Any area or venue where large numbers of people gather is inevitably vulnerable to attacks, but feeling powerless is not an option.

As places of mass attendance, shopping centres are clear targets for attack – be that a co-ordinated act of terrorism or a mentally unstable individual.

Indeed, shopping centres have been the location of a number of some terrible large-scale attacks that have taken place in recent months.

Such heinous events have become an almost a daily occurrence. The number of deaths resulting from terrorism worldwide increased from 3,329 to 32,685 in the year 2000, a nine-fold increase. These figures include those killed by gunmen in the Westgate Shopping Centre attack in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013. Recently, we have witnessed attacks made on the public using axes, knives and a cargo lorry.

In the last few weeks we have witnessed attacks made on the public using axes, knives and a cargo lorry.

Faced with these atrocities, it is easy to feel powerless. But for those organisations that cater for large gatherings – shopping centres but also festivals, theatres, music venues, etc – powerlessness is not an option.

The question is, how can we protect the public, employees, tenants and, by association, the reputation and the value of an organisation’s investment?

Identify potential threats

Firstly, measures can be taken to prevent an emergency. It is important to assess risk – to identify all potential threats to safety. In these situations, knowledge is power.

Awareness is also critical – this means being aware of any suspicious behaviour or activity and ensuring that this information is passed along to security staff.

“Measures are easily forgotten if not regularly reviewed: updating and rehearsing security plans is essential”

Preparing to protect is a legal requirement: every business and employer in control of a premise must have “established appropriate procedures … to be followed in the event of a serious and imminent danger”.

Accordingly, most businesses will have a plan in place that covers what to do in the event of an emergency. But these measures are easily forgotten if not regularly reviewed: updating and rehearsing security plans is essential.

Communicate procedures to staff

Security measures must be rigorously communicated between owners, managers, staff and tenants. Having a strategy is essential, as is ensuring that all members of staff know their role and what action to take.

Further, staff should be adequately trained – for example in first aid – and given regular course refreshers.

“Fast response is essential. The first 60 minutes following an incident are critical”

In the event of a major incident, a fast response during the first 60 minutes following an incident are critical. Also note, “the hold off time”, the time between calling emergency services and their arrival.

The “hold off time” for a suspected or actual bomb blast or active shooter can be anything from 10 minutes to three hours – it is time that the actions of first responders are most essential, and well-rehearsed security plans can be the difference between chaos and containment.

First response

Part of this first response will be to alert emergency services and equip them with as much information as possible. At the earliest opportunity, emergency and security services will want to know the answers to the following questions:

  • What do the individuals look like?
  • How many are there?
  • What they are carrying?
  • Where were they last seen?

It is important that staff and tenants, as well as managers and owners, know to look for these details because the answers will enable security staff to prevent further injury or loss of life.

Finally, isolation should be avoided. Work out security measures in conjunction with surrounding businesses and shops. By co-ordinating security plans, businesses can be more effective and efficient in their response, ultimately hastening recovery to business as usual.

We are living and operating in a new reality but, rather than panic, we must take the time to understand our options.

There’s no need for powerlessness when faced with violence or an emergency, so long as we are prepared.

  • Robert Clark is director of Templewood Training Services, a specialist training company aligned with the Metropolitan Police’s Project Griffin, designed to encourage and enable members of the community to deter and detect terrorist activity and crime