BY MALAYSIA SHOPPING MALLS ASSOCIATION
In tandem with the growth in shopping malls, the responsibilities of their security departments and management teams are now far more challenging.
Initially, the work involved just dealing with the occasional petty thefts and misdemeanour cases, but that has progressed to organised crime, suicides, riots, and now, threats of terrorism.
Today, everywhere the public congregates – leisure and entertainment venues, food and beverage outlets, parks, malls and even places of worship – are vulnerable to threats.
Shopping malls are generally “soft” targets as they have many entrances and exits to facilitate easy access for shoppers, while some malls do not even have doors at their entrances.
This makes monitoring any suspicious perpetrators with explosive or other devices a tough job for security personnel.
Patrick So, 1 Utama Shopping Centre’s general manager (advertising and promotions), says adopting stringent controls on patrons in the name of security does not promote a “shopper-friendly mall”.
“We need to balance safety and security measures with utmost discretion vis-a-vis making shoppers welcome to our mall without unduly alarming them,’’ he says.
So believes security personnel must be trained to recognise potential danger but not be over-reactive or over suspicious. This is a finely honed skill which comes with experience.
With malls continuing to work towards enhanced public safety and security, many have further improved measures with the latest state-of-the-art closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance with added features which can detect unattended parcels or baggage.
Such enhanced surveillance and security equipment means additional capital expenditures for a mall as well as the need for training to operate the new equipment and maintenance costs.
From another perspective, Gerard James Moorthy, security and safety manager from gateway@klia2, a mall at the low-cost carrier terminal in Sepang, Selangor, says cheaper air fares and competitive hotel rates have allowed foreign syndicates to expand their thefts and scam operations in other countries, including retail outlets in malls.
“The difficulty of being identified by the authorities, coupled with high returns from such scams far outweigh the expenses of travelling overseas to commit crimes,” he says.
While the development of integrated malls that come with built-in hotels, theme parks and convention centres make them ideal for merchandise launches, events and meetings that attract VIPs, celebrities and ministers, he envisages that such high profile attendance can also make these premises susceptible to unwanted activities.
With the huge jump in the number of incidents involving lone wolf attacks and global terrorism, Gerard sees securing malls from such attacks as an imposing task as they are public premises with so many amenities and access points.
“We can be alert, responsive, and work to detect any early surveillance of our premises by perpetrators.
“And apart from the lock down of susceptible premise points, liaising closely with enforcement agencies and sharing intelligence are crucial preventive measures too,” Gerard says.
Kamarudin Sharif, the security manager at Plaza Low Yat, a reputable digital mall which faced threats from some members of the public last year, concurs with Gerard.
Ever prepared to handle such circumstances and keep them under control, he says his mall conducts monthly hands-on training on safety and security for in-house and outsourced security personnel.
“In case of any untoward incidents, our security force will act immediately. We gather feedback and information on such incidents or cases around our vicinity so that we can take precautions.
“We have standard operating procedures (SOPs). In an emergency, for example, we have SOPs on how to manage a bomb threat, fights, illegal groups and the like,” he says.
gateway@klia2’s Gerard believes mall developers have to look beyond the aesthetics and consider safety and security in building designs as well.
Kamarudin advocates the use of crime prevention through environmental design as this will assist in-house security services and enforcement authorities in securing a site.
“Integrated security system designs must be implemented to automate premise monitoring and minimise response time. In addition, security guard services can no longer be about deploying a guard to stand static at a location for 12 hours.
“Guards, whether in-house or outsourced, not only provide security presence but also act as a mall’s customer service representative.
“Thus, they need to speak well, give customers directions, operate high-end security equipment and have the intelligence to spot or take pre-emptive action to avert a potential incident,” he says.
Kamarudin says Plaza Low Yat has scheduled programmes to ensure staff are trained and certified in first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation, fire-fighting, coordinated evacuation drill and risk management. The training is outsourced to authorities such as Red Crescent Society, St John Ambulance, Fire Services Department and First Alert.
“It is conducted in-house where possible, but certain subjects like fire-fighting require hands-on training at the fire station itself. Usually, the certification needs to be updated only every three years so priority is given to those who have not previously attended such training.
“We provide training for our outsourced guard services on security procedures. Housekeeping services learn about safety procedures, including chemical handling.
“We have also procured equipment such as fire-fighting suits, portable medical kits, rescue tools, first-aid kits, wheelchairs and barriers for their training,” says Kamarudin.
Besides having two fully furnished first-aid rooms, Gerard says his mall’s tenants are invited to attend briefings on the evacuation process and participate in evacuation drills.
Everyone, including the public, customers and patrons have to be constantly vigilant and observant in order to mitigate such threats.
“We have prepared manuals such as the Security Standard Operating Procedures and Safety Standard Operating Procedures for our personnel to read, understand and implement. The evacuation plans are included in the Safety SOP,” he says.
With its in-house operating procedures and emergency equipment in place, Gerard sees a need for more public education on safety and security matters.
“The relevant authorities should increase public awareness through campaigns, promotions and media channels.
“They should amend by-laws to include penalising those who allow incidents to occur due to negligence, such as victims’ family members, instead of looking at whether the service provider is at fault,” he says.
Not unlike the other malls, Bangsar Shopping Centre’s security and safety manager Ibrahim Md Yusof says it has also put in place security and safety SOPs.
These include having CCTVs, auxiliary police, an emergency response team, fire and building evacuation as well as a security and safety programmes for its staff and tenants.
The Malaysia Shopping Malls Association (PPK Malaysia) will continuously engage the authorities and police to ensure proper measures are taken to mitigate any impending threats and work towards enhanced public safety which is of high priority in malls globally.
The association has organised a study trip to learn about the operational readiness of malls in Manila, Philippines, to deal with threats and emergencies.
It will continue to organise workshops and training courses for mall personnel on safety and security.
Sunway Malls and Theme Parks CEO Chan Hoi Choy, however, hopes that malls will not be subject to tight security like in airports with the adoption of more stringent security surveillance measures.
“The presence of police and security guards in public spaces like malls and tourist places should suffice,” he says, pointing out that over 500 CCTVs have been installed at Sunway Pyramid mall alone, besides the use of auxiliary police over the last decade.
“We would like malls to be more customer friendly and continue to be vigilant of suspicious characters,” Chan adds.
The deployment and consistent monitoring by CCTVs placed at strategic locations are effective tools which shopping malls utilise to oversee and scrutinise potentially dangerous activities where caution and judgment in assessing the surroundings must be exercised.
More malls now have increased surveillance with the deployment of auxiliary police as well.
PPK Malaysia president Tan Sri Eddy Chen says, “While there are now more challenging circumstances, all important security and safety measures are in place.
“We will need continuous staff training and the close co-operation and alertness of everyone in the mall, including retail personnel and shoppers themselves, to be constantly vigilant for suspicious activities.”
This article was contributed by Malaysia Shopping Malls Association