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Insecure malls

A visit to the SM Pampanga shopping mall this week has once again reminded me of the ridiculous use of security disciplines and resources all in the name of providing civilians and workers with a safe mall environment!

Let me first up acknowledge that unfortunately there have been some horrific attacks in malls with bomb explosions in the name of one cause or another and hold-up gun fights being played out in full public view. These events often lead to the deaths of law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties and also, tragically, innocent civilians going about their daily affairs. Given this position I am the first to support the need for security in such highly populated venues and further am happy to accept delays that inevitably occur as a result of such measures.

What I find frustrating and annoying are the ridiculous so called safety procedures and security checks that are meant to protect civilians. These folks who are simply out for a day’s shopping, a dining experience or to watch a movie will gladly queue up to pass through security but surely these checks should be professional and thorough. Does anyone seriously believe that current security measures are effective in preventing threats to the lives of innocent civilians?

Our family visit to SM Pampanga went like this:

Cars were queued up for a security check at the entry to the mall location. Our car is a sedan so we were asked to open the trunk for an inspection. NO checks with mirrors under the car, NO inspection of the inner compartments or under the passenger seats. I asked why the SUV in front of our sedan did not have to open the rear door for inspection and was informed “because it is not a trunk!”.

Conclusion: if you want to get a bomb or weapons through the check point put them under the seats or in one of the inner storage compartments. An alternative plan is to buy, borrow, hire or steal a SUV as these undergo even less “stringent” checks.

Next we had to negotiate our travels dangerously close to cars parked in between the roadside ‘No Parking’ signs placed along the side walls of the mall and in full view of more security officers.

Conclusion: If you do have a bomb in the car, which you easily got past the entrance check, then parking in these locations will ensure an exploding bomb does maximum mall damage!

Having parked our car in one of the formal car slots we proceeded to walk to the mall entry to undergo the physical checks required to enter the store. There were separate checks for males and females and apparently different rules so I am presuming male and female bombers behave differently? Whilst my wife had her bag checked, (all bags were being inspected), only the adult males were receiving a gently touch in the small of the back so I am presuming only males smuggle bombs or guns and the small of the back is the preferred place of concealment!

Conclusion: hide you guns under your kids clothing, strap your bomb to your own legs or load up your wife with guns and bombs as there is little to no chance these locations will be checked!

Side note: it was in this exact mall where last year a young male smuggled a gun past security and then fatally shot another young male before turning the gun on himself.

Now in going through the process to enter the mall location, park the car and enter the mall itself we counted no less than seven security officers on duty in just those locations.

Conclusion: the cost to hire security guards is cheap (as is the standard of training) and there is a belief having lots of gun toting uniformed security guards on show in itself will deter the lunatics who might have evil intentions in mind.

Now to finish this story, I must report that upon finishing our day at the mall we returned to the car-park to discover ‘lazy and inconsiderate’ drivers had parked their cars on both sides of the car-park entry/exit lanes. These bottlenecks had drivers performing the ritual horn tooting in the misguided belief this would magically clear the traffic congestion.

Whilst there were many empty car slots available these cars had been ‘illegally’ parked in full view of security guards patrolling the car-park!

Conclusion: if you do plan to bomb a mall and want to maximise panic and mayhem then park cars blocking the entry/exit points to stop civilians escaping and also this will prevent emergency services vehicles from getting in.

I have just returned from Mumbai in India where I visited several malls and I have to say the security standards there were outstanding. Public transport drop off and pick up locations were patrolled and regulations strictly enforced as were the safe parking rules in the car-parks. Entry to the mall was through metal detecting gates such as you experience at an airport and males, females, adults and children were all treated the same. I definitely felt safe in visiting these malls in India.

This is not meant to singularly attack SM but as the country’s leading retail group hosting more customer visitations than any of its competitors it is possibly more exposed to potential security threats. Surely SM should be even more vigilant in providing world class security measures.

InsideRetail.Asia columnist Darrell Wisbey has 30 years retail experience, living and working in Australia and Asia. He is based in the Philippines and a member of Impact Retailing. Email Darrell.

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