--> Gill Blog: Possibility of Suicide Attacks Put Mall Owners on Alert

Gill Blog

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Possibility of Suicide Attacks Put Mall Owners on Alert

As terrorists broaden their scope of places where they can cause chaos, they inevitably set their sights on "softer" targets. The recent bombings in London not only reinforced the fact that transit systems are vulnerable, but so too are other public gathering places, including shopping malls - a fact that is forcing mall operators to address what appears to be a mounting concern. This issue was addressed in Monday's Wall Street Journal in an article by Robert Block:
The recent wave of suicide bombings in London's mass-transit system has heightened fears in counterterrorist circles of similar attacks in America. Federal officials stress there is no specific information that suicide bombers are poised to strike here. After the first London attacks on July 7, the Homeland Security Department raised the terror alert threat level for mass transit.

On July 18, Homeland Security sent federal agencies and state officials a collection of Central Intelligence Agency threat assessments listing malls, banks, prominent companies, and tall buildings as being soft targets most at risk of bomb attacks. Another set of confidential government assessments released in July said that since the London attacks suicide bombings were "a preferred method of attack among extremists."

As much as the big operators would like to institute the same rigorous security measures used by the Department of Homeland Security, their hands are tied because as private entities, they are motivated by the need to drive revenues through the amount of traffic they generate - simply put, they need folks to keep visiting malls to maintain or grow the value of their underlying assets. Heightened security concerns seem to now pose a rather obvious dilemma:
...malls face in miniature what the Homeland Security Department wrestles with every day: How to provide more security to people without disrupting their way of life or undermining commerce. "The key is balancing the need for additional security measures and the public's appetite for those measures."

The task isn't easy. Shopping malls are designed to be open to the flow of goods, services and people. In many towns, malls are more than just retail meccas: They are tourist attractions, entertainment hubs, art galleries, classrooms and meeting places where senior citizens, young mothers and teenagers just hang out.

Mall developers and owners have resisted employing aggressive security measures for fear of scaring customers away. They also want to keep overhead fees for their retail tenants down as much as possible.

So the question becomes what to do? Our contention for some time has been problems like this don't just go away by beefing up security. A security-focussed strategy seems incomplete. Instead, mall owners (like decision makers in other market segments) need to put together a more all-encompassing strategy that provides a blueprint for what to do before, during and after a disruptive event, as well as incorporate a number of other planning silos into the envelope; these might include communications, systems, facilities, mobilization as well as security. Think of it as a Retail Continuity strategy, and one that is carried out with the same degree of thought as a similar program created for a large financial insitution. We'll be sure to keep on top of this one.