Mall of America, U beef up security after WTC attacks

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

The Mall of America has 140 security cameras, 125 security personnel and a 24-hour safety dispatch to protect the thousands of visitors who shop there each day.

All of these have been in place since the mall opened. Recently, 22 new security measures were implemented in an effort to thwart terrorist attacks.

Since Sept. 11, domestic security has been widely evaluated. Many buildings and organizations are beefing measures up, but experts warn they must prepare for a different kind of enemy.

The attacks signal a shift to a new type of terrorism, one in which terrorists aim solely to kill as many people as possible, said University of Minnesota-Duluth associate Political Science professor Bradley Thayer.

Previously, claiming credit for an attack was a central tenet of terrorism, and attacks were executed to prove a political point, not just to murder.

“These terrorists want to kill for the sake of killing,” Thayer said.

Additionally, the threat of chemical or biological warfare – to which Osama bin Laden has been linked – makes them even more deadly.

“Biological weapons are particularly worrisome,” Thayer said. “Usually a victim does not know they have been infected until symptoms appear after they could potentially have infected others.”

Ragui Assaad, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor, believes the next form of attacks could be different than anything the U.S. has ever seen.

“Terrorists look for points of vulnerability and exploit those points,” Assaad said. “With heightened airline security, (airlines are) not the first thing they’ll look at targeting.”

The University, which has its own unit of emergency personnel, has investigated additional safety options for all campuses, said Judson Freed, deputy director of emergency management.

“I don’t believe we’ll be targeted; we’re not symbolically important enough to be singled out,” Freed said. “But it could certainly happen.”

In an emergency situation, a group of University officials would meet to assess risks. The specific officials to be assembled would be based on the situation.

Freed said the emergency management department has already started making changes.

“There are risks we face,” Freed said. “But that risk didn’t increase because of Sept. 11.”

Neither the University or Mall of America would speak in detail about what action has been taken.

“Security is our number one concern,” said Mall of America spokesperson Maureen Cahill. “We have certainly heightened our security and have implemented 22 new security measures.”

Many of these measures could not be disclosed because of security reasons, but Cahill did acknowledge patrols have been stepped up and parking is more restricted.

“We have been working with Bloomington to look at placing a precinct in the mall,” she said. “We discussed that option before Sept. 11 but now the process has been sped up.”

The city of Minneapolis has increased security at its downtown courthouse, said City Council Member Paul Ostrow.

“We will be having ongoing discussions on the issue to address the impact of this issue,” Ostrow said.

Council President Jackie Cherryhomes said she and other council members participated in a terrorist simulation over a year and a half ago.

While preparation is important, Thayer said the U.S. will be treading into unknown territory if the government decides to retaliate.

“The ways to stop bin Laden and his sponsored terrorist attacks would either be to kill or imprison bin Laden or destroy the organization behind him,” Thayer said.

“Killing him weakens the organization,” he said. But destroying the other people and the cells of the group “retards the organization.”

Experts are unsure whether U.S. retaliation will spur more terrorism, but killing innocent people in the Middle East might worsen the problem, Assaad said.

“If innocents are killed, it will only add to the anger and the pool of people willing to be involved,” Assaad said.

He called for “highly focused law enforcement and police actions to uncover the entire network and close the loopholes that allow these people to do this kind of attack.”