September 25, 2013

Nairobi attack puts spotlight on mall safety

The Associated Press

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In this Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, a Kenyan soldier runs through a corridor on an upper floor, shortly before an explosion was heard, at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Shopping centers across the globe are adding guards and increasing security following the attack in Nairobi over the weekend. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis/File)

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In this Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 photo, shoppers walk through a metal detector before they are frisked by a private security guard as another security guard, right, checks a bag at the entrance to a shopping mall in New Delhi, India. Shopping centers across the globe are adding guards and increasing security following the attack in Nairobi over the weekend. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

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Jeff Wohl, 45, of Atlanta, said Tuesday that while he's horrified by the Nairobi attack, he doesn't want to go through bag checks at malls. "Any public gathering ... can become a target," he said. "But you have to live your life."

U.S. malls have made changes to their security strategies following attacks. A shooting on Dec. 5, 2007 at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., for instance, was an impetus for malls to change how they deal with shooters themselves. After a 19-year-old man shot and killed eight people and injured five others before taking his own life, malls began working with Homeland Security on a plan to have the first responders from the police department enter the building to stop the shooter and free those who are trapped rather than wait for backup.

Many mall operators now also have evacuation drills once or twice a year that focus on lockdown situations. A growing number of malls also use cameras that scan license plates in parking lots. And many malls use technology that enables them to share three-dimensional virtual blue prints of their layout with law enforcement.

The reaction to attacks can be more muted in other parts of the world. In China and Hong Kong, malls are operating normally following the Nairobi attack, typically monitored by closed-circuit cameras and with unarmed private security guards stationed throughout.

"We review our security system and conduct emergency drills regularly to ensure that we are ready to respond to any breach of security swiftly and effectively," said Elizabeth Kok, Retail Portfolio Director at Swire Properties Ltd., which operates three upscale malls in Hong Kong.

At the busy PPR shopping mall in downtown Shanghai, a security guard who gave only his surname, Zhang, said he saw no need for any heightened security. "I can say that the possibility of the same kind of thing happening here is almost zero," he said. "Everyone knows that China prohibits guns, and Shanghai is such a safe city."

In Australia, a similar sentiment was expressed. Tobias Feakin, senior analyst for national security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said malls in Australia would likely make a point of ensuring their security staff will operate on a heightened level of awareness in light of the attacks. But given the relatively low risk of terrorism in Australia, it's unlikely they'll make major security changes.

Meanwhile, Michael Green, chief executive of the British Council of Shopping Centers, a mall trade group, said that they work closely with police forces like Scotland Yard and would respond to warnings with appropriate measures. But they don't want to make malls like prisons.

"We have to make them welcoming," he said.

 

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