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Malls Win Security Grants

The Oaks and Pacific View each get $50,000 to help prepare for possible terror attacks.

December 09, 2005|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

They may not seem the most likely targets, but The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks and the Pacific View mall in Ventura have each received a $50,000 grant to prevent terrorist attacks and beef up security.

The money is part of nearly $13 million allocated by the California Office of Homeland Security this year to boost law enforcement preparedness. Much of the money has been earmarked to improve security in places that draw large crowds.

The Oaks and Pacific View are Ventura County's largest malls, and they will use the grants to upgrade radio equipment and link their video surveillance systems to local police and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

The efforts are part of a larger countywide push to prepare for possible terrorist attacks. Since 2000, Ventura County has received more than $8 million in homeland security money to buy equipment and train emergency responders, said Susan Duenas, program administrator for the county's Office of Emergency Services.

"We've done a lot of work that people don't necessarily see," Duenas said. "We've made a lot of progress, but we don't want to let our guard down. There's still more to be done in terms of training, planning and educating the public."

In its most recent round of funding, the California Office of Homeland Security provided $50,000 grants to 257 sites statewide.

Department spokesman Chris Bertelli would not say whether any other malls had received grants, citing security concerns. But he said there was growing emphasis on improving protection at locations that at first blush might not seem to be high-priority targets.

"What we've noticed, especially in Europe and the Middle East, is that terrorists are targeting places where people are congregating in large numbers," Bertelli said. "And clearly, terrorists are looking for opportunities in places where they feel they might meet less resistance."

Santa Monica-based Macerich Co., which runs 75 regional malls, owns and operates both The Oaks and Pacific View.

Only a few Macerich malls -- in Washington state and Connecticut -- are working as intensively with local law enforcement as the malls in Thousand Oaks and Ventura, said Gene Thompson, the company's vice president for security.

"We spend a lot of money on security anyway because shopper safety is extremely important to us," said Thompson, a former U.S. Secret Service official. "I think it is collectively in the best interest of all of us in the private sector to have these relationships with local law enforcement."

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