Heavy-duty barriers are an inelegant – even dangerous – response to the Christmas market terror threat

High security consultant , ATG Access

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ATG access develops road blocker, bollard and vehicle barrier systems.
November 10, 2017


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(Photo: David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Last year, Berlin experienced a shocking terrorist attack that left 12 people dead and a further 48 injured after a lorry mounted the pavement and drove into a number of Christmas market stalls.

This was one of the first terror attacks to use a vehicle as the primary weapon of choice. Since then, similar attacks have been carried out in London, Barcelona and just recently, in New York.

What is clear from these attacks is that terrorists are targeting highly populated areas because they can cause maximum damage and destruction in a short period of time.

As we move towards the festive period, there’s a strong chance that busy Christmas markets will again become a target for vehicular attacks, given that they attract hundreds and thousands of visitors.

Because of how easy it is to rent, buy or steal a vehicle, predicting when an attack may happen and stopping hostile vehicles in their tracks is extremely difficult.

Safeguarding the public during the Christmas period therefore presents security personnel across the world with a huge challenge.

What security measures are currently being put in place?

Authorities are taking additional precautionary steps to keep the public safe during the lead up to Christmas this year.

In Manchester, for instance, armed police will patrol the Christmas markets for the first time. These visibly armed officers will work alongside undercover plain clothed officers, who will also carry guns and blend in with the crowds.

This isn’t the first time undercover, armed security personnel have been deployed in the UK. During this year’s Notting Hill Carnival and the Reading and Leeds festivals, plain-clothed armed soldiers were dispatched to mingle in with the crowds in response to the UK’s ‘severe’ terrorist threat level.

In addition to increased police presence, countries such as the UK and Germany have decided to erect huge, encumbering concrete barriers around key locations throughout their cities. These heavy-duty barriers will secure the perimeter of the Christmas markets to bring any vehicle to a standstill should terrorists try and mount the pavement.

The barriers’ size and crude aesthetic could act as an imposing reminder that an attack is always likely and create a ‘fortress mentality’

However, it’s important to bear in mind that the barriers’ size and crude aesthetic could act as an imposing reminder that an attack is always likely and create a ‘fortress mentality’, potentially leaving people feeling uncomfortable in supposedly festive surroundings.

These heavy-duty barriers could cause disruption for visitors or detract from people’s enjoyment of the markets – especially at a time when people want to feel ‘Christmassy’ rather than worry about security.

Aside from being an eyesore, large barriers could also be dangerous. In order to make room for the structures, pathways must be narrowed. This could create bottlenecks or high concentrations of people who cannot move past barriers quickly. It could also lead to people pushing or injuring others as they try to pass through the barrier.

Are there more effective solutions that can stop vehicle attacks over the festive period?

Visible security measures are a great way to show that something is being done to increase safety and reassure the public. But it’s vital that these measures don’t compromise the overall experience by making people feel anxious or on edge.

Deploying security solutions that blend into the background or can be retrofitted around existing infrastructure is an effective way of avoiding this ‘fortress mentality’. For instance, there are a range of temporary hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) barriers on the market designed to keep the public safe from vehicle attacks, while keeping disruption to a minimum.

Most importantly, these barriers are capable of withstanding the direct impact of large vehicles – there are even systems available that can handle the impact of a vehicle weighing up to 2,500kg travelling at 48kph.

To help temporary security barriers blend into surroundings, they can also be customised with symbols and advertising slogans


ATG Access temporary barriers deployed at a recent event

To help security barriers blend into surroundings, they can also be customised with symbols and advertising slogans. So should a temporary security barrier be installed at a Christmas market, it could be coloured or decorated with Christmas images so it won’t draw unneeded attention from the public.

Pedestrians can easily navigate through these systems due to a permeable design, meaning they won’t be restrictive if a crowd of people need to pass through at once. Even cyclists can ride through, as the product is no higher than a bicyle’s handle bars, making it perfect for protecting cycle lanes.

Of course, the practicalities of renting, deploying and then removing security barriers can deter local authorities from securing areas. But driven by the rise of vehicle ramming attacks, extremely lightweight barrier have been developed.

This means they can be deployed using manpower only and can secure a road width in just over 20 minutes. They can stack six metres of security units on a standard pallet and the aesthetic covers stack like cones – again, for easy storage.

Barriers can be rented or bought, giving customers flexibility and the option to keep stocks of security barriers stored regionally to be shared between boroughs or cities.

Recent investment in design and development of temporary security barrier designs has aimed to remove deployment complications for government and local authorities – and with them any excuse for failing to secure the general public and crowded areas.

Given the threat level the world faces, an attack can never be ruled out. And as we head towards the busy festive period, security at Christmas markets needs to be a key priority for local councils and governments, as these areas unfortunately present the ideal target for attacks.

The deployment of concrete barriers and extra police officers may dampen the festive spirit and even deter people from attending festive public events altogether. It’s up to authorities and security personnel to ensure they have the most suitable, robust security measures in place that keeps disruption to the minimum.

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