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Malls beef up security following threatening video

A video threatening terrorist action at U.S. and other Western malls sent retailers' emergency preparedness plans into action after it surfaced over the weekend.

But the threat—which caused the Department of Homeland Security to warn American shoppers to stay vigilant, despite the fact that there is no known credible threat—is not expected to dent traffic at shopping centers, which generated $2.5 trillion in sales last year.

"People look at it as they're not going to change their daily lives," said Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers trade group.

People are seen walking through Roosevelt Field shopping mall in Garden City, N.Y.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Safety has been a growing concern at shopping malls, which have served as the site for a number of public shootings over the past few years. Just this month, three people were shot outside of a mall in Pittsburgh and two people were arrested over an alleged plan to attack a mall in Canada.

Back in 2013, a three-day attack on a mall in Kenya left dozens dead. The same group that claimed responsibility for that attack is the same one making the new round of threats. It specifically mentioned Minnesota's Mall of America, which generates nearly $2 billion in economic activity for the state each year, according to its website.

The mall issued a statement saying that it is taking extra precautions.

"Retailers are moving quickly to implement their top-level emergency plans," said Bill Thorne, a senior vice president at the National Retail Federation, in a statement. "That includes alerting personnel and shoppers to maintain a heightened level of vigilance at all times."

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He added that retailers work with federal, state and local law enforcement all year long, including open communication regarding potential threats. The trade organization also makes available on its website information on how to deal with an active shooter on the property, including when to take action and the importance of developing an emergency plan.

ICSC has taken similar actions to keep shoppers safe. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the group spent $2 million to develop a training course on how to respond to an act of terrorism; mall security workers can sign up for the program free of charge. 30,000 officers have completed the course.

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ICSC's Tron emphasized that in addition to the security measures consumers see, including uniformed security personnel, there are also a number of things happening behind the scenes. Those include security cameras, monitoring social media for threats and working with local law enforcement agencies.

According to an estimate from the organization, large malls can invest more than $2 million a year on security systems.

"I think that's the most important aspect of this," Tron said. "This is not all of a sudden reactionary. ... This [preparation] has been going on every day."

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Despite every effort, the fact that malls are open to the public makes them, by nature, difficult to secure. There's also hesitation from consumers to make these centers as strictly regulated as an airport.

"We've asked consumers would they want to go through a metal detector to come to a mall and resoundingly the answer is no," Tron said.

Regardless of safety issues, mall traffic is on the decline, as consumers opt to do more of their shopping online. According to Citi's weekly retail traffic report, February month-to-date traffic is down more than 5 percent.