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BIZ mall26p The exterior of the Westfield Franklin Park mall.
The exterior of the Westfield Franklin Park mall.
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Published: Monday, 9/23/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Local malls, police plan for horrific events, just in case

BY TOM HENRY AND TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Much like any of a number of mass shootings in U.S. elementary schools, movie houses, and on college campuses in recent years, the tragedy in Kenya’s Westgate Mall has been a wake-up call for Toledo-area shopping centers and officials trying to keep large gatherings safe.

But as the world continues to be in shock over the dozens of gunshot victims in Nairobi, Toledo-area officials said local security precautions are frequently re-examined.

They understand why such international events stimulate discussions. And they said they have learned, in today’s terrorism-laden world, to plan for worst-case scenarios no matter what.

“Our hearts and thoughts go out to everyone in Kenya. How horrific,” Julie Sanderson, Westfield Franklin Park spokesman, said. “Obviously, the safety of all of our shoppers is first and foremost.”

Neither she nor Charlene Scott, the general manager at The Town Center at Levis Commons, would disclose what security measures would be deployed in the event of a terrorist act at their locations.

But they said their mall management works with security teams on training procedures for dealing with violence and natural disasters, from isolating gunmen to assisting with evacuations.

The great unknown is how their patrons would respond to such a crisis.

“Truthfully, everybody’s going to react as their minds tell them to react,” Ms. Scott said.

General Growth Properties of Chicago, which owns The Shops at Fallen Timbers, also would not discuss its security details.

But Lesley Cheers, General Growth’s corporate communications director, said each of that corporation’s properties has a customized safety program.

“My heart breaks watching the coverage of what occurred in Kenya,” Ms. Cheers said. “I can tell you that the safety and security of our shoppers, retailers, and employees are always a top priority, not just when tragedies occur.”

In addition to the standard advice of remaining calm, calling 911, and staying as far out of harm’s way as possible, Ms. Sanderson said Westfield Franklin Park shoppers should acquaint themselves with the location of more than 40 security phones in parking lots, restrooms, and corridors at that West Toledo facility.

At Levis Commons, shoppers should become familiar with mall security dressed in bright yellow, Ms. Scott said.

Shoppers are encouraged to report any activity that looks suspicious.

Just last week, police lieutenants from Toledo and authorities from other jurisdictions attended a four-day crisis training at Owens Community College, Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan said.

The training, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was led by Toledo police Lt. John Anderson, who oversees the department’s emergency services unit.

One of its goals is to help coordinate regional activities in the event of terrorist activity or natural disaster.

“The key in a very chaotic, ongoing critical incident is to lessen that chaos by having everyone on the same page, to communicate effectively, so we can have a timely, accurate response to whatever the situation might be,” Sergeant Heffernan said.

Depending on the situation, civilians caught in such a crisis should run or hide — although Sergeant Heffernan said there are times they may have no recourse but to fight.

Fighting should be considered a last resort, he said.

“If it’s a choice between sit there and take a bullet, and you have no way of escape, try to fight the attacker,” the sergeant said. “Throw something at them, but that’s a last resort. We don’t want to encourage that.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.



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