Mall guards to be instructed in terrorism prevention

Jan 9, 2007 3:37 PM

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Starting this month, malls across the country will begin training guards to fight terrorism.

The 14-hour program is being developed by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, and the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University at a cost of $2 million. It is the first standardized anti-terrorism curriculum written for the nation's estimated 20,000 mall security guards, The Washington Post reports.

Developers of the program say it is crucial to safeguarding shopping centers. "Many different facets of our society since the Sept. 11 attacks have had to take the stark realization that bad people might try to do bad things," Paul M. Maniscalco, a senior research scientist who helped create the program, tells the newspaper. "Security is really paramount in large enclosed malls. These events, when you respond to them, you make or break it in the first 20 minutes."

The training focuses on making guards more aware of the effects of terrorist attacks and helping them recognize potential attackers. It ranges from understanding the characteristics of the nerve agent sarin (especially dangerous in enclosed spaces because it vaporizes quickly) to spotting suicide bombers (look for unusual dress, like a heavy coat in the middle of summer).

The program is being tested at a handful of shopping centers and is planned to be rolled out over the next six months.

The Department of Homeland Security categorizes shopping centers, along with other easily accessible public places, as "soft targets."

Though security officers are usually uniformed, they are not intended to appear threatening.

"Their job is to be welcoming," Robert Rowe, director of development for the ASIS International, tells the Post. "The shopping mall doesn't survive unless people come."

Robert C. Davis, senior research analyst at Rand Corp., tells the newspaper that it is not feasible to teach mall guards the complex skills needed to identify potential terrorists, who are tracked through highly developed intelligence networks. He contends there is little malls can do to prevent an attack -- they can only react to one.

"The biggest things malls can do is have really well-developed, detailed emergency response plans and rehearse them," Davis says. "The best thing they can do is respond effectively."

Maniscalco says the curriculum focuses on awareness and response and was developed with the same materials used in training courses for emergency responders and law enforcement, tailored for mall security officers. "This is all real-world, everyday stuff that the security officer will encounter," Maniscalco says.

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