Way before the bloodshed at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya after a militant organization laid siege to it, the state’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had issued a list of dos and don’ts that malls in Mumbai must comply with to ensure the day doesn’t throw up any fatal surprises.

On paper, the security architecture at the bustling shopping hubs seems meticulous. An abundance of men in uniform, paraphernalia like metal detectors, CCTVs mounted on malls, vehicle checks, frisking, walkie-talkies and the works.

But these gizmos hardly make a safety net if their handlers are vague and uninterested when it comes to a tight vigil. And that is where the threat seeps in.
The ATS mock drills have exposed such ambiguities in the security plans at certain shopping complexes in the city, as its chief Rakesh Maria said.

Mid-Day decided to see for itself how secure patrons are at popular and crowded city malls. Our survey corroborated Maria’s concern that the unquantifiable aspects of security, how vigilant the guards, how thorough the bag checks, are where we fail.

Here’s the assessment.

CR2 Mall, Nariman Point

The mall has just one entrance, manned by many personnel. Entrants were made to go through various check posts. Passing the metal detector, one has to hand over the baggage for checking, but it was far from thorough, one could have snuck in anything. The lady guards checking the
bags were merely perfunctory in their job.

Security checklist:

CCTVs:  

Door frame metal detectors: 

Handheld detectors:  

Complete Vehicle checks: 

Thorough bag checks: 

Security pluses:
>> A separate booth for frisking women
>> Multiple rungs of security

A mall official said, “We have several drills that are held every month by the security firm assigned to keep the mall safe. The company briefs the staff on how things are to be handled. We are using the Nairobi mall siege as a case study to improve our security.”
He added, “During their drills, undercover ATS officials leave bags with ‘explosives’ and sometimes try entering the mall with weapons. The personnel have caught them, following which the mall has been given certificates.”

SOBO Central Mall, Tardeo

One has to pass through the metal detectors to enter the mall. However, people were not allowed to go along with large bags, which had to be deposited at a counter at the entrance. They could, however, take hand-bags in.

Security checklist: 

CCTVs: 

Door frame metal detectors: 

Handheld detectors: 

Complete Vehicle checks: 

thorough Bag checks: 

Security downside:
>> No booth for frisking women
>> Entry to parking lot was poorly manned; guards did not bother to check boots of vehicles
>> MiD DAY reporter took a lighter inside, it didn’t raise any eyebrows

Security plus:

Many high-profile people visit this strategically located mall with their bodyguards. The management asks them to register details of their weapons before entering. A security guard accompanies them inside the mall.
A mall official said, “We have increased the number of security cameras. On weekdays guards in civilian dressing keep an eye out for suspicious elements. A briefing is given to the housekeeping and other staff every day. We have also placed an order for a pre-fabricated booth for frisking of women.”

Phoenix Market City, Kurla (W)

The same elaborate detail was observed. Guards with handheld detectors placed at all entrances, which were fitted out with frame detectors. Security staff manned the entrances to the parking, which leads to the area above. Sentries were placed at all escalators. Checks for vehicles were methodical. Each and every entry and exit to the complex was guarded. CCTV cameras keep an eye over every square feet of the sprawling building.

Security checklist:

CCTVs: 

Door frame metal detectors: 

Handheld detectors: 

Vehicle checks: 

Thorough bag checks: 

Security pluses:
>> Guards at every floor
>> Mirror checks for underside of vehicles; boots of two-wheelers checked
>> A separate booth for frisking women

Security downside:
>> Again, the lighter made it through

A security official at the establishment said on condition of anonymity, “The entrances and interiors of the mall are well-guarded, and the guards have been trained by the local police. CCTV footage of every passageway is monitored constantly and no spot is left out. Since the Kenya attack, we have informed our staff to step up checks so no dangerous elements get through.”

High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel

The mall has various entrances and is minutely guarded. There is a bunch of CCTV cameras and security personnel check the men entering the mall with a detector. The vehicles entering the mall are also thoroughly checked before allowing to be parked inside the mall.

Security checklist:

CCTVs: 

Door frame metal detectors: 

Handheld detectors: 

Vehicles check: 

Thorough bag checks: 

Security plus:
>> 2 of 3 entrances had separate booths for frisking of women

Security downside:
>> Mid DAY’s reporter’s lighter didn’t raise an alarm here either

ATS not satisfied with safeguards

Other than circulating a list of essentials a mall must check off on security parameters, the ATS as well as the Mumbai police have been carrying out stings at some malls to gauge their preparedness and crisis response.

Elaborating on these operations, Rakesh Maria, chief of Maharashtra ATS, said the frisking and coordination was below par.
“We issued a checklist to various malls on their security issues, way before the Nairobi incident. But we found out various lapses in the drills we have conducted. We are in constant touch with the local police stations and they are also checking on the security status of various shopping complexes.”

Here’s what ATS chief was most dissatisfied with:
>> Checking of bags, frisking, is superficial in many cases
>> Monitoring of CCTV footage not continuous; records should be surveyed 24/7
>> Security personnel have to be in constant touch with local cops but that wasn’t the case

Oberoi Mall, Goregaon (E)

Security guards were present at all entrances. Each entry point had male and female guards to check patrons. The main entrance had three lines for security checks, with three metal detector frames and handheld detectors. Inside, personnel were positioned at every escalator and elevator, and CCTV cameras watched over every nook.

Security checklist:

CCTVs: 

Door frame metal detectors: 

Handheld detectors: 

Bag checks (manual): 

Vehicle checks: 

Security pluses:
>> Guards at entry to parking lots used a mirror to check undersides of vehicles
>> Effective crowd management: there were 3 entry points to the main entrance to control the numbers getting in
>> A separate booth for frisking women

Security pulls up our cameraman while he was clicking away and makes him erase the snapshots
Speaking to MiD DAY, a security official requesting anonymity said, “After the Nairobi mall incident, we have increased our security. We have placed more guards at the entrances and asked them to thoroughly check bags of men and women. Irrespective of who the person is, we ensure they are first frisked and only then let in.”

Courtesy: Mid-Day

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