Creative Security Needed to Mitigate Hostile Vehicle Attacks

In a previous article I wrote about the ‘wicked problem’ of hostile vehicle (HV) attacks and some of the relevant standards that might assist with the choice of bollards and other barriers.  In this article, I want to discuss the potential of borrowing ideas from Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) to consider ways that we might mitigate this threat at places of mass gathering and mass transport facilities.

CPTED provides valuable design principles that can have a mitigation effect on the ‘intent’ of a potential offender.  These design principles usually emphasise ideas about territoriality (ownership of the space), surveillance, and access control.  CPTED designers typically focus on softer ‘natural’ mitigation measures rather than hard structural barriers and electronic security.

Hard measures like bollards and other types of vehicle barriers are sometimes used to reduce the relative ‘capability’ of the attacker to achieve his goal while also achieving some degree of psychological deterrent.  However, as a general rule the harder the security measures the more expensive the security becomes and often the uglier the built environment becomes.   Perhaps it is also important not to over-react to the terrorist threat in places where the likelihood of an incident is relatively low and no greater than at other similar places.   It has to be remembered that a ‘probable’ threat at the national level does not equate to a ‘probable’ threat at every place in Australia.

However, the apparent increase in the frequency of hostile vehicle attacks targeting pedestrians, requires us to rethink what we can do to protect people where vehicles can come into close proximity with very large numbers of people. This might be at a transport facility like a train or bus station, or it might be in an area outside a sports stadium, concert hall or convention centre.

It is not surprising that many designers are now considering the use of hard security measures like bollards and concrete blocks.  However, barriers that are rated to stop a car or a truck travelling at a significant velocity can be very expensive, especially if the barriers are required over significant distances (e.g. around the entire perimeter of a sports stadium or along the length of a purpose built bicycle path).

Therefore, maybe we need to reframe CPTED to deter or demotivate the hostile vehicle attacker.  Sadly we might simply change the means that the attacker uses to achieve his deadly goals. However, we need to keep improving our security, in dynamic or agile ways, to counter these evolving threats.

Perhaps the CPTED approach could be modified to embrace ideas of Terrorism Prevention Through Environmental Design.  This evolved state of CPTED might have a harder edge, but with careful design the emphasis can still be on mitigating the intent of the attacker instead of trying physically to stop them in all places at all times.

I would like to challenge all designers to put forward creative ideas to solve this very dynamic design problem.   Furthermore, risk and security policy needs to be developed to encourage creative security infrastructure solutions in order to subtly but effectively protect our people as they go about their business and leisure in public places.   This security should not change or hinder our way of life; it should be designed to enhance it.

Dr Kevin J. Foster is the managing director of Foster Risk Management Pty Ltd, an Australian company that provides independent research aimed at finding better ways to manage risk for security and public safety, and improving our understanding of emerging threats from ‘intelligent’ technologies.