Protecting public space against attacks using vehicles is a tough brief for security professionals. Solutions can be costly, often must be temporary, and it’s impossible to cover every area of vulnerability. At the same time, the Australian Government has put responsibility to protecting crowded places firmly onto operators and that means risk analysis and response is vital.
PROTECTING public space from attacks using vehicles is challenging. In the first instance, the threat is real. There have been multiple attacks around the world – the UK, France, Germany, the United States, Australia and across the Middle East. In some attacks, cars or vans have been used but in others, heavy vehicles have devastated crowded spaces. In Australia, the response to these and other threats and has been the Strategy For Protecting Crowded Places but implementation has been slow and vulnerabilities remain.
Ezi Security System’s Rod Acland says given that the federal government’s current National Terrorism Threat Advisory System ranks Australia’s current Terrorism Threat Level as ‘Probable’, the threat of hostile vehicle attacks is something we must learn to live with and manage for some time ahead.
“Any attack upon innocents deploying a vehicle as a weapon is obviously an act of terrorism regardless of motive or persuasion,” Acland says. “Many countries including Australia have encountered atrocities at the hands of deranged individuals, sometimes entirely without apparent motive, in bewildering instances of copycat assaults, with terrible effect. It is by now recognised that without any degree of sophisticated planning and at nil cost, a perpetrator can commandeer a vehicle and commit an atrocity of horrifying consequence, for reasons as unpredictable as drug-induced rage or simply as a means of self-aggrandisement, given the inevitable attention necessarily attracted by such acts of terror.”
When it comes to meeting obligations under the Strategy for the Protection of Crowded Places from Terrorism, how important is it that they assess the threat and plan a response, in Acland’s opinion?
“A strategic plan must envelope adjacent and surrounding factors to cost effectively oppose the established likelihood of a hostile vehicle attack,” Acland argues. “Collaboration with neighbouring stakeholders and responsible authorities is essential to maximise the value of investment in this challenge. Precinct wide strategies can often dramatically reduce the anecdotal cost of protecting individual locations.
“For organisations looking to protect their sites against vehicles, key considerations include identifying and/or introducing choke points, reducing the number of accessible approaches to a precinct above a given speed, is essential. Be aware that the energy to be repelled in any impact event increases exponentially with the velocity of the approach (and accordingly the cost) in comparative proportion to vehicle size. If unavoidably high-speed approaches are confronted in a few locations, this will enable effective obstruction beyond the entry points.”
In terms of the least expensive solutions for large applications – universities, city centres, malls, major events, Acland says there are plenty of good options.
“Introduction of traffic calming measures such as road diversion, undulations and obstacles such as roundabouts, chicanes, speed humps, trees, recreation or beautification spaces, in conjunction with high capability barriers both fixed and deployable at strategic locations, can eliminate a vehicle’s capacity to negotiate precinct boundaries without vastly diminishing subsequent attack velocity,” he argues.
“HV barriers proven to repel impacts at 30, 40 or even 60kmph can cost much less than half or even quarter of those effective against an 80kmph impact, so it is obviously an important priority to reduce the requirement for the latter, enabling greater proliferation of less expensive though effective, reduced impact measures.”
If money was no object, Acland says he’d be thinking about rising step road blockers to resist hostile vehicle attacks.
“Rising step road blockers, or wedges, are far less widely deployed to date in Australia in comparison to Europe, Middle East and Africa where the incidence of vehicle borne attacks have been prevalent for much longer,” Acland explains. “These devices are ruthlessly effective at arresting hostile vehicles approaching at high velocity, dead in their tracks permitting zero to minimal penetration compared to alternative methods. For instance, take a look at the supreme devastation of a truck stopping dead at 80ks colliding with the Wedge II sitting on only 200mm foundation. https://www.ezisecurity.com.au/product/wedge-ii/ .”
“Wherever near full-time vehicular access is essential yet regulated, these systems stand alone in their performance capacity. These systems also derive benefit from lengthy and continual research, design and testing, nowadays achieving outstanding HVB performance requiring vastly diminished foundation depth compared to earlier designs. Another interesting observation is that these devices have been widely adopted in Australia as the sentry of choice at entry points to military establishments.
“Often these devices operate at uniquely rapid speed under a detected emergency, sometimes behind, and often in conjunction with softer, more conventional entry controls, as an absolute backstop. They are almost unseen at commercial venues or on public roadways in Australia by comparison, whereas internationally they are quite common, although never in EFO mode (Emergency Fast Operation), due to the inherent danger of accidental encounters, rarely survivable. However, by operating a wedge in reverse mode to ‘EFO’, i.e. ordinarily up as a controlled barrier, like a boom gate (although a ruthlessly more effective HVB by comparison), the wedge can be quickly lowered to permit authorised access.
“In another highly effective application, where a space may be a conventional public roadway five or six days a week, but serving as a market place or event venue on weekends or anecdotally, the wedges may lie unnoticed all week forming part of the surrounding road surface, to be raised only when the area is accommodating a milling crowd enjoying the market or other entertainment, in complete security with the wedges serving as both a prohibitive HV Barrier as well as an emphatic deterrent.”
Is it realistic to think of integrating automated rising bollards into a city security solution, allowing activation when a threat was detected?
