As the official 2015 holiday shopping season ushers in, retail stores and shopping malls across the United States are tasked with ensuring public safety while providing the least amount of hassle for customers. In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks earlier in November, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are working with businesses enhance security at “soft targets” across the nation, including shopping malls, stadiums and restaurants.
In recent years, large shopping malls have hosted mock terrorist attacks to test and improve multi-agency response efforts and skills of first responders should the “unthinkable” occur. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security partner with local police, fire and emergency medical services for the drills. In a statement issued by mall giant, Simon Property Group earlier in the week, a spokeswoman said it “has a detailed security plan in place for the holidays, which we will continually evaluate and modify as needed” and “is regularly in communication with the Department of Homeland Security.”
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano announced the agency’s first shopping mall partnership with the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Since then, the “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign has been extended to much of the nation’s shopping venues. Soft targets are attractive to terrorists because of lack of security and opportunity to harm a large number of people that gather in enclosed space. Mega malls such as the Mall of America provide a snapshot of everything American, and what Islamic Extremists consider sinful and immoral.
In February, 2015, the United States Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson said intelligence indicating terrorists are targeting American shopping malls, including the Mall of America in Minnesota are being taken very seriously and urged shoppers to be careful. The Homeland Security Chief’s warning, which specifically named the Mall of America was the first of its kind in U.S. history.
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, a compiled annual list of likely terrorist targets placed the Mall of America as the second or third most likely target based on a Homeland Security risk-based formula. The 9/11 commission estimated that eighty-five percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is privately owned and privately patrolled. Therefore, security guards are most often the first line of defense at the overwhelming majority of the country’s venues – everything from nuclear power plants to shopping malls. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s role is limited to suggestions and incentives, except in special events such as the Super Bowl.