LAS VEGAS — “Perception and hysteria are the real threats to shopping centers.”
This story first appeared in the May 29, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
So said David Levenberg, director of security for Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc., during his presentation on how shopping centers should defend against terrorism, at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ spring convention here last week. The seminar was held May 20, one day after the a suicide bombing killed three people at a shopping center in Israel.
Malls are more vulnerable to terrorism than office buildings, where security can be tighter and access is easy to restrict. Yet Levenberg provided realistic measures to help prevent attacks on malls, and make them better prepared to handle emergencies, without turning them into fortresses.
One of Levenberg’s key points was that developers could be held liable by various constituencies in the aftermath of an attack, so they have to be sure they have the right security measures and evacuation procedures in place before an attack. That would help people feel safer and more protected, reduce the chances of hysteria arising in the event of an attack, and reduce potential liabilities.
Communicating a mall’s safety measures to consumers, before any attack, is paramount. “People are much more security conscious these days so they’ll look for a patrol vehicle, good lighting and security personnel inside the shopping center,” he said. “I think the American people are resilient and they like to shop and unless they feel unsafe, they’ll continue to.
“It’s all about value and protecting the assets you have,” Levenberg continued. “If something happened, you as a property owner may certainly have had responsibility to have done something to protect those assets.” Consumers, the media, Wall Street, retailers, third-party owners and auditors will put a mall owner under scrutiny right after an attack happens, Levenberg said.
Levenberg’s other suggestions include:
Mall owners should hire security consultants if not already using in-house security experts.
Purchasing satellite cell phones in place of traditional cell phones.
Utilizing “watch boxes,” an electronic beeping system enabling retailers to covertly communicate with each other. If suspicious behavior is going on, communicating by “someone running through the mall is not the best option,” said Levenberg.
Establishing 1-800 numbers and flipbooks to easily communicate emergency plans if telephone systems become overloaded.
Researching local health and support facilities for emergencies. “Not all hospitals are prepared to deal with biochemical events,” Levenberg cautioned.
Conducting frequent spot checks of delivery trucks, unloading areas, roofs, electrical closets and vaults to potentially foil an attack.
Keeping flashlights, cameras, hard hats and biohazard cleanup kits on hand to help cope with emergencies and casualties.
Levenberg also said that a handful of national retailers, which he wouldn’t identify, have indicated they would add security personnel and screening devices at entrances to search consumers if security becomes a greater concern, though he warned: “You can’t discourage the customer from coming in and you don’t want to profile anybody. But if the circumstances are such, you need to protect the asset.”
He also cited some ICSC-recommended Web sites on security, including Hazmansol.com, Debka.com, Infragard.net and Nipc.gov.