Weather Updates

Shopping centers already train for ‘Active Shooter’ scenarios

Updated: July 20, 2012 4:42PM

In the wake of the deadly movie theater shooting in Colorado, the U.S. Homeland Security department held a conference call Friday with the National Association of Theatre Owners Friday to review a security checklist and security processes.

As Twitter debate grew louder Friday about whether movie theaters will start frisking movie-goers and installing metal detectors in light of the Aurora, Colo., Batman movie massacre, a long-time Chicago shopping center security expert said nothing so drastic should happen — yet.

“We may see more scrutiny on the films being shown” and whether greater security is warranted based on a movie’s content and audience, said David Levenberg, former head of security for Chicago mall owner General Growth Properties, who now heads his own consulting firm in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Shopping centers and movie theaters already train their own unarmed security guards and allow police or private security guards to practice on their properties what’s called “Active Shooter” preparedness — a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program that calls for the police to pursue a shooter and do what’s necessary to stop him.

“Police departments no longer wait outside. The training is to aggressively approach and take whatever means necessary before the shooter takes more people’s lives,” Levenberg said.

Police and security guards track shooters through the malls’ closed circuit TV systems, and they practice the “Active Shooter” response by training inside the malls after hours with floor blueprints, Levenberg said.

“Where are the back entrances? Where do back corridors lead? Where are the nooks and crannies? The more practice, the better,” he said.

Malls typically prohibit adults from wearing masks, except for religious attire such as burkas, because of previous incidents involving violence, security experts say.

Owners of movie theaters and shopping centers work together because people waiting in line to get into the movies or those thrown out of a movie for unruly behavior overflow into or return to the shopping center, Levenberg said.

Though terrorism has been ruled out as a factor in Friday’s movie-theater massacre, the International Center of Shopping Centers set up a class at Louisiana State University after 9/11 to train mall and other large-venue security officers how to recognize and stop terrorists, including those using explosive devices.

Such training can only go so far in certain circumstances, said Malachy Kavanagh, the center’s spokesman.

“It’s very difficult to stop someone who has no fear of being caught or dying to carry out [his or her] crime,” he said.

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