This week has been marred by violence in shopping malls across America. This type of crime is unique in that it doesn't affect just the assailants - in many instances, it literally affects hundreds of shoppers and numerous businesses.
Many of these incidents are starting as a violent confrontation between two or more individuals, but with security concerns being what they are, when someone yells "gun," or hears a sound resembling a gunshot, the entire scenario changes from a mall brawl into mass panic.
Safety in the mall is not the sole responsibility of the police or mall security. While mall management does accept a certain responsibility to provide a safe environment, this applies more to them ensuring they have adequate emergency response staff (mall security or police officers) and that stores are instructed what to do should an incident occur. Your responsibility, not only as a mall patron but as a community member, is to remain vigilant of our surroundings and report any suspicious behavior.
But how can you best do that in a mall?
First, know the location of the mall security office. This is the central location of mall security operations and in most malls, is staffed during business hours. Not only are security staff present, but this is also the location that emergency medical equipment is kept.
Second, know that all mall stores have the capability and a protocol for contacting mall security. If you see something suspicious, go into the nearest store and ask them to call security. Be a good witness. If police are needed, mall security will be able to immediately contact them.
Also, know the location of AED's (automated external defibrillators) in your mall. Just as they are placed throughout airports, AED's have become a standard in emergency medical response.
If a panic situation does occur, anticipate that a stampede-like situation may rapidly ensue. If it does, step into a store and follow the directions of the staff, they should direct you to a safe area based upon their emergency procedures. If you are in an open area of the mall and cannot seek shelter inside a store, follow the same personal procedure you have learned for an active shooter situation - Run, Hide, Fight (or Avoid, Deny, Defend). If you are caught in a moving crowd of people and are unable to keep up with them, immediately move behind a solid, stationary object to avoid being trampled by the moving crowd.
Finally, if you do encounter responding police, make sure you keep both of your hands visible to officers and do exactly what they tell you to do.
A good idea when you are walking through the mall is to pay attention to where the last emergency exit is that you passed. Plan your movements should something bad happen.
Something everyone needs to be aware of is that a mall, and the parking lots surrounding it, is private property, not public property. As such, mall security, acting on behalf of the property owners, has the authority to trespass anyone from that property. This means restricting a person from entering the property or direct their removal from that property.
The mall reserves this authority to ensure they have a means by which to regulate problematic or potentially dangerous people from causing harm to their customers.
A mall is designed to be enjoyable and entertaining, a place where people can feel comfortable and shop. But a situation can develop very quickly inside a crowded mall. Should a critical incident develop, your best defense is to be familiar with the area and have a plan of action for your own personal safety.