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Sep 23, 2013 9:12 PM

Kenya mall seige raises questions about mall security in Tucson

TUCSON- Visitors come to the Foothills Mall to shop, eat, maybe see a movie.

One thing they never expect to see is a gunman storm the building. "I would be hysterical if that were to happen, especially if my kids weren't with me," Sonia Diaz says.

Diaz is the store manager at Bon Worth. She says it's a threat she has to live with everyday. "We only have one exit in the front and one exit in the back and we have nothing but glass, so they're going to see us and they're going to shoot," Diaz says.

About six months ago following a bomb threat at the mall, Diaz, along with other store managers, attended a seminar about security, hosted by the Pima County Sheriff's Department. "They told us to barricade the front of the store, then go out the exits in back and if the shooters happen to see you or if they shoot you, pretend you're dying," Diaz says. "If you can't escape fast enough, fall to the ground and pretend you're dead."

The Pima County Sheriff's Department started the seminars about a year ago. One of the main messages is that going on immediate lockdown isn't always the best solution. "I mean there have been shootings at malls where two to three hours later people have been found in freezers, bathrooms or hiding in changing rooms, not knowing if they should come out yet," says Deputy Tracy Suitt of the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

The sheriff's department teaches employees how to guide customers out of the store and how to recognize a person in distress. "I wouldn't have known what to do, I probably would have went out the front door instead of the back door," Diaz says.

The Tucson and Park Place Mall staff issued this statement regarding security: "The safety and well-being of our shoppers are always our top priorities, not just when events/tragedies occur like the one in Kenya. We have a customized public safety program that entails different measures for various scenarios. Some of the measures are visible to our shoppers, like our trained security team and relationships with local law enforcement; others measures are not as visible. We do not discuss our public safety measures because by doing so would compromise our efforts. But I want to emphasize, that safety and security are our priorities every day."

The Pima County Sheriff's Department also hosts the seminars at schools and small businesses.

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