Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the federal government has invested deeply in improving the security of the nation’s critical infrastructure. The term critical infrastructure sounds like an abstraction encompassing and/or limited to major government buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc., but it is not. In fact, The State Official’s Guide to Critical Infrastructure Protection, published in 2003 by the Council of State Governments, indicates that 80 – 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States is privately owned. Its principal elements include buildings and facilities of all types built and/or used for a broad spectrum of economic and business-oriented interests: food and agriculture, energy, public health, banking and finance, postal and shipping, aviation, rail, pipeline, chemical, and nuclear. Because these elements are business-oriented and, for that reason, usually protected by private security forces, it makes government control over security difficult to mandate. Nonetheless, the federal government is and has been diligently working with the private sector to secure all of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

The federal government has employed a remarkable effort to not only secure the critical infrastructure in the United States but also to prepare the rest of the country for the possibility of additional terrorist attacks. In early November 2007, ABC News reported that the FBI had issued a warning of possible attacks on the nation’s shopping malls and centers. This was an indication that Al Qaeda may have had a shift in its own thinking. Many attacks on shopping centers in the Middle East already had been carried out. In that context, the FBI warning was a strong suggestion that similar attacks may soon be carried out on the U.S. mainland. All current FBI bulletins continue to indicate, moreover, that anti-American fundamentalist regimes will attempt to attack the U.S. mainland in the foreseeable future, and that they may be shifting gears to address soft targets such as malls and shopping centers.

There are thousands of malls and shopping centers in the United States. They range in size from small neighborhood establishments to malls large enough to be assigned their own postal zip codes. U.S. malls and shopping centers are soft targets of opportunity for terrorists. The November 2007 FBI intelligence alert specifically identified potential attacks in Chicago and Los Angeles, but the entire country was put on alert. Those attacks never happened, but there was an intelligence community belief that they might. Because the specific locations of the most likely attacks are privately owned, they are protected by private security services.

However, the real threat is that Al Qaeda does not have to actually attack a large mall or shopping center to be effective. If the terrorists’ mission is to cause economic havoc, attacks on small shopping centers could achieve that intended result, not only by overwhelming local resources but also by frightening people into not visiting any mall or shopping center. Here it is worth pointing out that, immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, airline passenger reservations dropped off for a while.

Security at Local Shopping Centers

Local shopping centers and malls usually are protected by private security guard forces – sometimes augmented by local police working in an overtime capacity. However, key responsibility rests with the private security company.

The unfortunate circumstance, though, is that many of the nation’s private-sector security guard services are neither equipped nor trained to deal with terrorist attacks. For that reason alone, it is essential that property owners install the systems and other “tools” that will help roving security patrols to monitor the numerous activities going on in the typical shopping center or mall at any given time. This is where technology comes in.

Today, security experts both private and public are moving to an “all-hazards” approach to security planning. This means that when security plans are written they cover almost any hazard that could endanger a facility. Historically, local property owners have been more concerned – with good reason – about crime on or against their facilities than about a possible terrorist attack. Hard economic times will, in fact, likely increase the amount of petty crime occurring in shopping centers and other private-sector facilities. As crime escalates in a shopping center, customer loyalty begins to fade. Patrons begin to take their business to what they perceive to be safer locations, causing shop owners to lose money – which, thanks to what is called “the domino effect” – cuts into the mall owners’ bottom line, and the suppliers’ bottom line.

A Change in Thinking, and an Alternative Solution

Owners of smaller malls and shopping centers need to become much more aware not only of the petty crimes that are occurring, but also of the potential of a terrorist attack. Property owners should understand that, while addressing the issues of crime on their property, they can also address the potential terrorist attack. When a shopping center, mall, and/or strip mall security force conducts a security assessment it typically focuses on crimes that can be quantified – shoplifting, for example, and auto theft, theft from an auto, assault, robbery, abduction, even homicide. For that reason, the possibility of a terrorist attack may be an afterthought.

The question arises, therefore: What can owners do to help protect themselves? There are several answers (or partial answers): The first and most obvious answer is to augment their private security personnel with an effective state-of-the-art surveillance system. In other words, give them better tools to work with.

Surveillance equipment, perhaps the most important tool currently available to private-sector security forces, has been used in numerous locations throughout the world for many years. Current high-quality video-surveillance systems not only pay a good return on the dollar but also can be of great assistance to private-security teams in a number of ways. Although a number of facilities have used video-surveillance equipment for some time, many owners have not upgraded their systems to some of the new advanced-technology systems. The older systems provide little value in a technology market that is moving forward at a very high rate of speed. One problem is that the older systems often provide little evidence that can be used in court.

Tom Murray, president of WayPoint Network in Annapolis, Maryland, said in an interview that his company is installing new-generation video systems that also can act as alarm systems, as access-control systems, and as intercom/loudspeaker systems – all wrapped up in a single package. A multipurpose system like that, obviously, can greatly enhance the effectiveness of the uniformed security officers on post, whether private or police. As Murray pointed out, the newer advanced-technology systems can provide in a single system the benefits that used to require at least two different systems. There is an obvious overall cost savings, in dollars as well as staff time, that can be achieved with the newer systems.

The Worldwide Trend Toward Advanced Technology

Since the 9/11 attacks, police and other public-safety forces around the world have pushed steadily toward installing video-surveillance cameras not only in and around critical-infrastructure facilities but also in many other locations where large numbers of people are likely to congregate. According to a 4 April 2007 article on the BBC Home website, Great Britain was at that time using about 4.2 million surveillance cameras – an amazing total that undoubtedly has increased considerably over the last 15 months. The same article pointed out that the cameras have helped reduce all types of crime. An earlier article – a New York Times report on 23 August 2005 – discussed the fact that the New York Transit Authority would be spending $212 million on 1,000 cameras to protect the city’s transit system.

The trend is clear: The use of video-surveillance technology is now widely accepted as an effective – and cost-effective – way to help public and private security forces provide better protection to citizens. When property owners are looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of their current private security force, therefore, or want to do anything else to improve security on their property, the business case for small enterprises becomes less complicated. The investment in more, and better, video-surveillance equipment is well worth the money.

In purchasing systems, the initial outlay for a video-surveillance system can be slightly more than the cost of present-day alarm systems, but the sustainment cost of those systems can be and usually is much less. The fact that the newer systems have such a broad array of functions and sensor capabilities brings the cost/benefit ratio into clearer focus. The fact that property owners can view their property any time, almost anywhere, also helps the cost/benefit ratio. The small property owner now has an effective tool not only to support the live security patrol force he employs, but also to ensure that the patrols themselves are doing their jobs properly.

State-of-the-art video-surveillance technology should not be viewed as a replacement for a live security patrol, it is worth pointing out, but should be seen, rather, as an augmentation. The surveillance equipment will sound an alert when something is wrong, but only the live security patrol can actually handle an incident and/or detain a suspect. So, if a property owner has no security at all on his property, it may be logical, depending on the makeup of the location, to start the building of an effective security system with the purchase and installation of a high-quality video-surveillance system.

Gary Simpson

Gary Simpson is a 32-year veteran of the Annapolis Police Department who, after he retired (in the rank of captain), was hired back to serve as the emergency management director for the City of Annapolis. Two years later, he shifted back to the police department as director of domestic preparedness and in that post was responsible for the department’s anti- terrorism planning, technology management, and intelligence operations. He also has served in CID, the Arson & Explosives Unit, Public Affairs, Patrol Operations, Special Operations, SWAT, the White Collar/Fraud Crimes Unit, and Communications. He left the department earlier this year to start Simpson Security Strategies LLC, a security consulting company.

Translate »