RAND Study Identifies Ways Shopping Centers Can Sharply Reduce Terrorism Risk
February 12, 2007
A RAND Corporation report issued today identifies and prioritizes 39 security measures that can substantially reduce the risk of terrorist attacks at enclosed shopping centers.
The study ranks the security measures based on the relative risks of a set of attack scenarios and on the cost and effectiveness of each measure. It identifies a high-priority set of six to 10 security measures that can cut terrorism risk to just one-fifteenth the level it would otherwise be, based on case studies of three enclosed shopping centers in the United States.
The highest priority measures identified by the RAND study span a range of approaches and include: public information campaigns encouraging people to report suspicious packages; placing vehicle barriers at pedestrian entrances to block suicide car bombers; searching kiosks for bombs and weapons; more clearly labeling exits so shoppers can quickly find their way out of malls in an emergency; and searching all bags and requiring everyone entering shopping centers to remove their coats to check for explosives and weapons.
Costs of implementing the highest priority security measures range from $500,000 to $2 million per year per at each of the three shopping centers examined. In addition, researchers found that implementing the high-priority measures would be 95 percent as effective as implementing all 39 measures.
“The RAND analysis does not assess the probability of terrorist attacks at shopping centers and does not suggest that the risk is high or increasing,” said Tom LaTourrette, lead researcher on the project.
Millions of people shop safely at shopping centers every day, but the threat of terrorist attacks at the centers has become a more prominent concern since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. There have been more than 60 terrorist attacks against shopping centers in 21 countries since 1998.
The report by RAND, a nonprofit research organization, uses a quantitative modeling approach to rank security measures with the goal of achieving the greatest risk reduction for the least cost.
The ranking approach considers the relative likelihoods and consequences of different types of terrorist attacks at commercial shopping centers based on historical data, identifies site-specific physical security measures that could reduce these risks, and uses a model to prioritize the measures according to estimates of cumulative risk reduction and cumulative annual cost.
Despite examining centers that span a wide range in size and layout, the prioritization of security measures among the three centers studied by RAND is very similar, with eight of the top 10 measures being the same for all centers.
The report also finds that disaster preparedness plans and exercises that focus primarily on emergency response have limited effectiveness in reducing terrorism risk. The vast majority of terrorism risk derives from bomb attacks, which have immediate effects that abate quickly. This poses constraints on what can be done to reduce consequences once such an attack has occurred.
While shopping center operators could choose to implement some of the security measures identified in this report immediately, many of the measures may not be feasible or appropriate under current conditions. As a result, a tiered implementation may be the best strategy, implementing a set of security options most appropriate for today's environment and developing plans today for further measures if the environment changes for the worse.
The report also notes that the impact of the security measures on shopping center business will depend on how shoppers and merchants perceive the terrorism threat. Some shoppers may dislike increased security and come to more secure centers less frequently, while others shoppers may prefer to go to centers with increased security because they will feel safer.
The report is titled “Reducing Terrorism Risk at Shopping Centers: An Analysis of Potential Security Options” and is available at www.rand.org. In addition to LaTourrette, RAND researchers David R. Howell, David E. Mosher and John MacDonald of RAND carried out the study. The owner of the three shopping centers that funded the study asked not to be publicly identified.
The research was conducted by the Homeland Security Program within the RAND Infrastructure, Safety and Environment (ISE) Division. Homeland Security Program research supports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other agencies charged with preventing and mitigating the effects of terrorist activity within U.S. borders.