A pair of shootings at shopping malls this month, first in New Jersey and then in South Carolina, sent shoppers and workers scrambling to safety.
The incidents left security experts to answer questions about what malls are doing to keep millions of visitors safe.
In Columbia, South Carolina, 14 people were injured Saturday in a shooting at the Columbian Center mall as shoppers browsed over the Easter weekend. In East Rutherford, New Jersey, on April 7, a 37-year-old man was shot multiple times at the American Dream Mall, one of the largest retail and entertainment complexes in the country.
Experts said shopping malls present more security challenges than other public places because of their large open spaces and internal gates that lead to restaurants and shops – dead ends with no external exits.
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At the American Dream Mall, most people ran in search of an outside exit, and others found hiding places. Shoppers expressed confusion on social media. Unlike schools, where students participate in emergency drills for active shooters, fires and many other scenarios, shoppers in malls are not aware of the best course of action.
Brian Higgins, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and former chief of the Bergen County Police Department, stresses the importance of being prepared for a shooting or similar situation when visiting the mall, even if such an incident is likely. very less.
If there is a shooting, Higgins said, getting out of the building is the ideal first step. If this is not possible, people should try to hide behind or under something and remember to silence their cellphones.
Higgins said, “You have to be very cautious. But I want to caution people not to be so nervous that they don’t enjoy life when they go out.” “Statistically, most people would not be involved in an incident like this, but if someone does, it could be very devastating.”
Mall Security and ‘Run, Hide, Fight’
As police find faster and more efficient ways to respond to shooting incidents in public places, mall officials have ramped up their security arrangements, response and training.
Dan Kennedy, senior vice president of U.S. security operations at Unibel-Rodamco-Westfield, owner of Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, and 24 other U.S. properties, said he sometimes wakes up at night thinking about the worst-case scenario. .
Kennedy, who worked in law enforcement for 27 years, including time with the FBI, said Unibel has a playbook for “every potential crisis situation,” which is revised as needed.
“Our goal is for people who visit our properties to see visual safety and feel a sense of security,” he said. “They don’t know all of the work, the practice, and the training behind it, but rest assured, it’s all in place.”
Kennedy said that every year, all Unibel-Rodemco-Westfield properties get a safety assessment, and twice a year, they conduct active-shooter and natural disaster training. At least once a month, if not weekly, the general manager and director of security meet with the police to review security plans.
“We focus on active shooters because of the rise of incidents in the country over the past decade,” Kennedy said. “We work very closely with the Paramus Police Department because safety is our number 1 priority.”
Each tenant of Paramus Mall is briefed on Department of Homeland Security protocols for active-shooter situations, known as “run, hide, fight.”
The International Council of Shopping Centers released a seven-minute video on the “run, hide, fight” guidelines that Kennedy implemented for its tenants and new employees.
“Since we are the epicenter of these kinds of incidents, the United States is better prepared than other countries because we have to [be]Said Higgins, who organized the response when a 20-year-old shooter fired several rounds at other shoppers before fatally shooting himself at Garden State Plaza in 2013. Well, I still think we have some way to go.”
what can you do?
Security experts said every mall has a safety plan in place for most emergencies, but it’s important for visitors to plan for their own safety.
Higgins said that people need to be fully aware of their surroundings.
“If you hear what you think of the shot, get yourself behind an object where preferably a shot can’t go, or in the worst case, you can’t be seen,” They said.
Shoppers, especially parents with children, should have an emergency plan for where to meet if they get separated and who to call when it’s safe.
Contribution: Cady Stanton, USA Today