The first line of defence

Mark Stone of Securiscape explains how designers are using street furniture and planters as part of a defensive strategy to protect the public from terrorism

We have come a long way since 2007, when, in the wake of a vehicle-borne attack on Glasgow International Airport, defending buildings against a further assault constituted a row of concrete blocks placed in front of premises deemed to be at risk. Although a defence that does exactly what it says on the tin, rows of concrete blocks are more suited to the rudimentary requirements of warzones rather than cities where people want to go about their business peacefully and happily.

As a result, while the threat of more attacks, whether for political or financial gain or purely for vandalism, remain a real possibility, it is up to architects and urban planners to find alternative methods capable of protecting buildings from whatever may lurk around the corner without compromising people’s quality of life or their sense of security. This is where our industry comes in, because it’s up to us to develop the products architects are looking for, a task we take on in conjunction with government agencies which provide resources, guidance and expert advice to keep businesses secure from external threats.

This means that there is a wealth of information and intelligence available concerning the very many ways in which attacks can arise, from different modus operandi to the types of vehicles used, as well as details of blast effects and stand-off distances.

The information has allowed our industry to develop a whole host of increasingly sophisticated equipment – known in the industry as hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) devices – which not only performs its principal security function, one which could typically involve stopping a 7.5 tonne truck travelling at 40 mph, but does so in sympathy with towns and cities whose designs and architecture belong to a time before people intent on causing injury and damage used vehicles to carry out their work.

In addition, product development is also taking place with economy and practicality in mind as much as performance, because of the untold expense of addressing every possible security concern associated with a random attack that can come out of the blue.

Ideally, security installations are best explored at project management level, with the input of the local authorities, urban planners and architects. It takes a community to protect a community and the earlier and the more joined-up the thinking, then the better the result.

Perhaps the best example of this defensive street planning are the concrete letters spelling out ARSENAL outside the Emirates Stadium, which are joyously multi-functional, as the Gunners fans who pose for photos in amongst them have little idea of their security role.

The majority of installations do not, however, have this luxury since they have to be retro-fitted, and this is where the majority of the challenges reside. They must use products which can withstand a vehicle impact – ideally while demonstrating the high level of performance demanded by the exacting PAS68 classification – without being too difficult to deliver, taking up too much room or requiring the kind of expensive and intrusive excavations that might disturb or damage underground utilities.

The most productive solution to this involves the intelligent use of heavy grade steel, whereby the steel is sprung and incorporated into frameworks designed to absorb the impact of a vehicle, or is used to reinforce concrete. This is an immediate upgrade on pure concrete because these products are significantly lighter and smaller, so are easier and cheaper to transport and install. Improved fixing techniques, involving a variety of bolts or resins, ensure the products remain firmly in place, even though penetration of their fixing systems into the surface of the ground can be as shallow as 100 mm.

These developments have opened up a world of opportunities for manufacturers and architects. It is now possible to buy products where form and function complement each other rather than one compromising the other and the market is now maturing with increased demand for products that are smaller, less intrusive and more beneficial to the urban environment.

These include appropriately sited heavy-duty bollards, cycle racks, benches, bollards and planters – made up of a steel framework encapsulating a polypropylene planter filled with compost and greenery and encased in a separate and decorative architectural cladding – all of which are equal and indeed superior in performance to the military-style concrete block, while more products, such as decorative railings are being developed as well. Elsewhere, innovation and demand is also driving products that are capable of stopping vehicle-borne attacks on crowds of pedestrians at outdoor public events, in the wake of the incidents in Nice, Berlin and elsewhere.

By the very nature of the events they are designed to protect, these products must be temporary, which is an even more challenging task, because they cannot even use shallow fixings and must be quick to install and remove.

Thankfully, industry ingenuity has led to a series of products, from a spiked mesh designed to wrap around the tyres, to a device designed to lift the vehicle’s wheels into the air. Another product comprises steel spikes which embed themselves into the vehicle’s bodywork, rendering it incapable of moving forwards or backwards.

Not all of these are adaptable for the permanent HVM market but they will surely influence the next generation of product, sending out a reassuring signal that, more than a decade after the emergency concrete block hit the UK’s streets, our industry is capable of providing solutions which can keep people safe, without them being too frightened to step out of their homes.

Mark Stone is the managing director of Securiscape