By Michael L Kehoe

“In light of the tragic terrorist attacks at two different mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, I thought is would be timely to re-visit security and public safety at perceived ‘soft targets’ at venues such as shopping centres.” Michael L. Kehoe Commercial Real Estate Broker.


When Ground Zero meets Centre Court – A wake-up call for retail real estate professionals in charge of security, public safety, management and the ownership of Canadian shopping centres!

Did you ever stop to think of the probability and impact of a mass shooting or bombing attack at your Canadian shopping centre? As a former shopping centre manager this subject has been top-of-mind with me lately. Whether it be workplace retaliation, undetected-self-radicalized groups or individuals, foreign extremist’s, desperate thugs and terrorists that are feeling squeezed in their homelands and are moving further afield retail real estate providers must be vigilant. Canada is not immune to tragedies like the terrorist shootings in cities like Paris, France or San Bernardino, California. Public marketplaces across the world are viewed as ‘soft targets’ and are frequent sites of car bombings, suicide bombers and mass shootings. Often we read press headlines reporting; “A crowded market in (insert country and city name here) was the scene a bloody massacre today as a suicide bomber killed at least 43 and wounded another 55 innocent shoppers.” In September 2013 unidentified gunmen attacked the upmarket Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack resulted in at least 67 deaths, and more than 175 people were reportedly wounded in the mass shooting by a suspected extremist group.

One can only wonder when ground zero will meet centre court at a major mall in Canada. The noise will be deafening. The blasts of gunshots, the piercing shriek of fire alarms and the torrents of water gushing from sprinkler systems mixing with blood on the mall floors…the heart wrenching screams and moans of the injured and the dying, the chaos and the sense of utter panic of the scene of shoppers lying dead in your mall. The attack would be swift with no warning, ruthless and deadly at any Canadian mall, soft targets that can never be fully protected in a country as sprawling as Canada. After the blast wreckage, gunfire damage, the blood, the guts and the human tissue are cleaned up in your common area the least of your problems will be having your centre court treated as a shrine with candlelight vigils and international media attention.

On a recent tour of major malls in Canadian cities I was troubled by the lack of visible security personnel. Most regional shopping centers are watched closely by mall security cameras however mall entrances are unguarded and common areas are patrolled by rent-a-guard-style unarmed contract or in-house security personnel with nothing more than a walkie-talkie. In contrast, security in other parts of the world at major malls is trending to airport-style customer screening often with a military component that I view as; a militarization of mall environments. In countries like Egypt and across India many shopping centres are guarded with mandatory airport-style security at all entrances. St. Peter’s Square in Rome the mother of all public spaces since 1656 now has airport-style security at all public entrances.

Although the United Arab Emirates are widely regarded as a safe shopping environment Abu Dhabi’s planning authority passed a law insisting on 30 metre roadway to mall setbacks for bomb proofing to protect new buildings from car bombs up to 450kg. The use of setbacks, re-enforced concrete / glass and deflectors such as planters may become standard fare in future Canadian mall design sooner than later. Shopping centre development costs are sure to increase with these building features and beefed up security included in mall common area costs that are always passed on to the tenants. Get ready to add a few extra lines to the mall development proforma and annual budgets for security.

When Ground Zero meets Centre Court the management and operational challenges will be enormous not to mention the short- and longer-term effects on the value of the asset you are charged with enhancing and safely preserving.

“If that coveted female shopper with her family in tow does not feel safe and secure parking and shopping at your retail property, she will find one that offers the perception of safety and her spending will follow.” According to Michael L. Kehoe a Canadian shopping centre management and leasing professional with over 40 years’ experience in the retail real estate industry.

“Michael Kehoe is a commercial real estate professional with over forty years of experience in the retail real estate field. He has an international profile related to retail real estate, commercial real estate leasing, marketing and shopping centre management. Michael is the Broker / Owner of Fairfield commercial Real Estate based in Calgary. He worked for many years as a mall manager, marketing director and retail leasing executive. He is a member of the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres, the International Council of Shopping Centres and Consumer Real Estate Canada.