Can counter terrorism protection make a city more attractive

Terrorism today is much more pervasive and less predictable than it was. As a result, protecting against terrorism has moved from being the exception to being the rule.

Spherical bollards lined up on pavement for urban security

Most cities now realise they must install some protection but worry about doing so because they see it as unsightly and as something that might be harmful to commerce because it restricts the movement of people and serves to remind them that they are entering an area that could be a possible target. It is also seen as an additional cost.

There is lots of new thinking on how to combat urban terrorism, which, taken together, addresses each of the above concerns.

Restricting the movement of vehicles remains central to many counter-terrorism initiatives because vehicles offer the best means of getting a large amount of explosive close to a chosen target. While there are a range of less obtrusive barrier techniques that include walls, ditches, water features and slopes, these are difficult to implement into existing schemes. Bollards on the other hand are ubiquitous and the intervention of choice because they are cheap, flexible and easy to deploy. They are not well liked however because they are regarded as ugly in themselves and they can ruin the look and appeal of buildings.

Bollard technology however has received lot of attention in recent years, allowing bollards to be more slender, to work with shallower foundations, to be temporary and to sink into the ground when not in use. More innovative are the bollards that can be disguised as other things, such as picnic tables, balustrade walls, waste bins, flower tubs and plant holders. This development opens up all sorts of possibilities for both protecting space and enhancing it. Pedestrian space ‘cordoned off’ with picnic tables, flower tubs and plant holders might actually promote an increased use of the space.

A concern with bollards, however, is that by restricting the movement of people, they have the effect of reducing the numbers of people who pass in front of shops therefore affecting retail profits. Recent research by the UK Government shows that bollards can be designed to have the opposite effect . The research shows that the placement of bollards (which can be disguised) can have positive effects and can cause people to group together in a particular way called ‘platooning’ with the result that the movement of people through a place improves.

The design of security arrangements, be it for a building or a masterplan, is usually left to specialist engineers. For a new project it is usual industry practise in most parts of the world to undertake this part of the design towards the end rather than the beginning of the project; and this is probably because security is commonly seen as a ‘layer’ that gets added to a project rather than something that is integral to a project. The result is often unimaginative security solutions, and commonplace is often a certain amount of tension between the architects wanting to preserve clean lines around their buildings and security specialists who are required to erect barriers.

With recent developments in security there is a lot to be gained from not only bringing in the security specialists earlier in a project but in making the design of security a multi-disciplinary process that involves architects, landscape architects, retail planners, ground engineers, structural engineers, bomb blast experts, traffic engineers, local government, the emergency services and other government services. This happens to some extent already, in Riyadh, in Kuala Lumpur, in Doha and Abu Dhabi, where policies such as making security part of the permitting process does drive the different professional disciplines together early in the project. The process however could be taken much further.

By making security design a multi-disciplinary process, embedded at the start of a project, there is every chance that, not only can it be made more effective in terms of core function, but that the additional benefits could be transformational and much more than just using security barrier strategies to humanise a place and to improve the flow of people through it.

It might mean extending pedestrian areas; planning walking routes through cities designed to optimise the flow of people past shops, parks and restaurants. It might mean making greater use of public transport and bicycles thus keeping cars away from areas considered vulnerable to attack. Greater use could be made of long vistas to enhance the effect of ‘natural policing’ (the role crowds can have on promoting good behaviour). Finally, there looks to be lots of untapped potential with security cameras. At present they are a surveillance device for which few people have an affection. What would it take to make them a ‘place enhancing device’ in the way that a good host at a dinner party takes responsibility for ensuring everyone has a good time?

The new role for city control centres that operate security cameras would, as far as possible, be about increasing the positive experience people have of a place. Through the close surveillance that already happens, control centres could also start to alter the mood of a place through sound and light, and they could orchestrate street theatre and children’s entertainment. Or they could encourage small crowds, which are recognised as giving a place a buzz, and offer a role in assisting the elderly and making a place more inclusive. It might also mean the surveillance itself becomes more effective.

The terrorist threat is increasing and, all over the world, we need greater levels of protection. Thankfully, new thinking in this area does not mean we have to design a world of reduced access, heightened surveillance and increased restriction. Addressing security early in a project and from a multi-disciplinary perspective means the security can not only be unobtrusive but can positively contribute to a better functioning place and be an integral part of the business enabling process.

To find out more about how we are making our cities and buildings more security using the latest technology, please visit our security and technology specialism page.

Traffic Advisory Leaflet 2/13 May 2013 Bollards and Pedestrian Movement, Centre for The Protection of National Infrastructure, Department for Transport.

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