GW provides counter-terrorism training to mall security guards

A new GW program is helping train shopping mall security guards to prevent terrorism.

For the past 18 months, the GW Homeland Security Policy Institute has been working to develop and administer a 14-hour program to train mall security guards to recognize signs of evolving terrorist attacks and to take preventative measures.

The International Counsel of Shopping Centers, a private group consisting mainly of mall-owning organizations, awarded the Institute a $1.8 million grant to cover the costs of research, development and administration of the program to the first 22,000 security guards.

Paul Maniscalco, a senior researcher at the institute, said that mall-owners recognized the change in the security environment after Sept. 11 and that shopping centers had been terrorist targets in other countries like Ireland, Italy and Russia.

“ICSC came to the GW Homeland Security Policy Institute to help redefine what the level of training should be for security officers with respect to terror,” he said.

The program is called a hybrid course because it has a classroom component and a take-home, online component. Training officers from various security companies and facilities administer a face-to-face session and then hand out a DVD and a guidebook that will later serve as a job-aide for trained guards.

The students take home the DVD and complete the course at their own pace, Maniscalco said. The DVD contains video skits of various scenarios in which a mall security guard might find him or herself.

An example outlined in the video is a security guard’s confrontation with a man dressed as a janitor who appears to be watering plants with a hose. A closer look from an observant guard would reveal that janitor does not have the proper identification badge and could be spraying toxic chemicals into the air.

After the students have viewed the DVD, they log on to a GW server to complete the testing portion of the program, which includes a pre-test, a series of quizzes as the information is reviewed and a final test.

The institute initially tried the program on training officers and has marked a 15.6 percent improvement ratio, from the pre-test to the post-test, even among officials who were already familiar with security protocol, Maniscalco said.

There are roughly 120,000 security officers in the nation’s shopping center base, and GW and the ICSC are in the process of administering the program to the first 22,000.

Maniscalco would not name malls whose guards are currently receiving training because he did not want jeopardize the security of malls whose guards have not yet enrolled in the program.

He said that shopping centers in the Washington area are and will be involved in the process. Officials at Tyson’s Corner Mall would not comment on the training of their officers for security reasons.

According to an article in the Washington Post last month, the institute and ICSC have come under criticism by officials who question the feasibility and necessity of the program.

“I don’t see how anyone can criticize the private sector spending their money to train security officers,” said Maniscalco in response to the criticisms. “It doesn’t use tax-payer dollars, and it teaches the guards to be aware of their surroundings without interfering with the shopping center experience.”

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