What the U.S. Can Learn from the Nairobi Mall Attack


by Spencer Brown

Soft targets such as malls and hotels are typically protected on a day-to-day basis by privately contracted security guards, receiving assistance from outside governmental agencies only when needed. There is also some level of interaction between government and private personnel when a threat is made on a soft target, but is that enough? The unfolding events of the Nairobi mall attack show that better planning is necessary to facilitate a safe evacuation, and prevent such a large number of casualties.

Short of staffing malls with National Guard troops around every corner, there’s not much that can be done once an attack has started. When a group of terrorists launches an attack on a mall or other soft target, the contracted guards are typically outmaneuvered and outgunned. In order to protect lives and property from these attacks, officials need to either remove all the civilians from the area of danger as quickly as possible, or prevent the attack altogether. The US intelligence community has done their best to protect American soil from terror attacks, and have foiled many plots since 9/11/01. But as we saw at the Boston Marathon Bombing, the best intelligence in the world isn’t always enough. Would America’s malls be ready for an attack?

Looking at past events, I think it’s clear to see that the best way to ensure survival in an attack is to get away from the danger zone. Apart from that, the only other hope is to hide or shelter in place. Do current policies for American malls, hotels, and other soft targets provide for such strategies? And just as was the problem before 9/11/01, is there enough adequate communication between intelligence officials and the officials in charge of a mall? As terrorists around the world seem to be turning from their old strategy of attacking hard targets (embassies, government installations or the like) to soft targets (malls as we see in Kenya and hotels as we saw in Mumbai), I think it is important that the US security and intelligence community adjust their strategy to best prevent attacks in the US.

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