situation being dealt with, such as the recent incidents involving individuals committing assaults with automatic weapons at Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City and Westroads Mall in Omaha, Ne. These incidents were not terrorist attacks; however, law enforcement and security responders could not take this for granted. Retail centers, whether they are strip, lifestyle or hybrid centers, shopping or outlet malls, or downtown department stores, are soft targets. New security and law enforcement techniques, including “active shooter” protocols need to be developed and drilled.
As consumers begin to embrace hybrid and lifestyle center retail developments, security professionals will have new and even more complex challenges.
The Rise of the Hybrid Center
Hybrid centers are exciting, upscale venues designed to create a very different atmosphere from that of the traditional shopping mall. These venues often include a “town center” environment reminiscent of “Small Town, USA” with streets bisecting shopping areas, on-street parking, welcoming storefronts, and a high level of customer-venue interaction. In addition to retail shops, most hybrid centers also offer upscale restaurants, fitness clubs, entertainment facilities, bookstores, and other tenants who, when combined, provide customers with a “place to be” — not just a “place to shop.” The hybrid center concept, while relatively new, is already reshaping the retail experience.
The “hybrid center” concept is not nearly as well defined as that of the “shopping mall.” Although in most instances these centers are smaller than traditional malls, this is not always the case. Lifestyle centers average about 500,000 square feet in size, but can range from as small as 150,000 to well over 1.2 million square feet and typically do not have an anchor store. The average enclosed mall is about 800,000 square feet. Hybrid centers may be similar, may or may not have anchor stores, and may include both enclosed and open-air center features. For example, Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, a hybrid venue, boasts two anchor stores (Macy’s and Nordstrom’s), a 6,200 seat, 30-auditorium cinema, four parking garages and almost 1.7 million square feet of leasable space. It is bordered on the north and west by Easton Market, a power center with Target, Lowe’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and many other “big box” retailers. Apartments and condominiums have been built on the south side of the venue. The immediate area also includes a Hilton Hotel, Residence Inn, Trader Joe’s, many fast food and upscale restaurants, and Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and CarMax dealerships.
Tightly integrated venues such as Easton are on the rise. They include all the features of lifestyle centers along with movie theaters, apartments, Class A office space above the retail spaces and in multi-story buildings, condominiums, parking structures, and 24-hour fitness clubs, among other amenities.
Securing a Hybrid Center: Easton Town Center and Easton Market, Columbus, Ohio
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), there are more than 47,500 shopping centers, almost 1,200 enclosed malls and about 200 lifestyle centers operating in the United States. Security challenges in these hybrid venues can be vexing.
From a security perspective, there are a number of design, operational, management and logistical issues that differentiate hybrid and lifestyle centers from the more traditional shopping and fashion malls. The typical lifestyle center has the following features:
• Has a retail mix focused on affluent consumers;
• May have public or semi-public roadways separating buildings;
• Has both introverted and extroverted retailers — i.e. some retail storefronts face parking lots while others face internal roadways;
• Does not have a physical perimeter that can be easily locked at night;
• Has a tenant mix that includes more than just retailers;
• Has extended hours based on the tenant mix;
• Where malls may close and lock their doors at 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sundays, hybrid and lifestyle centers may have tenants that are open until 2:30 a.m. or later;
• Residents enter and leave the venue 24 hours a day and often park in semi-public parking garages; and
• Often has a greater number of liquor permit holders.
As a result of these and other differences, the security needs of lifestyle and hybrid centers are very different from those of traditional malls. In fact, security programming at these centers requires all the components more traditional malls do and more.
Suffice it to say, security programming at lifestyle and hybrid centers needs to address the specific issues inherent in these venues. A Holistic Security Program Management (HSPM) process may be used to develop a comprehensive approach to identifying and dealing with risks, threats and vulnerabilities.
A key element in designing an effective security program for hybrid and lifestyle centers is an initial assessment. Understanding the implications of location, trade zone demographics and crime issues, site configuration, tenant mix, hours of operation, parking, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, and other factors is essential. Security concerns at large venues typically center on parking garages and lots, megaplex theaters, transition points between public and private spaces such as residential entrances, late night liquor establishments, “back of house” common corridors and public gathering places. The assessment process enables the developer to identify the venue’s overall security needs, including staffing levels, technology applications, policies and procedures, training and management skills.
One particularly challenging aspect of developing a security technology master plan for lifestyle centers is that many of these centers are built and opened in phases, unlike shopping malls that are constructed as a single project and have a set opening date. It is not unusual for developers to have a master plan for three or four phases spanning five to seven years or more. As the center expands, so will its security needs. It is essential that the initial planning, infrastructure development, technology architecture, and head-end equipment specification anticipate future requirements. For example, saving a dollar in the first phase by not ensuring adequate in-ground infrastructure is in place for future security technology needs could result in significant additional expense in future phases. Infrastructure planning is a critical component of the security design process. While the move toward wireless technologies, including mesh networks, may alleviate some of these issues, density and bandwidth requirements may exceed the capabilities of these networks.
