Lori Hickey

The two recent shootings in Nairobi, Kenya and Paramus, NJ are highlighting the vulnerability of shopping malls in the lead up to the holiday season. With active shooter incidents becoming more frequent, major shopping centers are reviewing their policies and enhancing security protocols as they are an attractive target for both terrorism and traditional active shooter incidents. Additionally, shopping malls lack a hardened security perimeter and are easily accessible to the public. active mall shooter
In 2011, the National Retailers Federation updated their active shooter guidelines to incorporate the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new emergency response protocol into their larger security management plan. The guidelines aim to educate companies on how to react in the event of an active shooter situation and encourage regular drills. Although retailers have been hesitant to hire armed guards and install metal detectors, security officials report the increased use of surveillance cameras and other “non-visible security.” 

The MSA Research and Intelligence Team has been following these types of  situations closely, and has identified in their intel threat briefs following implications:

      • In many cities nationwide, local police departments are collaborating with shopping centers to train security teams and hold active shooter drills, as comprehensive training remains the most effective way to combat an active shooter threat. 
      • The response to the most recent mall shooting at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ was described as “textbook.” 
      • The facility was immediately placed on lockdown and emergency protocol was followed. 
      • Police quickly responded to the scene and evacuated the public once the situation was deemed safe. 
      • Although there were no casualties, and authorities assessed that the shooter only intended to hurt himself, this type of response has proven effective in the past. 
      • In a similar incident last December, a gunman opened fire at a mall outside of Portland, OR, killing two people. 
      • Despite casualties, police responded within minutes, which likely prevented further injuries. 
      • The quick response time was widely attributed to an active shooter training drill that took place shortly before the incident occurred.
      • The active shooter threat also includes terrorism. 
      • The holiday season is a particularly attractive time for terrorist attacks at shopping malls due to the large crowds and perceived connection to western materialism. 
      • Terrorist attacks have the potential to be better coordinated and more sophisticated than traditional active shooter situations. 
      • For example, the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi involved multiple assailants, who approached the building from two different directions, making it more difficult for potential victims to escape. 
      • They also had the backing of al Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab, which allowed them to carry out pre-operational surveillance that included renting a store within the complex. 
      • While this type of active shooter attack is often better executed, comprehensive training and security protocols can help mitigate casualties.
      • U.S. shopping malls are stepping up with holiday security in an effort to thwart potential copycat attacks ahead of the busy holiday season. 
      • Shoppers should expect an increased security presence that may include police officers and additional security cameras.
      • Based on patterns observed following previous incidents, the recent attacks are not expected to have a significant impact on this year’s holiday shopping in general or at the affected facilities. 

Recent Case Studies
  • Garden State Plaza, Paramus, NJ: At approximately 9:00pm on November 4, 2013, 20-year-old Richard Shoop entered Garden State Plaza and fired several shots into in the air with a weapon modified to look like an AK-47 assault rifle. He was reportedly dressed in black clothing and a black motorcycle helmet. As panicked shoppers fled, Shoop walked to a secluded section of the mall, where he shot and killed himself. Authorities do not believe that he intended to hurt anyone else. His family reported that he was suffering from depression and drug abuse issues.
  • Westgate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya: At noon on September 21, 2013, four masked terrorists dressed in combat fatigues and armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Westgate Mall. The assailants approached the facility in teams of two from two different directions and went from store to store opening fire on shoppers. The siege lasted for over 48 hours. In total, 61 people were killed and over 200 were injured. The incident came to an end on September 24, after all of the attackers were killed. The Somali terrorist organization, al-Shabaab, claimed reasonability for the attack, indicating they were targeting non-Muslims in retribution for Kenya’s military presence in Somalia.
  • Clackamas Town Center, Clackamas, OR: On December 11, 2012, 22-year-old Jacob Taylor Roberts opened fire in the food court on the second floor of a suburban Portland mall, killing two and seriously injuring another. Roberts later killed himself in a back stairwell at the facility. He reportedly used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that he stole from an acquaintance. According to witnesses, Roberts was dressed in a white hockey mask, black clothing and a load bearing vest. Although the motive for the shooting remains unclear, Roberts had recently broken up with his girlfriend, quit his job and announced that he would be moving out of state shortly before the attack.

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