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Experts Warn Of Dangers Of So-Called Soft Targets Following El Paso, Dayton Shootings

The inside of a Walmart. Experts warn of the dangers of "soft targets" like shopping centers.
The inside of a Walmart. Experts warn of the dangers of "soft targets" like shopping centers.

Businesses can do more to protect their customers and the public from mass shootings, experts say, after more than 30 people were killed over the weekend in two separate incidents.

On Saturday morning, a gunman stormed a Walmart shopping center in El Paso and killed at least 23 people, in an apparently racially motivated attack against Hispanics. Less than a day later, in Ohio, another shooter opened fire in a popular nightlife area, killing nine people.

That’s prompted academics and security experts to push for more discussion about preventative measures that businesses can take.

“What I have to do is create a bridge between things that make a business successful and bring in money, and things which secure the business but which sometimes can make some people feel a little bit uncomfortable,” said Mike Jones, a retired police chief and founder of Major Security Consulting and Design in Washington.

Firms like Jones’ train businesses on how best to safeguard themselves from threats, including active shooter incidents. After this weekend’s shooting sprees, Jones said requests for training have nearly doubled from two weeks ago.

Experts have long warned of the vulnerability of so-called “soft targets”— crowded, easily accessible public places. In recent years, extremist groups have emphasized targeting these places, leading to several high-profile attacks.

Being aware of suspicious behavior and pre-establishing a relationship with local law enforcement are some of the best ways to mitigate the potential damage of these attacks, said William Braniff, director of the Study of Terrorism And Responses To Terrorism, a national consortium at the University of Maryland.

“The law enforcement community is engaging with private sector organizations and entities about the potential threat of attacks, whether that’s a vehicle attack, as we’ve seen in various cities over the last few years, or this kind of active shooter attack.”

Braniff emphasized the importance of training employees in best practices, including evacuation tactics and first aid, in the event of a shooting.

Federal resources on protecting against soft target attacks encourage businesses to invest in security measures like checking bags and to have established evacuation plans in case of an emergency.

But many experts agree that one of the key components in saving lives in these events is to emphasize the importance of paying attention to your surroundings.

“Most people don’t pay attention to their surroundings,” Jones, the security trainer, said. “Just remember, develop that survival mindset.”

Updated April 28, 2020, 12:30 p.m.:This story has been updated to include the El Paso shooting–related death of Guillermo “Memo” Garcia.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2021 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for . Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
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