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Shopping centers prepare for the threat of exceptional situations.

Content and expertise by Timo Hellenberg, PhD (Pol.Sc.), CEO, Hellenberg International

6 September 2023

Extremist movements systematically use violence to further their political or religious aims. They seek to undermine the sense of security and cause panic, fear and anxiety in society and among its citizens. Places where large numbers of people gather are ideal targets for terrorist acts. Hellenberg International is involved in the European Mall-CBRN project, which develops the capacity of both private actors and public authorities to respond to terrorist threats in large shopping malls. The acronym CBRN refers to chemical, biological, radiological and radioactive materials, all of which can be exploited for terrorist purposes.

Handbook and trainings make new knowledge available to all

The Mall CBRN project was launched in response to the European Union’s concern and need to improve the preparedness of commercial and business centers for CBRN threats. The project analyzes the current state of security systems and competences in shopping centers and identifies related gaps. The most likely threats will be identified and, based on this analysis, a handbook for shopping center operators on solutions to prevent and prepare for terrorist attacks will be developed. The project will organize training sessions on this topic in different participating countries, including Finland.

The aim is to ensure that the knowledge and expertise gathered is disseminated as widely as possible to both shopping center operators, their security managers and the public.

Preparing for extremist attacks requires cooperation between all actors.

The challenge of preparedness is the diversity of actors in the shopping center. In addition to the owner and the operator, there are the tenants, i.e. the shops and their employees, the maintenance staff, the different parts of the logistics chain, and so on. All of these should be made to understand their role in the whole. Preparing for terrorist acts is a public-private partnership and requires mutual trust. In Finland, the This public-private partnership requires mutual trust, and in Finland it has been supported from the outset by the Ministry of the Interior Department for Rescue Services.

Is caution an obstacle to the development of security?

During the project, it has become apparent that shopping center operators and security officers feel very much on their own when it comes to preparing for terrorism. Security staff are grateful for the new information and instructions, but on the other hand, shopping centers have not been very willing to pay attention to the issue. The competition between shopping centers is based on images of why they are better than their competitors and there is no desire to undermine these images. For example, the organization of rescue drills is feared to damage a shopping center’s public image. Operators may also be concerned about the smooth running of cooperation with the authorities.

Projects play a pioneering role

I would like private companies to see the added value of participating in projects like the Mall-CBRN. This will put us one step ahead of those who are planning attacks on society. The pioneers can take proactive measures that they will have to take at some point anyway, and they can also influence future legislation and directives. There is no need to fear bureaucracy and the extra work involved, that is why we are here to help.


From an article published in Centrum Balticum -Pulloposti (“Bottle Post”) in Finnish, freely translated.

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