Sunday, September 18, 2016

Antiterroism Standards for Public Spaces

Part II

In the RUN-HIDE-FIGHT approach discussed last month we addressed what the victim should do.  Police departments have addressed what they should do but we haven’t address what the “environment” should do.  Legislators have addressed how the environment should react to certain threats, like fire and earthquakes but not for active shooters or other forms of terrorism. 

A few months ago, I was meeting with a very dear friend and she told me that as the Chief Security Officer for a very large multi-national company, the thing that kept her up at night was the fact that since interior designers have been creating office spaces that promote the free flow of ideas and creativity, there were no more walls to hide behind and because of that the company’s employees were basically “sitting ducks” during an active shooter event.  I guess there’s a trade-off between inventiveness and protection.  I don’t think there has to be.  I think we can do both.

I believe we can compartmentalize transit spaces, such as hallways, stairwells, much in the same way as ships have bulkheads that compartmentalize the interiors of the ship in case of fire or flooding.  We could do the same with these transit spaces and make it so that once a “bad guy” is in this space we can seal him or her off so that there is no freedom of movement.  By restricting the freedom of movement haven’t we in essence prevented the threat from causing more victims?  Obviously, some technical expertise is needed and every building or inhabited space would need to be analyzed on its own merit and would probably require a different and specific solution, but the same basic principle would exist throughout.  We would also need to provide additional protection to the interior walls so that the perpetrator couldn’t “mouse-hole” his way out of the space.  In other words, limit the ability to shoot thru the drywall and go into another room.  We would need to figure out what’s the best way to do that in any given situation.  There are ballistic resistant walls already on the market, which we could and should use to isolate the “rat”.

Admittedly, there is probably a higher likelihood of being involved in a fire or natural disaster than there is a terrorist act.  And again, admittedly, a higher likelihood of being involved in an active shooter incident than there is a vehicle bombing event or other form of terrorist act; i.e., kidnapping, arson, etc.   However, just because it’s not a frequent event it doesn’t mean we can’t plan for it so that when it does come the effects are not as catastrophic as they would otherwise have been. 

With the event in Paris last November we saw that hundreds of casualties can result from an active shooter event, especially if there are multiple murderers.  On the other hand, a single vehicle borne improvised explosive device or backpack bomb could cause just as many casualties if not more.  The Department of Defense recognizes that when it comes to terrorist acts, vehicle bombings cause the highest number of casualties, per perpetrator victim ratio; therefore, they’ve developed a set of standards that limit the introduction of bombs into or near inhabited space.  These measures serve to protect all personnel.  Shouldn’t the civilian community be doing the same?  The DOD has recognized that to tear down all buildings and start from scratch would be too cost-prohibitive, so guidelines require new building construction to implement these standards, with a few exceptions, and existing buildings when they meet certain criteria.  Couldn’t civilian building do the same and require that all new construction after a certain date meet a new standard for construction and building design that incorporates features within the design to reduce the effects of terrorist activity.  All existing buildings could be brought into compliance over time when certain parameters are met; i.e., change in usage, increase in floor space or during major renovation projects. 

Local governments for the past few years have been implementing ordinances that require buildings and neighborhoods when “triggered” to meet CPTED principles that were developed in the early ‘90’s.  Shouldn’t the same hold true for anti-terrorism strategies?  That said, I think we could reduce these principles into five general categories for use within the civilian world; maximize stand-off distances, reduce flying debris hazard, prevent progressive collapse, limit airborne contamination and provide mass notification.  I admit there would be additional costs involved in implementing these concepts, but those costs can be greatly reduced if they were incorporated during the design phase, instead of being added at the end of a project, as currently is the normal process for including security features in a project.

I’m not advocating that all buildings should be built to a new higher standard, a standard that reduces the effects of terrorist attack and in particular, active shooter incidents and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, but I do think that buildings that have high population densities, i.e., nightclubs, public buildings, shopping malls, theaters, etc.,  above a certain threshold should.

Fortunately, there have only been two significant terrorist bombings and unfortunately, numerous shooting attacks on US soil – shouldn’t we have learned something from them? 

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