“Potentially so, either as a periodic deployment under escalated assessed risk, or in areas where the mode of the precinct’s operation, as described above changes periodically,” says Acland. “A significant factor in cityscapes is that underground services often exist, either identified or often only discovered during excavation, rendering vertically retractable bollards impractical or uneconomic in comparison to rising wedges as described above, due the depth of excavation necessary to accommodate vertically automated bollards.”
“Whereas bollards that withdraw under the roadway can require up to 2 metres of excavation depth to accommodate the height of the bollard, its mechanism and foundation, a wedge of generally superior HVB performance can be installed in as little as 200mm deep foundation, proving a more cost-effective alternative that can be installed in far less time.
Danny Berkovic of integrator, Fredon Security, agrees hostile vehicle attacks are a threat to public safety.
“Tragic events locally and globally have shown that vehicle attacks are a serious threat to public safety,” Berkovic says. “Assessing threats and implementing plans to address them are critical steps in ensuring public safety. The criticality of doing so will clearly depend on the location of the site and the nature of the site’s perimeter.
“For organisations looking to protect their sites against vehicles there are a number of factors to be considered. These include:
* Potential approach angles and speeds to determine factors such as impact rating and positions of countermeasures;
* Public safety when active countermeasures are operating, e.g. active barriers creating pinch points or hitting civilian cars, etc.;
* Authorised traffic access via automatic or manual countermeasures, for instance, allowing access to the area for authorised or emergency vehicles.
* Not wanting security to overly compromise public amenity of the space in question.
For large applications – universities, city centres, malls, major events – Berkovic says passive countermeasures are the least expensive but these may more drastically impact the traffic flow in the area and provide less flexibility for different usage of the spaces.
“The type of countermeasure that is most cost effective differs based on the identified threats and built environment,” he says. “Selection of the most suitable barrier is dependent on identified threats and the installation environment. For example, a rising wedge may be effective at preventing vehicle access to a laneway or driveway but wouldn’t be suitable to prevent access to a forecourt. Rising bollards are often a good compromise as they provide flexibility and are relatively unobtrusive – especially when retracted. The downside of rising bollards is they can be slower to deploy in an emergency and should be supervised when being raised in a public area.
“That said, it’s reasonable to imagine automated rising bollards integrated into smart city solutions. In public areas, any active barrier installations should be installed with stringent safety systems to prevent activations causing injury to non-threatening pedestrians and motorists. While these safety measures are critical, they must be designed so as not to prevent activation during a genuine threat, e.g. a single safety beam that can be blocked by a pedestrian to allow vehicle access.
“It’s also important to consider the barriers’ integrations with other systems. Typically, automated barriers could be activated by local inputs (e.g. speed or direction sensors) but also by a security management system and/or video analytics platform. While multiple detection and activation methods increase the likelihood of genuine activations, it also introduces additional points of failure and can complicate maintenance tasks and investigations into false activations. The barriers’ safety measures should never be handled or overridden by an SMS or other system.”
Berkovic believes it is possible to mitigate such threats entirely, but only by removing or severely limiting vehicular access to the area through physical barriers.
“This has impacts on authorised vehicle access and, if done poorly, could create spaces that don’t feel free or open,” he says. “It should be remembered that if vehicle threats were mitigated entirely, there will always be other potential threats to public safety. As such, any strategy to defend public spaces from vehicles should be part of an holistic public safety strategy that includes policing, CCTV etc yet takes public amenity into consideration.”
A consideration of many applications is the impermanence of the barriers required. They may need to be moved around a site, or they may only be needed for several weeks. This poses challenges for security managers, who must provide world-best standards of HV mitigation for a short peiord of time. According to John Ferguson of Protective Barriers Australia, new technology is needed to bring global best practice to temporary hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) solutions.
“Over the past 5 years, moving vehicles have become a weapon of choice for terrorism due to their ability to go undetected and get close to crowded public places,” Ferguson says. “If Australia is to keep pace with global best practice in HVM, new technology and systems are needed to protect against hostile vehicle attacks. The Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places was a positive response to multiple hostile vehicle attacks in Melbourne’s CBD. However, industry, state governments and local councils have been slow to adopt the recommended guidelines particularly in relation to events, crowds and temporary protection barriers often opting for ineffective measures used in road traffic safety, though not appropriate for adequate HVM solutions.
“While permanent structures for HVM in key public areas are being implemented effectively, when it comes to temporary and mobile solutions, this is where the industry is falling behind our global counterparts.”
Protective Barriers Australia have brought an innovative new security product to the Australian market to meet this gap in providing adequate HVM for events and crowded public places.
The Mifram Modular Vehicle Barrier (MVB) stops all size vehicles in their tracks, from motorbikes to semi-trailers. The MVB range is tough and effective, easily transportable and rapidly deployed by one person within minutes. Temporary and non-lethal vehicle barriers that are crash-tested and proven to stop cars, vans and trucks for the security and protection of people and physical assets. The MVB is used around the globe by clients including the US Defence Force and United Nations and was recently used for the HVM solution at the Commonwealth Games Gold Coast protecting venues, events and public spaces.
“We chose the Modular Vehicle Barrier after a careful selection process,” explained Clint McCaughan, senior project officer, security and infrastructure, Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. “It’s deployable and easy to setup which was key for us. The product is simple to use and highly effective. The team at Protective Barriers Australia were good to work with. We sought their advice on what we wanted to achieve, and they delivered a solution that fitted our needs.”