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Safe and secure at the shopping center

It may be a cliché, but we live in a dangerous world. Yet, thanks to advanced security products and services, the mall does not have to be a daunting environment. Today's shopping centers are often heavily equipped with the latest in digital audio and video surveillance, CCTV, trained security guards, lighting and other crime deterrents.

What's in it for owners? Loss prevention, protection from liability, and safer, happier customers. For shoppers? The peace of mind and convenience of knowing that if help is needed, someone can be there in seconds. Few would argue that anything is more important than security, particularly in a crowded public area.

Caught on camera

Thanks to new advanced technologies, strategically placed cameras in shopping centers can capture events as they occur, with images sharp enough to show license plates and facial features.

One camera equipment manufacturer, Sensormatic of Boca Raton, Fla., helps security personnel keep an eye on shopping center grounds. The company offers standard CCTV services and dome units that can zoom in and show color in very low light.

“We're now starting to offer a wider base of digital products that allow us to record at better resolution as well as to retrieve and view live video remotely,” says Lisa Ciapetta, Sensormatic product support manager.

Sensormatic's dome cameras perform particularly well in mall environments, where the domes can zoom a total of 176 times and feature digital enhancement. “This allows mall security to see further out into the end reaches of the parking lots to make sure everything is okay,” Ciapetta says. “And they can do so with fewer cameras and better resolution.”

RemoteVideo Inc. of Irvine, Calif., a recent startup, manufactures a product that Web-enables video surveillance systems so that owners can keep tabs on their properties from remote locations. “Companies that have CCTV systems and cameras can view them over their own private network or over the Internet,” Ron Nieman, president and CEO, says.

“Companies that have CCTV systems and cameras can view them over their own private network or over the Internet.”

RemoteVideo can notify shopping center management of security events by e-mailing video images. Then owners can dial in remotely and view live video.

Both outdoor and indoor surveillance can be helpful for security. Irvine, Calif.-based Westec Interactive's products are used primarily within individual retail stores, such as jewelry stores. “We've adapted video conferencing technology to take surveillance images, compress them and then transmit them to a remote monitoring center,” says Mike Upp, vice president of marketing and business development for Westec Interactive.

“At our remote monitoring center, we see exactly what you'd see on a video monitor screen in the store, and we also have an integrated audio system,” Upp says. “The audio is two-way, so we can hear everything that's going on and, if necessary, communicate back to the retail location to help resolve situations.

“When we say we're monitoring and recording all activity, that sends a strong message to shoppers who frequent the store, as well as to people who may be casing the store for a place to rob,” he adds.

A typical use of Westec's products in a retail setting is in distraction robberies, a common type of scam that criminals perpetrate against jewelry stores. Four people may walk into a jewelry store, and two of them will distract a sales associate while the other two grab all the jewelry they can and leave.

“Our system has what's called suspicion buttons that are strategically placed throughout the store and behind the counter,” Upp says. “These allow sales associates to covertly push the button and activate our system, which digitally records. We can then burn a CD-ROM and overnight it to the police.”

Another real-life situation in which Westec Interactive's products are extremely useful is smash-and-grab robberies. “Vandals come in, smash a display case, grab all they can and disappear,” Upp says.

Westec's security system allows pre-alarm recording, meaning it can digitally retrieve recorded video of what happened in the two minutes before the alarm button was pushed. “Our command center can see the perpetrators come in and what they look like,” Upp says.

A few good guards

Nothing directly gives a shopper peace of mind better than a well-trained, ever-present security team. Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based The Wackenhut Corp. provides security officers and services to the shopping center industry through more than 100 local field offices.

“In a shopping center environment, it's a fact that the most visible person who represents management is the security officer,” says Martin Holleran, Wackenhut's vice president. “So we look to provide an officer who has common sense, tact and diplomacy to ensure return patronage.”

The Wackenhut Corp.'s security team has come to bat for shopping centers and their patrons in a number of incidents throughout the years. In one recent situation in Ashland, Ky., a Wackenhut security officer responded to a stabbing. The officer applied pressure to the victim's wounds while awaiting medical assistance, and the victim ultimately recovered.

Another company that provides contract security services to regional and super regional shopping centers is Allied Security, based in King of Prussia, Pa. Allied services the United States through a network of 63 regional and divisional branch offices.

While Allied Security predominantly supplies security guards, it also specializes in facility design, policy and procedures, and technology, such as CCTV. “Every facility has its own set of circumstances and demographics,” says James Joly, vice president of mall services. “So we evaluate each based upon its own dynamics.” This tailored approach allows the company to create entire security programs for its clients.

“When we say we're monitoring and recording all activity, that sends a strong message to shoppers who frequent the store, as well as to people who may be casing the store for a place to rob.”

Allied Security also puts heavy emphasis on guard training. “It's not enough to have someone in uniform on the property,” Joly says. “Training is paramount to us.”

Allied's officer training recently paid off for one of its largest clients in Pennsylvania with serious crime prevention work. An Allied officer was on mobile external patrol when he noticed a suspicious individual on the mall grounds, dressed unusually and exhibiting signs of nervousness.

“The officer had his antenna up and took time to observe the individual,” Joly says. It turned out that the person had a pipe bomb in his possession. “The officer put security measures into play that allowed local authorities to apprehend the individual. Thankfully, the incident was defused because we had an officer who took his training to heart, deterring what could have been a very significant event.”

Bannockburn, Ill.-based IPC International Corp. has supplied security directors and security staffing to the shopping center industry for more than 20 years. Jonathan Lusher, senior vice president for consulting and inspection services, says IPC also consults with its clients on a number of security-related issues.

