In the largest review of its kind since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the report, funded by the Justice Department, found some shopping centers reporting 100% turnoverin security officers each year.
Robert Rowe of ASIS International, the nation's largest association of private security managers, said, "The complacency that exists" over the issue is disconcerting.
"Since nothing has happened (since 9/11), security has become a less important priority. It's now much more difficult to justify costs for additional security."
Rowe's group assisted the Police Foundation, a law enforcement think tank, in obtaining federal funding for the report, which surveyed 33 state homeland security advisers and 120 security directors of some of the nation's largest indoor shopping centers.
Malls have been the object of law enforcement concerns because of the vulnerability of their numerous entry and exit points. These concerns have been mentioned occasionally in FBI bulletins to local law enforcement since 9/11.
The shopping centers were not identified out of concern for making potential vulnerabilities public. The report's authors also visited eight U.S. malls and two shopping centers in Israel, where security precautions are among the most rigid in the world.
Among the findings:
Just 16% of the malls had increased security-related spending beyond the rate of inflation after Sept. 11. "The private sector generally has not invested in improving security to cope with emergency situations such as a terrorist attack or to protect against petty crimes," the report said.
The survey also found that state governments had done little to bolster safety precautions. Only five of the 33 state homeland security officials surveyed said they had provided additional funding to major shopping centers.
More than half of the security directors said their officers had received some terrorism-related training. The report found that the instruction varied in quality and content. And 62% of the security managers said the anti-terrorism training was "inadequate."
High turnover rates of security officers often undermined the effectiveness of training programs.
"At any given time, the security staff includes a good number of new recruits who ... have not received anything beyond basic company training," the report said.
The "most significant gap in emergency preparedness" was the lack of coordination between mall security and separate security in the anchor stores. And just one-third of the mall security directors said they rehearsed emergency plans with local law enforcement. None of the malls visited by researchers conducted joint exercises with police officers or other first-responders. "Without tabletop and live exercises, and with no clear standards for evaluation, it is impossible to say how well staff would respond in the event of a disaster," the report concluded.
Jonathan Lusher, senior vice president of IPC International, which provides uniformed security for 400 shopping centers in 46 states, rejected many of the report's conclusions. He said the survey was a small number and "not a very good representative sample."
"Since Sept. 11, security at these properties (is) several orders of magnitude better," Lusher said. Although he acknowledged high turnover (about 80% across his company), he said investment in security has increased 15%-20% among IPC's clients.
Robert Davis, the Police Foundation's research director, said those conducting the survey encountered much resistance from mall security managers who had been advised by mall owners not to cooperate with the review.
Those who did cooperate, Davis said, offered a "candid" view.
"This is not just a review about the industry's preparations for an attack by foreign terrorists," Davis said. "The crisis could be a fire, an explosion or something related to domestic terrorism."