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From Monitoring Teens to Minding Terrorists

In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the Mall in Columbia upgraded its security system, including 100 cameras whose zoom lenses can be operated remotely and watched from a bank of 16 monitors.
In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the Mall in Columbia upgraded its security system, including 100 cameras whose zoom lenses can be operated remotely and watched from a bank of 16 monitors. (The Mall In Columbia)

But a report released early in 2006 under leadership of the Police Foundation, a District think tank, found that although some malls have made changes, they have not been enough. The study, funded by the Justice Department, cited lack of coordination with local law and emergency forces and financing for new technology. It highlighted poor training of mall officers in terrorism awareness and response as one of the industry's main challenges.

That thinking broadens the responsibility of security guards: Mall security directors surveyed in the report put loitering kids as their top concern, with terrorism second. Only 2.5 percent required guards to have some college education. Less than 1 percent mandated a degree in criminal justice.

Robert C. Davis, lead author of the study who now is senior research analyst at Rand Corp., said 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 said. "The best thing they can do is respond effectively."

Maniscalco said 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.

The instructional DVD was shot at the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas. One lesson shows a man dressed as a janitor with a hose who seems to be watering plants in the food court. But there is no badge on his uniform and his eyes are scanning the crowd rather than looking at the plants.

Actually, he is spraying dangerous chemicals into the air, Maniscalco said. And instead of following an instinct to rush to the scene -- and possibly exposing themselves to the chemical -- guards should block off the area and call police, he said. The DVD also has live footage of terrorist attacks from New York to Russia, including the carnage following a suicide bombing in Israel.

"This is all real-world, everyday stuff that the security officer will encounter," Maniscalco said.

In fact, a man was arrested in December for plotting to use hand grenades and a pistol to disrupt Christmas shopping at a Rockford, Ill., mall. Two years ago in Columbus, Ohio, a man with alleged ties to al-Qaeda was indicted for wanting to shoot up a local mall. He is awaiting trial.

Still, there has been never been a terrorist attack against a U.S. shopping center. William Flynn, director of risk management for Homeland Security, said there was no intelligence to suggest shopping centers were in danger. The handful of reported threats seem to have come from lone wolves rather than organized cells, skeptics say.

"I wouldn't say let's classify every shopping mall in the country as critical infrastructure and start handing out federal grants" said James Carafano, a homeland security expert with the Heritage Foundation. "Putting a lot of money in this doesn't make much sense."

The initial rollout of the curriculum is being funded by the International Council of Shopping Centers, and companies that provide the private security for the country's shopping centers have agreed to participate, council spokesman Malachy Kavanagh said. Financing for the future has yet to be determined, but Kavanagh said the group plans to apply for federal grants. Flynn said he supports the program and that Homeland Security has conducted risk assessments at several shopping centers across the country.

One of the first guards to go through the new training program was Lt. Al Pineiro, who has worked at the Mall in Columbia for the past 10 years, starting part-time and recently going full-time. A former Army recruiter, he was at the National Guard facility in Silver Spring on Sept. 11, 2001. He recalled watching one of the World Trade Center towers crumble on a big-screen television with his fellow soldiers.

"I was shocked that it happened so close to home," he said.

Pineiro said the anti-terrorism training recalled the lessons he learned in the months following the attacks. It took him several days to complete the course, and he aced the final exam.

"It just reminds us that we have to stay alert," he said. "We can't afford to get complacent."

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