“We provide consulting that takes the form of everything from security surveys to design work with architects and engineers — to design shopping centers with the conception of safety,” he says.

One recent real-life event where IPC provided its services was in honor of President Bush. “Our client, Union Station in Washington, D.C., has a non-traditional kind of environment, and was the site of one of the inaugural parties,” Lusher says. “It was a demanding situation — our security department really stepped up to the plate.”

Making the call

Emergency call boxes are a mainstay in shopping center security, allowing shoppers to request help by simply picking up the receiver. Today's call box technology is increasingly more sophisticated to keep shoppers even more secure.

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Call 24 Wireless Callbox Systems specializes in wireless emergency communication devices. The systems are placed in parking lots, garages and various locations throughout shopping centers, and they often work in conjunction with other safety devices such as cameras, according to Thomas Davenport, national sales manager of Call 24 Wireless Callbox Systems.

“Last year at a mall in Richmond, Va., some teenagers were leaving a mall. They hit a call box as a prank and the box tripped the camera system, which recorded their license plate,” Davenport says. As it turned out, the juveniles were driving a stolen car. Local police then stopped the stolen car on the main road in front of the mall.

“If someone is actually in trouble, all they have to do is push a button,” Davenport says. “Our system is unique in that it goes directly to dispatch and to mobile security patrol vehicles. So from a response standpoint, a patrol vehicle is given an instant alert as soon as the button is pushed, and they respond in less than 30 seconds.”

Chicago-based Talk-A-Phone Co. manufactures emergency call box systems. “We've provided these security-related and customer service-related products for more than 65 years,” says Samuel Shanes, executive vice president.

“The emergency phone products began when the Americans with Disabilities Act was in the process of working its way through Congress so we brought out these phones to be ADA-compliant,” he says. “A big part of what we're providing is customer service. Shoppers may not be able to find their cars, or they may have flat tires. Our products let customers know you care, which gives them a sense of security and safety in your center.”

Talk-A-Phone also offers system enhancements that allow clients to integrate CCTV and audio systems to call boxes. In addition, it offers a computer package that automatically calls up different boxes to verify that they are in working order with lines intact. Lenox Mall in Atlanta is one recent client to install this package.

“We provide consulting that takes the form of everything from security surveys to design work with architects and engineers — to design shopping centers with the conception of safety.”

“Different malls have different needs,” Shanes says. “Some use our stand-alone call boxes with blue light strobes on top. You just push the button, it strobes, and automatically calls security and identifies where you are.”

Syndetic Systems Inc. of Dallas is another company that offers emergency call boxes to the industry. Its systems are both wireless and hard-wired, and are used primarily in garages and surface parking lots.

“Our products give customers and employees a better feeling when they go out to their cars,” says David Bark, vice president of marketing and sales for Syndetic. “They can contact security at a moment's notice. Normally, security responds without anyone needing to say anything — just like with 911 calls.”

The company's call boxes also can be integrated with cameras so guards can actually view what is taking place around the call box. Patrons in the parking areas do not have to trip the call boxes for security to access the cameras and take a look, Bark explains.

“Security may see something on camera and dial up that call box and talk over it before anyone pushes the button,” he adds. “They can also eavesdrop around a call box if they see somebody standing around there.”

Where is the best place to put call boxes, and how many do most centers require? “In a good-sized center, you probably need about 40 call boxes,” he says. “You want to place them where the traffic flow is — in stairwells, elevator banks, and places where people can easily locate them.”

Lighting the way

Some products that fall into the security realm, such as small vehicles and proper facility lighting, simply help all other aspects of security do their jobs better.

Club Car of Augusta, Ga., manufactures a variety of vehicles, including Carryall I and Carryall II gas-powered vehicles that are often used in shopping center applications. “Up front, they look similar to a golf cart,” says Brad Haerle, director of commercial sales for the southeast. “But suspension-wise, they're built to go on a variety of terrain.”

Key to the success of Club Car's products at shopping centers is their high visibility, which helps to deter crime. “Some centers include a light bar that's a mini version of what's on a police car, with high powered alley lights that shoot out the side,” Haerle says.

Club Car's Carryall II Plus model also features an alternator to provide a power supply that enables centers to leave the vehicles with lights flashing and accessories turned on, if necessary. While such utility vehicles cannot chase down other cars, they are often used to jump start broken down vehicles. “They allow shopping centers to provide a greater level of service to their clientele,” Haerle adds.

Another important service and security amenity for shopping centers is lighting. Advanced Power Technologies (APT) of Pompano Beach, Fla., is an electrical contractor that works with shopping centers for consulting, designing and installing parking lot lights.

“We try to bring all of our shopping center clients to improved lighting levels,” says Sanford Schneider, managing director for APT. “We specialize in upgrading centers' lighting, as well as maintaining the lights.”

APT also offers shopping centers a Night Watch Program. “We will inspect the lighting equipment that's covered under an agreement with the shopping center, once a month, at night, and report outages to the management company,” Schneider says. “Then we make repairs within three days. We also include emergency repairs.”

Schneider adds that shopping centers also use APT as a design consultant to come up with new and safer lighting scheme for their centers. “Sometimes the original design of a center calls for shade trees,” he says. “Shade trees are pretty, but they block all the light from poles. We can design lighting systems that work in spite of the trees.”

The combination of surveillance cameras, security personnel, call systems and lighting all can help to deter crime and ensure the security of mall shoppers and personnel. A shopping center with a reputation for repeat crimes such as muggings or car thefts must work very hard to overcome that reputation, grounded or not. Security measures can help to prevent crimes from occurring in the first place, and ensure that the shopping mall is a safe place where people can spend their time without worry.

Carol Badaracco Padgett is an Atlanta, Ga.-based writer.

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