Duh. (No offense, Joshua. I understand that many people don’t realize this. The “duh” was intended for them, not you.)
From a Rand study on shopping malls as potential terrorist targets from 2006:
- “In terms of their potential role as terrorist targets, shopping centers present numerous challenges for security.”
- “Shopping centers are distributed throughout the United States … in areas that are considered high risk for terrorist attack …”
- “Shopping centers also allow unimpeded access to the public and attract a wide cross-section of the nation’s population.”
- “… shopping center customers and tenants may not tolerate the expense and inconvenience of increased security.”
- “… shopping centers may have a difficult time justifying investment in reducing the seemingly remote risk of terrorism.”
The absolutely true platitude is, “the goal of terrorism is to terrorize.” Any place with easy access and little security that attracts large crowds and is fundamental to our way of life is an ideal target, and shopping centers fill this role perfectly.
From our book, The Rockets’ Red Glare:
At the moment dirty bombs were going off in Washington and Orlando, and two terrorists were dying in Chicago, thwarted in their mission, there were 36,482 people in the mall. About a quarter of them were within the intended blast radius of the bomb vest.
At that moment in The Mall of America, all those people were going about their lives, oblivious to the events, to their danger, shopping or working or just having fun.
And at that moment in The Mall of America, nothing happened.
Their bomb was in the FBI radiation forensics lab instead of on Mervat Saad, standing with the crowds in front of Macy’s, waiting to martyr himself.
Their cesium was safely in a storage container instead of contaminating a million square feet of some of the most densely populated floor space in America.
Nothing happened at The Mall of America, and no one realized it.
This is why we called our genre Forecast Fiction. It could happen before your next birthday, exactly as we described it, and you wouldn’t be surprised. Shocked, horrified, aghast, etc. But not surprised. All of the pieces are there, right now.
The Rand study is an excellent example of a well-thought out identification of a threat, recommendations for neutralizing, or at least diminishing, it, and reasons why it won’t be done until after the fact. Even the attack in Kenya is unlikely to motivate mall owners to make the investment in the appropriate security measures. And American shoppers, halfway around the globe from Kenya, are unlikely to put up with the inconvenience of these measures when they have so many shopping options.
Again, from the Rand study:
“… disaster preparedness plans and exercises that focus primarily on emergency response do little to reduce terrorism risk. The vast majority of terrorism risk derives from attacks using explosives, for which the effects are immediate and the hazard abates very quickly. As a result, little can be done to reduce consequences (casualties or property damage) of a terrorist attack once it has occurred.”
Explosives plus radioactive materials changes the scenario dramatically. All of a sudden, the consequences to people and property damage do not abate quickly. And, as I noted in a previous post, Syrian Dirty Bomb, adding those radioactive materials does not require much effort, expense, or expertise. Just the motivation and will.