Shopping with peace of mind
Shopping with peace of mind

Jul 1, 1999 12:00 PM
Michael Fickes

In retail shopping environments, security comes largely from peopleprotecting people. More and more, however, security tools back up securitypeople.

The Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., owns and operates eight major shoppingmalls around the country, with three more centers expected to open over thenext 12 months.

Mills malls average 1.7 million square feet of gross leasable area andattract between 17 and 20 million customers per year.

Thomas Ackley, the Mills' corporate director of security, works out ofoffices in the Gurnee Mills Mall in Gurnee, Ill. From his vantage pointclose to the front lines of mall operations, Ackley oversees the work ofsecurity directors and their staffs at each of the company's malls.

"Our security goal is to provide a safe, enjoyable environment for peopleto shop," Ackley says.

To achieve that goal, each Mills center employs between 35 and 60 securityofficers working shifts around the clock. In addition, each mall houses apolice substation staffed by 15 to 20 police officers. "The police officerswork strictly on law enforcement problems related to the malls," Ackleysays. "Their duties are to patrol the center and to handle criminalsituations and traffic accidents. The only exception is at our mall inConcord, N.C., which houses a 24-hour precinct station. Most of theofficers there are assigned to the mall, but the facility also serves as aprecinct station for the surrounding neighborhoods."

Several security technologies facilitate the work of the security officersand police at Mills malls, from closed-circuit television (CCTV) throughspecialized vehicles to communications and guard tour systems.

CCTV monitoring.According to Ackley, a typical Mills mall uses a CCTV system with 60 to 80cameras positioned outside and inside the mall. Camera suppliers includePanasonic, Sony, and Vicon Industries Inc. Most provide color video signalsfrom pan/tilt/zoom mounts.

Cameras mounted on the exterior of the building watch the ring roadscircling the malls, the parking lots and the entrances. Exterior cameraplacements enable officers monitoring the system to distinguish details assmall as vehicle license plates.

Inside the centers, cameras monitor main and out-of-the-way corridors andthe food courts.

Video from the cameras travels by cable to one of two Security DispatchCenters located in each mall. Vicon supplies much of the monitoringequipment for Mills malls, including the switchers, multiplexers, videocassette recorders and monitors.

Cameras cover most of the common areas inside the malls and out. Still,primary security coverage comes from patrolling officers. Inside the mall,officers patrol on foot. Outside, officers patrol on foot and in markedsport utility vehicles. At some facilities, officers also use bicycles andgolf carts.

Communications throughout the center.Patrolling officers provide services to customers such as information,while watching for problems such as lost items, vandalism, trip-and-fallhazards and suspicious activities.

Two-way radios provide communications between patrolling officers and thesecurity dispatch centers, which have phone links to the police substations.

Another communications system enables the dispatch centers to alertretailers to potential problems. "This system is called City Watch," Ackleysays. "Suppose a retailer tells us that someone passed counterfeit money ina store. We can use the City Watch computer terminal to type in a messageto that effect and send it out to City Watch terminals located in eachstore in the mall. It's a great system for lost kids, weather emergencies,and other kinds of information that we want to broadcast around the mall."

The guard tour system.Each Mills mall employs a guard tour system called TouchProbe, supplied byVidex of Corvallis, Ore. According to Ackley, the Videx system helpssupervise security patrols, provides information to the policeinvestigating a crime, and helps to manage insurance liability.

The Videx system consists of small dime-sized sensors, touring wandscarried by officers, a docking device that downloads information from thesensors into the security department's computers, and reporting software.

"We place sensors at all of our exterior doors and throughout the commonareas," Ackley says. "We also place sensors inside every fire extinguishercabinet, in each of our sprinkler rooms and electrical rooms, inside eachof the rest rooms, in the service corridors, at roof access points thatmust remain locked, at ATM machines, and at mall information booths."

Sensors install easily by way of a peel-and-stick adhesive backing. "Eachsensor has an address consisting of 11 numbers that we enter into thecomputer and link to its location in the mall," Ackleysays.

The numerical identifier encoded into the sensors represents an improvementover older systems that relied on visible barcodes affixed at patrollocations. According to a Videx spokesperson, by duplicating the barcodesan irresponsible security officer could sit in an office and scan the rightbarcodes at the right time. The only way to defeat the Videx system wouldbe to remove all of the sensors from the walls, in the right touring order,scan them in the right order at appropriately timed sequences, and thenreplace them, once again in the right order.

Each Mills mall has 10 to 15 wands, or as many as needed to accommodateeach shift. When officers arrive for their shifts, their first task is toscan button-sensors carried on their keychains. This procedure signsofficers into the system for the shift.

Out on patrol, officers must scan each sensor on their tour with theTouchProbe wands. Placement of sensors encourages complete coverage. Forexample, affixing sensors inside fire extinguisher cabinets requiresofficers to open the cabinets and at least look at the fire extinguishersto get to the sensors. By placing sensors in the bathrooms at the far sideof the space, officers must cover the entire area to get to the sensors.

Officers can also use the TouchProbe wands to record notes. Videx hassupplied a series of three-by-five cards with lists of one-line messagesnext to sensors that will record those messages. For example, if an officerfinds a wall with graffiti, he or she scans the nearest wall sensor andthen scans the sensor next to an appropriate message on a card.

At the end of a shift, each officer inserts the wand into a downloadingstation provided with the system. The station transfers the data in ASCIIformat to a file in the system, which might be on a PC or a network server.Each Mills mall downloads tour information onto a PC located in one of theSecurity Dispatch Offices.

Following the download, reporting software takes over. While Videx providesa proprietary reporting software, Mills uses a more general softwareprovided by the Waetjen Company of Meadowbrook, Pa., which installs andconfigures all of the Mills guard tour systems. "We've developed a macroprogram that uses MicroSoft Access to organize reports," says Ed Waetjen,the company's principal. "Access is simple to learn. In fact, many peoplealready know it from other applications. We provide the reporting system ona CD when we install a system."

Shift supervisors can use the MicroSoft Access macro to produce a varietyof reports. If the security manager wants to check on an officer, he couldrequest a report on when that officer scanned each sensor on an assignedroute. Reports might organize data related to an incident, providinginformation about where officers were when a fight broke out at the mainentrance.

"Normally, you would print out exceptions," Waetjen says. For example, anofficer might have found an unlocked access door to the roof and scanned anote to that effect into the system. An exception report would deliver thatinformation to the shift supervisor who could investigate.

"We also use reports during insurance audits of security," says Ackley."Periodically, our insurance company inspects our facilities and wants tosee records on how often we patrol back hallways, sprinkler rooms, and soon. Reports showing that we are doing our job well may even affect ourinsurance rates for the better."

So in the end, technology not only helps Ackley's people provide bettersecurity, it may also contribute to cost control.

Security officers joining the staff at one of the Mills Corp.'s eight majormalls receive 80 hours of training, which includes classroom study,videotapes, written examinations and on-the-job training with anexperienced field officer. According to Thomas Ackley, the company'scorporate director of security, the training program covers six areas: *report writing; *emergency response; *basic patrol operations; *retail theft; *juveniles; and *legal and crime scene responsibilities.

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