Because these centers often include roadway systems, parks and even areas for outdoor concerts, in addition to parking lots and garages, the patrol techniques of the security staff must be more diverse than those used at traditional shopping malls. In addition to patrolling in marked SUV’s and pickup trucks, security officers often employ a number of other techniques. Unlike at malls, where officers perform their patrol in a conditioned environment or in marked patrol cars, exterior foot patrol is essential if officers are to be effective and interact with customers and tenants on a routine, positive basis. To the center‘s management, this means officers must be appropriately outfitted and able to function without the support of the traditional security vehicles. Where security officers are used, most centers combine foot patrol with other techniques.
Bicycle patrol can be found at centers across the country. Although the use of bicycles can be limited by climate and terrain, among other factors, it is actually very common. At these centers, bicycle patrol offers a number of distinct advantages when combined with other patrol techniques:
• A bicycle officer can often traverse the property more quickly than an officer in a car;
• Bicycle officers tend to interact more openly with customers and tenants;
• Properly trained officers can safely work in parking lots and garages, on streets, and even within large multi-retailer buildings;
• Properly trained officers can work almost any time of the day (or night) and in a wide range of weather conditions; and
• The public perception of bicycle patrol officers can be very good when officers are in good physical condition and consistently demonstrate a positive, helpful attitude.
Foot patrol and bicycle patrol are only two of the techniques commonly used at these centers. Many have found that the use of “golf cars” supports not only the patrol effort but also provides assistance to customers who have lost their car, need a jump start or simply need help. Golf cars differ from golf carts in that they can be made street legal. They are equipped with headlights, brake lights and taillights, turn signals, a horn, bumpers, and sometimes flashing yellow or green strobes, and they can even be licensed. Some golf cars feature plastic environmental enclosures and heaters for year-round serviceability.
From a performance perspective, many centers have adopted service expectations similar to those of neighborhood or community policing programs. Officers are expected to be knowledgeable of their “community,” have excellent communication skills and take responsibility for helping to shape the customer experience — in addition to traditional security functions.
In other words, officers are often expected to be an extension of the center’s management team. They are the most visible center employees, and the way customers perceive these officers can significantly impact their shopping/entertainment experience.
Due to the large number of children (16 and younger) and youths who gather at these venues, many hybrid centers have also adopted codes of conduct and/or parental escort policies. Key elements in enforcing these restrictions include signage and other forms of communication, an implementation plan, staff training and supervision, fair and impartial policy application, and a supportive management team. Some centers rely solely on their uniformed security officers to implement this type of program. Other centers use a softer “ambassador” program to approach and communicate with children and their parents. These ambassadors, who are trained in dealing with youth and easily identifiable, are often perceived as less intimidating than the uniformed security officers.
Technology to the Rescue
The actual application of security technologies, such as CCTV, access control, alarms, call-for-assistance (CFA) stations and other security devices varies greatly. Many small centers use little or no security technology; instead, they rely on security officers and patrol programs. This level of programming may be appropriate based on the results of the initial and an ongoing assessment process. Larger centers, particularly those with parking structures, may have extensive security technology, fully-staffed security command centers and a robust security program. As with the center design, no single security formula fits all venues.
The way security technology is used at hybrid and lifestyle centers is almost as diverse as the centers themselves. Call-for-assistance stations in parking structures and lots are very common, particularly at those centers with tenants who operate into the early morning hours. CCTV coverage is also very common, but the management of video varies. Because so many centers have been built within the past few years, video recording is often digital rather than analog. Some venues are working with wireless and IP cameras while others continue to use NTCS video for live viewing.
The size and complexity of many of these systems create excellent opportunities for technology integration. Activation of a CFA or alarm contact can direct real-time and pre-alarm video to the dispatcher’s alarm monitors — even if these monitors are installed at a center across town or across the country. In those centers offering high capacity wireless hotspots, video can be displayed on an officer’s mobile computing device. Local law enforcement can also be provided with video at a 9-1-1 center or in police cruisers.
The decision to use IP networks to move security data needs to be made collaboratively with the organization’s IT and IT Security professionals. Each professional in this partnership will bring diverse experience and knowledge to the project. Before placing security applications on administrative networks, each component should be assessed to ensure there are no single points of failure. At a minimum the network should pass a four-point test for reliability, survivability, sustainability, and physical and logical security.
It is essential to involve public safety forces early on in the planning process and ensure they are familiar with the operation of the venue. The ability to effectively communicate with emergency responders, provide them with access to information and data, and support their roles in emergent situations can be a key factor in the successful outcome of these incidents.
Elliot A. Boxerbaum, MA, CPP, CSC, is president of Security Risk Management Consultants, Columbus, Ohio, where he and his team provide assessment, design and security management support for retail centers. Mr. Boxerbaum has more than 35 years of security management, law enforcement, and consulting experience. He is a Certified Security Consultant, a quarter century member of ASIS International, and the President of the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (www.IAPSC.org).