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SPECIFIER'S GUIDE (SECURITY): Is your mall safe from terror?

An interview with security expert Jonathan Lusher, who gives tips on how to make your center safe against terrorist attacks.

Events such as the bombing in Oklahoma City and the narrowly averted attempt to bomb the World Trade Center have brought terrorism home to many Americans. Terrorism is no longer confined to faraway places like the Middle East and Northern Ireland. With that in mind, what can we do to ensure the safety of shopping malls, one of the most public places in our society? We asked security expert Jonathan Lusher about the possibility of terrorist attacks at shopping centers, and how to prevent such incidents.

SCW: Do you think terrorism will increase in the United States in the future?

Lusher: My opinion is not the most informed on this subject, but my opinion is that it is going to increase in this country, and probably worldwide.

SCW: What are some of the special problems involved with protecting shopping centers from these sorts of attacks?

Lusher: Of course there are a lot of facilities or targets that are similar to shopping centers, but the shopping centers are intentionally accessible. In order to do business you have to open it for everybody who wants to come in. In addition, we have back corridors that are not public, but that are still accessible, we have things like washrooms. There are thousands of people that work there that the shopping center doesn't have any control over because they don't work for the shopping center. Just about anybody can get into any of those spaces and most of these spaces are pretty vast.

SCW: Has there been a major terrorist incident at a mall in the United States?

Lusher: I think they have been restricted largely to threats, although there are some incidents that go unreported that I have heard about. When I think of terrorism, I think of something done to further a political end. There are a lot of incidents where somebody might be upset at an employer and bring a gun into a shopping center. I wouldn't categorize that as terrorism, I would have to categorize him as a nut. There have been some incidents that may have been hoaxes or pranks, like bomb threats, which are common at shopping centers.

SCW: What can be done to better protect shopping centers?

Lusher: Well, I think this is where a lot of this progress is being made. For one thing, the FBI, CIA and local police departments have become more vigilant in the wake of Timothy McVeigh. For example, a lot of fire departments have been undergoing more training to deal with these kinds of incidents and that goes along the lines of preparing for any disaster. We have usually thought of these as being earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. I think people have to realize that in a shopping center environment, they are all the same. I think that they need to include all kinds of disasters, whether man made or natural, in their planning.

I think the main thing shopping centers are doing is becoming more able to act reactively to these threats. There really isn't much you can do to be proactive with this sort of issue. We hear a lot more reports of people reporting suspicious packages. Management of shopping centers have become more watchful about this sort of thing, and are training their maintenance and security people more. If you find a briefcase under a toilet in the bathroom, that is something that should probably be looked at. A lot of it comes down to training, which should be done anyway.

SCW: How much freedom would shoppers have to give up to completely secure these centers?

Lusher: I think shoppers would have to give up a tremendous amount of what we consider to be normal freedom in this country. If you look at schools, there are kids going through metal detectors. I don't think we want that at shopping malls. There is a tremendous sense of isolation felt in those circumstances. I think these kinds of things are unacceptable to the American people right now. There are things like bombproof glass that don't really affect people's freedom, and those are more acceptable. I don't think people want to have their freedom restricted. If you do that, the terrorist wins. If you put your target in a siege mentality, as a terrorist, you have won. We are not prepared to do that in this country. We haven't permanently given up that sense of movement and freedom that is so important to this country.

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