Emergency Response: The Changed Mindset at Malls

As the Mall in Columbia reopened after Friday's shooting, CPE looks at how retail managers and first responders have been working together across the country to deal with what seems to be a growing phenomenon.
Malachy Kavanagh

Malachy Kavanagh

The Mall in Columbia reopened this week, two days after a lone gunman shot and killed two store workers and took his own life at the 1.4 million-square-foot shopping center located in a Maryland suburb between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

It was just the latest example of a so-called “active shooter” entering a U.S. shopping center and transforming a normal trip to the mall into a tragic event. It was also an example of how commercial real estate owners and operators, retail managers and first responders have been working together across the country to deal with what seems to be a growing phenomenon. In this case, the Howard County police responded to the mall within two minutes of receiving a 911 call, entered the building immediately and began locking down the facility rather than waiting outside for SWAT teams or a larger police presence.

“The whole mindset has changed. In the past, law enforcement would go to an event and gather outside and make sure they had enough people and SWAT. That has now changed to self-deployment. Whoever is closest, it is his job to get there as fast as he can and try to eliminate the threat,” Malachy Kavanagh, a senior staff vice president at the International Council of Shopping Centers, told Commercial Property Executive.

Howard County officials told the Baltimore Sun that the mall owned by General Growth Properties routinely allows county first responders to hold drills at the site. While it still took several hours for police to scour the mall and find all the people who taken shelter in back rooms or behind locked gates, their familiarity with the mall and its layout made the job easier.

Greg Maloney

Greg Maloney

“They did an outstanding job. They were doing exactly what they were trained to do,” said Greg Maloney, Americas CEO of  Jones Lang LaSalle Retail. “There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening, so you must be prepared.”

JLL, a leading retail service provider that manages a portfolio of 95 million square feet of retail centers in the U.S., works with local police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be aware of any potential threats. Maloney said JLL clients also conduct lockdown drills at least once a year with local fire and police agencies.

“We want them involved,” Maloney told CPE. “It really prepares you for the unknown.”

Maloney also credited the ICSC for its ongoing education and training efforts in public safety and security.

“We spend a lot of time talking about this at conferences,” he said.

Kavanagh said the ICSC has a security task force composed of officials from the top mall and shopping center companies, including GGP, owner of The Mall in Columbia, that meets several times a year. The group also brings in speakers from outside the U.S., such as Europe and Israel, to talk about security measures used overseas and works closely with Homeland Security.

Several years ago, the ICSC spent about $2 million putting together a 14-hour training course. Kavanagh said three new training programs will be rolled out within the next few weeks and made available to members for on-site staff training sessions.