Malls, stores eye new ways to pro­tect shop­pers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Anne D’In­no­cen­zio AP Re­tail Writer

NEW YORK >> More so­phis­ti­cated cam­eras. Se­cu­rity ro­bots. Cus­tomers feel­ing shaken by re­cent at­tacks at U.S. malls may not no­tice huge changes — but mall op­er­a­tors are test­ing and putting in place new tech­nolo­gies and other mea­sures to of­fer peo­ple more pro­tec­tion with­out in­trud­ing too much on their shop­ping time.

Mall ex­ec­u­tives say shop­pers have been adamantly op­posed to air­port se­cu­rity tac­tics like metal de­tec­tors. So they’re try­ing other things, and in­creas­ingly us­ing mass no­ti­fi­ca­tions that let them send text and email alerts to ten­ants within sec­onds in case of a cri­sis.

Con­cerns about safety have been height­ened by the at­tacks. Those in­cluded a shoot­ing in the makeup area of a Macy’s store near Seat­tle, where five peo­ple died, as well as stab­bings at a Min­nesota mall where ten peo­ple were in­jured be­fore a po­lice

of­fi­cer shot the as­sailant.

Justin Dye, 41, of Hunt­ing­don Val­ley, Penn­syl­va­nia, said he has felt more on edge when he goes to his lo­cal mall.

“You’re not para­noid. But you are alert of the peo­ple around you,” he said. The fa­ther of two said he now looks for where the ex­its are, and in a store he scouts for dress­ing rooms or back of­fices should he need to hide. “I’m al­ways think­ing about if some­thing could hap­pen, where would I go, and what should I do?” he said.

The re­cent at­tacks are “aw­ful tragedies,” and at the top of re­tail­ers’ minds, said Lisa LaBruno, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at the Re­tail In­dus­try Lead­ers As­so­ci­a­tion trade group. She was at­tend­ing an al­ready-sched­uled meet­ing about se­cu­rity this week with store ex­ec­u­tives. “They are com­mit­ted to re­assess­ing the sit­u­a­tion and iden­ti­fy­ing ways in which they can mit­i­gate risks.”

Still, she and other in­dus­try ex­perts ac­knowl­edge that mall and store op­er­a­tors don’t have much con­trol over ac­tu­ally stop­ping any in­ci­dent from hap­pen­ing. They do say they hope to min­i­mize any threat and fo­cus on keep­ing peo­ple safe.

Shop­per sur­veys done ev­ery April by the In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil of Shop­ping Cen­ters show that peo­ple aren’t in­ter­ested in metal de­tec­tors or sim­i­lar tac­tics, the trade as­so­ci­a­tion said. “They don’t want to be im­peded as they go about their lives,” said Malachy Ka­vanagh, a spokesman for the mall as­so­ci­a­tion.

Dye’s among those who doesn’t want to deal with the has­sle of metal de­tec­tors; he said he’d rather see more armed se­cu­rity guards at shop­ping cen­ters.

The mall group spent $2 mil­lion to de­velop ter­ror­ism train­ing pro­grams af­ter the Sept. 11 at­tacks in the U.S., and shop­ping cen­ters have made more changes since then. A 2007 shoot­ing in Omaha, Ne­braska, when a 19-year-old man fa­tally shot eight peo­ple was an im­pe­tus for malls to al­ter their ap­proach. Malls be­gan work­ing with the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment on plans for first re­spon­ders en­ter the build­ing to try to stop the shooter, rather than wait for backup as had been the prac­tice.

In the past two years, re­tail­ers and malls have of­fered en­hanced train­ing for work­ers — some use videos of ac­tive-shooter sce­nar­ios; oth­ers have store as­so­ci­ates act out the parts. At Macy’s, for ex­am­ple, ac­tive shooter train­ing has been a re­quire­ment for all em­ploy­ees since 2014. Mall op­er­a­tors are also run­ning more evac­u­a­tion drills, and are col­lab­o­rat­ing with po­lice de­part­ments that may train at malls when they’re closed.

Tech­nol­ogy is key too, though ex­perts say there isn’t one sin­gle thing that can thwart an at­tack.

Ka­vanagh says Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials are work­ing with malls on test­ing cam­eras with fa­cial recog­ni­tion that can de­tect peo­ple with crim­i­nal records and also cam­eras that read li­cense plates and send alerts if a crim­i­nal or some­one on a ter­ror­ist watch is around. DHS is also look­ing at cre­at­ing vir­tual walls in open spa­ces to block drones equipped with hand­guns and other weapons, he said.

“As tech­nol­ogy pro­gresses, there has to be a counter-mea­sure,” Ka­vanagh said.

Colin J. Beck, a sociology pro­fes­sor at Pomona Col­lege and author of “Rad­i­cals, Rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and Ter­ror­ists,” said that it’s hard to pro­tect malls from be­ing tar­gets. But he says mea­sures like au­to­matic scan­ning of li­cense plates and faces in public spa­ces open up “ques­tions of in­fringe­ment on con­sti­tu­tional rights and po­ten­tial abuse.”

Some mea­sures had a bumpy be­gin­ning. Se­cu­rity ro­bots made by startup Knightscope read li­cense plates, can iden­tify a ve­hi­cle parked in a cer­tain lo­ca­tion for too long or sense in­trud­ers at odd hours.

But the Stan­ford Shop­ping Cen­ter in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia, scrapped a pi­lot test of the 300-pound ro­bots this sum­mer af­ter one of them knocked over a 16-month-old. (The tod­dler was OK).

Stacy Dean Stephens, vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing at Knightscope, said the com­pany has since made im­prove­ments and ex­pects to have sev­eral large mall de­vel­op­ers in Cal­i­for­nia start us­ing the ro­bots later this year.

“We learned an aw­ful lot from the in­ci­dent, and have moved on,” he said.

One of the most-used tac­tics is the mass no­ti­fi­ca­tions which can be used for weather, power out­ages or more se­ri­ous scares. Pocket-stop, a Dal­las-based com­pany that sends such no­ti­fi­ca­tions, said busi­ness among shop­ping cen­ters is up 33 per­cent over the past 12 months.

While less than 1 per­cent of the in­ci­dents in­volve a shoot­ing or at­tack, it’s on top of stores’ minds, said CEO Daniel Wagstaff.

By next year, the com­pany will launch a no­ti­fi­ca­tion ser­vice for cus­tomers us­ing the mall’s Wi-Fi. Wagstaff said the move is tricky.

“The last thing we want to do is pro­mote fear in our con­sumer. We want peo­ple to be safe, but we don’t want to scare peo­ple,” he said.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Knightscope K5 se­cu­rity ro­bots, at right, and back­ground left, pa­trol along­side a pier April 19 in San Diego. The ro­bots can iden­tify a ve­hi­cle parked in a cer­tain lo­ca­tion for too long or sense in­trud­ers at odd hours. The com­pany ex­pects to have sev­eral large mall de­vel­op­ers in Cal­i­for­nia start us­ing the ro­bots late this year.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Peo­ple stand near the en­trance on the north side of Cross­roads Cen­ter mall be­tween Macy’s and Tar­get as of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gate a re­ported mul­ti­ple stab­bing in­ci­dent Sept. 17 in St. Cloud, Minn.

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