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Staying Safe At Malls

The mall shootings in Omaha, Neb. on Dec. 5, 2007 that left nine people dead, including the gunman, proably leave many people wondering what they would do in that situation.

In March 2007, Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith learned that just a few small changes to your shopping routine could save your life. The bottom line, Smith says, is "about reorienting our thinking when we head to the mall. Take time to think about safety. Know where the exits are, and talk to mall security. They should know the mall better than anyone else." Co-anchor Hannah Storm adds that it's important to talk to your kids about safety before dropping them off at the mall.

Smith's report from March follows:



A home video taken from the shelter of a toy store shows police with guns drawn. Then there are gunshots that pierce the calm of a Monday evening at a Salt Lake City mall.

Five people were killed before police killed the gunman. It's a horrific reminder that emergencies can happen when and where you least expect.

As evident from last month's shooting in Utah, violence can happen anywhere. On the same day of the mall shooting, a study found that malls are also vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

When most people go to the mall, they are thinking more about saving money than saving themselves, but a few small changes in your shopping routine can make a huge difference.

The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith went to a New York-area mall with security expert Chris Falkenberg. He says you should be thinking about your safety before you even get out of the car.

"Going shopping is like any other activity. You have to be aware of the potential problems and have a plan how to address them," he said.

College student Dru Sjodin was abducted from a mall parking lot in North Dakota and then murdered. Falkenberg says parking lots are where many mall crimes happen and it's important to look out for anyone that seems to be lurking.

"The first thing you do when you drive into the mall parking lot is you do a quick drive-around," Falkenberg said. "Is anybody lurking there who doesn't seem as either they're coming or going from there car? Try to find a place to park which is not only well lit but also where it's a direct shot from your car to the entrance to the mall."

Once inside the mall, he says you need to know how to get out. This holds true for a mid-size malls and especially an enormous such as the Mall of America. Falkenberg says map out a strategy.

"Know where the exits are, know how to get out, not only a primary exit means, but also a secondary. And make sure that the ways of getting out … involve using elevators and preferably don't involve using escalator," he said.

Fires, Falkenberg says, are the most likely emergency shoppers will encounter at a mall.

"This is a totally open area. There's nothing to contain smoke or fire should a fire arise in one of these stores, so it's important, wherever you are in a mall, to know what the best way out," he said.

You should also watch out for suspicious shoppers. Falkenberg said shoppers need to have "situational awareness" and recognize who is around them.

"We sometimes look behind us every now and then just to make sure that we're not seeing the same people over and over again," he said.

Falkenberg said you can use store windows to look at the person behind you.

"See what their body language is, like when they stop. If it seems as if they don't proceed in the direction that you were going before, then it's a good indication that they're following you," he said.

In the event of an emergency, find a place to get cover.

"You're jumping behind anything that gives you as much space in between you and the person you're trying to (avoid)," Falkenberg said. "ATMS are great places to hide because an ATM is basically a safe in which they've implanted electronics to dispense money. So, if you're on one side of this is very difficult if not impossible for someone to shoot you from the other side."

At the end of the day, when you're ready to leave, remember to call mall security if you feel nervous.

Mall security will usually escort patrons to their vehicle is they request it, Falkenberg said.