The International Council of Shopping Centers created a terrorist-awareness training program shortly after 9/11. At the time, there were no training programs in place for the shopping center industry.
“We hired George Washington University to develop a program and funded the work with $2 million,” said Malachy Kavanagh, ICSC spokesperson. “We created a 10-module course that is delivered over the Internet. You can learn at your own pace. If you work right through, it will take 14 to 15 hours.”
ICSC has since moved the course from George Washington to the Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training at Louisiana State University’s Fire and Emergency Training Institute. “They do our training on their website and update us every month on the completion rate,” Kavanagh said.
Subjects include active shooters, evacuation, sheltering in place, behavior analysis and more.
The first goal in the training program is to recognize people who are acting out of character for a shopping center. “Everyone acts pretty much the same when shopping,” Kavanagh said. “So part of the training teaches people to look for anomalous behavior — who is not acting like a shopper.
“For example, law enforcement tells us that terrorist attacks are carefully planned. Planning includes studying the target. If you can spot someone conducting surveillance, you might be able to prevent an attack.”
ICSC updates the course constantly. Every year, for instance, the Stephenson Center and ICSC host a security summit. In 2013, the summit brought in security experts from Israel to talk about bombing. Kavanagh said that ICSC used the opportunity to develop additional educational opportunities.
Annual updates are important to a terrorism training course because strategies continually change and evolve as the experience base grows. For example, law enforcement recently shifted its strategy for responding to an active shooter.
Not long ago, the strategy was to encircle the mall, try to figure out where the shooter was and where the bystanders were.
“The strategy today is that whoever arrives first should enter the mall and get after the shooter,” Kavanagh said. “The reason is that malls are large facilities and it can be difficult to find an individual. So now the thinking is: Capture ground and make it safe so that EMTs can treat the wounded. If you hear shots over there, go over there now. Disarm or eliminate the shooter as fast as you can.”
Such a significant change in law-enforcement strategy might also change the property level response before the police arrive. So it is important to maintain the lines of communication between law enforcement and the industry.