Preventing Terrorist Vehicle Attacks

For decades city officials and police administrators have utilized wooden barricades, signs and plastic cones to control vehicles around street festivals, parades and pedestrian malls.  These control measures were an effort to limit vehicle traffic in areas where crowds of pedestrians were walking, and to mitigate the possibility of an inattentive or ill driver accidentally crashing into the crowd. Rarely were these measures designed to protect citizens from terrorist vehicle attacks designed to inflict as much damage and death as possible.  In light of the recent terrorist attacks that have occurred around the world, officials from Bourbon Street to the Gas Lamp District are re-thinking their proactive strategies as they realize that no longer is traffic control their main concern—today, protecting special events and popular tourist areas is about stopping terrorism and saving lives.

Over the past several years, the world has witnessed a dozen terror attacks where the offenders primarily utilized vehicles as weapons.  In these attacks hundreds of innocent people were killed or injured, and busy tourist districts scarred forever. These horrendous attacks include:

·         Nice, France - after a Bastille Day fireworks show, a 20-ton commercial vehicle was driven into a popular restaurant and nightclub area, killing 84 people;

·         Berlin - terrorists drove a tractor trailer into a Christmas market and killed 12 shoppers;

·         London - two deadly vehicle attacks occurred on public streets over the past two years, resulting in a dozen deaths and scores of injuries;

·         Stockholm, Sweden - terrorist vehicle attack claimed 4 lives; and just last week

·         Barcelona, Spain -  a terrorist killed 14 and injured dozens of others in a popular shopping district.

So how do we reduce the damage and death from vehicle-based attacks?  By utilizing both permanent and temporary measures, architects and designers, city leaders and law enforcement officials can work to mitigate the disastrous effects of these attacks.   

Permanent Measures for Pedestrian Malls and Tourist Districts

Re-design permanent pedestrian malls and tourist districts by creating zones of protection which provide multiple layers of ingress and egress access and security. These includes at least an outer zone where all non-commercial traffic is re-routed around the location. An intermediate zone should be established where only certain permitted vehicles such as delivery trucks are allowed to enter, and an inner or secure zone where no vehicle traffic of any kind can have access.  Each of these zones needs to be separate and distinct and designed in a manner where no vehicles can easily access the area by driving in a straight path. 

All zones should have their own security perimeter of physical barriers designed specifically for that area in a manner that blends in with the décor of the area.  For example, the outer perimeter might utilize natural rock barriers that cannot be easily moved or fixed vehicle ramps embedded in the streets which can be raised and lowered to allow for traffic flow during non-event times, such as during the day or during cleaning or maintenance periods when crowds are not present.

Intermediate zones can utilize permanent barricades that blend in with the décor, such as artwork or planters which are filled with concrete and positioned in such a way that no vehicle traffic can pass into the area.  In the inner zones where no vehicle traffic should be permitted, concrete or metal stanchions can be utilized to manage pedestrian traffic or control crowds.

In addition to creating these zones of protection, elected officials and law enforcement personnel should ensure that there is some type of warning system installed which can be activated to provide specific instructions during an attack, bad weather event, or other type of incident.  These instructions may include direction on sheltering-in-place or evacuation routes—all of which should be developed in city and law enforcement planning meetings prior to an incident, and practiced during simulations and training.

Temporary Measures for Special Events

For special functions and recurring events, elected officials and law enforcement leaders can utilize equipment and supplies that might already be on hand to create temporary zones of protection and provide an adequate level of safety and security for citizens. For these special occasions, heavy equipment such as bulldozers, trash trucks, fire engines or even school buses can be used to establish a reinforced outside perimeter which could stop a large truck or tractor-trailer style attack.  The intermediate barrier could be comprised of concrete “jersey walls” or other moveable concrete protective obstacles, while the inner zone might utilize metal fences or stanchions to manage and control the flow of pedestrian traffic.    

As for the warning system, a mobile Public Address system in patrol vehicles strategically placed around the event site—or even a series of trained in individuals with bull horns—will be enough to sound the alarm and provide step-by-step instructions.  As with the permanent facilities, officers and citizen volunteers should be adequately trained in shelter-in-place and evacuation procedures at the event. 

Unfortunately, long gone are the days of wooden barriers, signs and officers in parked patrol cars sitting on the perimeter of the tourist district, parade or special event. Those measures which provide only a “visible presence” are no longer enough to protect the citizens and keep our public spaces safe from vehicle terrorist attacks.