How to Stay Safe at Major Shopping Centers: Top Tips from Stores and Security Experts

Westfield World Trade Center
Shoppers wander around Westfield World Trade Center Occulus.
Courtesy Photo

Do you know what to do if some sort of attack occurs while you’re out shopping?

Even though checking out stores’ holiday displays has long been a seasonal pastime, this high-traffic period can also be worrisome for those who live in dense cities such as New York and L.A. In the wake of stabbings at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and a terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan over the last few months, retailers are advising shoppers to stay vigilant while visiting large department stores, shopping malls and crowded areas during the holidays.

“These days you need to have a proactive mindset and identify beforehand possible escape routes and the emergency exits closest to you if you go to the mall,” Dave McDaniel, the founder of ACorps Security Services USA that provides security to shopping centers across New York City, told Footwear News.

He said he believes that while the risk of a shopping center terrorist attack “is high in a city like New York,” vigilance can help shoppers protect themselves if an emergency situation does arise.

Enhancing shopper safety can go beyond preventing large-scale attacks and extend to warding off everyday crimes like petty robbery. General Growth Properties, a real estate company that operates numerous malls across the country and popular department stores in New York, has advised those who visit its properties to put away cellphones when walking through crowded areas.

“Don’t have your cell phones out and visible when walking to your car; instead have your keys in hand,” a GGP spokesperson said, adding that shoppers should also request a security escort when walking to the car with more than one package.

H&M Shoppers throng outside an H&M store. Courtesy of H&M

McDaniel even advised shoppers to determine a potential space where they can meet their friends and families if they become separated in an attack.

“Law enforcement intelligence units have been working assiduously to prevent attacks across the city, and emergency tactical units have developed proactive protocols to thwart attacks or to respond quickly in the event of an attack,” he said.

But even though any large shopping center will have a team working on emergency strategies, most companies do not want to release the specifics of what they do to ensure the safety of people who frequent their stores.

A spokesperson for Brookfield Place, the shopping center across from the World Trade Center in New York, said that its visitors’ “safety is the No. 1 priority” but refused to give out details on specific strategies so as to prevent that information from reaching people who would want to cause harm.

“We generally don’t discuss our safety practices to ensure they remain effective,” Maria Mainville, a spokeswoman for the Michigan-based chain of Taubman shopping centers, told Footwear News.

But while no person can be fully prepared for a surprise attack, staying aware of one’s surroundings, according to McDaniel, can help a shopper not panic if such an event does happen.