Mall Attack in Kenya puts U.S. on Alert

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Contributors:  Jim Satterfield, Guy Higgins, Missan Eido

On 21 September 2013, gunmen associated with the Al-Shabaab militant group targeted and malllayoutshot customers at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. At least 71 people were reportedly killed in the attack, with over 200 injured.

The Islamists held many customers hostage and it took four days to end the attack, although on the evening of Thursday, September 26th, residents reported that an explosion was heard in the vicinity of the mall, with smoke and fire seen by witnesses.

Three floors of the mall have collapsed due to the attack, and it is reported that many may be buried in the rubble.

From NY Times: “Viewing the deadly siege at a shopping mall in Kenya as a direct threat to its security, the United States is deploying dozens of F.B.I. agents to investigate the wreckage, hoping to glean every piece of information possible to help prevent such a devastating attack from happening again, possibly even on American soil.

…..The Shabab militant group, which has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and taken responsibility for killing more than 60 civilians at the mall, is considered an especially dangerous threat because more than two dozen young American men are already learning terrorist tactics in Somalia. So far, this has been a one-way pipeline, but the fear is that some battle-hardened militants could come home with their American passports to strike on American soil.”

While these events cannot be eliminated they can be prepared for; planning can mitigate impacts and buy time for response. While rare, they occur. Abilities to alert, lockdown, and activate response exercises and coordination with first responders will reduce confusion and improve outcomes. Coordination and training with tenants and staff expand response capabilities.

The right plan for any mall is a function of the specifics of the mall and the intent of the owners.  The specifics need to be worked out by a Crisis Coach® Team – such as Firestorm – and the mall owners and the tenants.  This is a situation where the collaboration between the Coach and the client is critical to the solution.

While this terrorist attack is a very low probability incident, it is a very high impact incident.  It is also not the type of incident that is truly amenable to reliance on local government response.  By the time the police respond, it’s too late.  If malls and similar soft targets want to improve their preparedness, then they will need to develop a specific counter-terrorism plan. 

Firestorm evaluates an organization’s existing physical security structure (its facilities, systems, and processes), and assesses how well key assets are being protected against likely threats. Firestorm also assesses the company’s ability to determine how well prepared it is to detect, assess, and respond to incidents. This site inspection is led by a member of the Firestorm team with subject matter expertise in terrorism and security related issues.

As you seek answers for your business, property, mall or school campus, remember it takes a collaborative effort because each property is unique – both physically and culturally.  A mall (and perhaps the tenants) needs to work with a Crisis Coach® who understands emergency response and business continuity, and crisis communication.  Only through that kind of collaboration can the property personnel truly become more prepared.

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