How protected are suburban mall entrances?
Entrances at anchor stores of many suburban shopping malls lack protective barriers that would prevent the type of vehicle assault that happened Friday at Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall.
The Woodfield crash is having ripple effects in other suburbs where municipal leaders are questioning whether malls in their towns are vulnerable.
“For us, this is an ideal time to discuss security enhancement as we continue to explore redevelopment options for Hawthorn (Mall) 2.0,” said Jon Petrillo, Vernon Hills' assistant village manager and the village's former deputy police chief.
The matter will be up for discussion at a meeting Thursday between the village and mall management, Vernon Hills officials said.
On Friday at Woodfield a driver rammed through a Sears entrance and into a common area of the mall, making it almost to the center court before the SUV stopped and the driver was subdued. Woodfield Mall entrances have protective barriers - short posts called bollards - designed to prevent vehicle access, but many doors to the individually owned anchor stores do not.
Other suburban malls follow a similar pattern. While entrances to the common areas often have protective barriers, most anchor tenant storefronts do not, according to a Daily Herald investigation.
None of the anchor store entrances are outfitted with barriers at Hawthorn Mall, but the four mall-controlled entrances have them. At Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, only three of the 13 entrance points to the mall have barriers, all at mall-controlled entrances.
At Aurora's Fox Valley Mall, some anchor tenants have barriers, while others don't. All mall-controlled entrances have barriers, mall management reported.
About half of all entrances at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale have barriers, including the entrances under the control of mall management. All but one of the entrances to the Aurora Outlet Mall have steel posts or concrete planters to prevent access by cars.
At Gurnee Mills, seven of the nine mall-controlled entrances feature some type of barrier, but many anchor store entrances do not.
All four major entrances to Rosemont's Fashion Outlets of Chicago feature some type of car barrier.
Mall administrators say in most cases they control safety features only at access points that lead directly into the mall from outside, not at entrances to anchor stores like Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's, Nordstrom or other large department stores.
“The safety and security of our associates and customers is of utmost importance,” said Sears spokesman Larry Costello. “In light of Friday's event at the Woodfield Mall Sears store, we are reviewing the safety and security measures and protocols at our properties.”
What can be done
Security experts suggested many options, including separating parking from entries and reconfiguring entrances, to prevent the type of event that occurred Friday at Woodfield. But most believe bollards should be installed, at a minimum.
“Bollards, in our world, are insurance,” said Charles Duda, a security systems integration specialist at Mundelein-based ECI. “I get news stories every day from all over the world about someone driving through a business or building, either intentionally or not, and then they're talking about installing these things in the aftermath.”
Duda estimated it would cost Sears roughly $35,000 to install eight to 10 bollards in front of the Woodfield entrance that would match ones used at the mall-controlled entrances. Woodfield Mall uses lighted bollards, which can increase costs, order time and installation. He estimated the work could be completed within two months.
He said if all of Woodfield's anchor tenants bid out the project together, the costs would be reduced somewhat.
Yorktown Mall in Lombard recently renovated its main entrances and incorporated safety into the design of plantings and traffic patterns.
“When you see things that are decorative, a lot of times they may be serving other purposes as well,” Yorktown General Manager Josh Dean said. “You're trying to get people into the mall, so you don't want it to be a fortress or enclosed. But also you need to always keep in mind the safety of everyone visiting.”
The cost issue
Security experts said stores sometimes balk at installing anything that could make storefronts look blocked or inaccessible. But others say it comes down to money.
“You can do those barriers cost-effectively and still make them aesthetically pleasing, so I think it's just been a matter of cost,” said Joe Crimmins, a security consultant at the Arlington Heights-based crisis management firm Serve and Protect. “And it's hard to get over the mindset of spending for something you think will never happen.”
But it did happen Friday in Schaumburg, when the 22-year-old driver caromed off storefronts and kiosks as shoppers fled or hid in stores' back rooms. The unidentified man was subdued by shoppers, including two off-duty officers, police said. He has not been charged and was taken to a mental health facility for care. No one was seriously injured.
In the wake, Schaumburg Mayor Tom Dailly said the village will require all entrances at Woodfield to feature a protective barrier of in the near future.
“We had suggested that they be installed in the past,” Dailly said Saturday. “It's no longer going to be an ask.”
Many municipal leaders said security upgrades are already a hot topic between police and mall management. Bloomingdale Village Administrator Pietro Scalera said police officials communicate regularly with Stratford's security personnel.
“They're in constant contact with what's going on at the mall,” Scalera said. “We have a good working relationship with them. But this was just one of those things where I don't think anyone saw something like that coming.”
Hawthorn General Manager Jeff Rutzen said customer safety is a priority.
“While incidents such as this can happen anywhere, we want to assure our shopper and the community that we have a strong security protocol in place at Hawthorn,” he said. “While we do not discuss our specific security measures because doing so would compromise our public safety efforts, the safety and security of our shoppers, employees and retailers is always our highest priority.”
Daily Herald staff writers Christopher Placek, Robert Sanchez, Marie Wilson and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.