THE MAGAZINE

Rise of the Anti-Ram Vehicle Barrier

By Sonny Sharmin, CPP

Before the events of 9-11, vehicle barriers in the United States were considered an eyesore. It didn’t matter if the vehicle barrier was a bollard, an ornamental planter, or a concrete highway median. The crystal-clear morning of September 11, 2001, however, changed all that. Nearly ten years later, vehicle barriers are now considered a common architectural consideration, providing the first line of defense for government agencies and private enterprises alike. Around the nation, high-threat cities and properties have invested in anti-ram vehicle barriers to protect against vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, none more so than Washington, D.C.

The shift has been one borne by necessity. Before 9-11, perimeter protection elements, like chain-link fences and gates, were designed to mitigate against threats by deterring, delaying, or denying intruders’ access. At the very least, fences and gates served to slow down a committed attacker or intruder. But the suicide missiles made up of four airliners on 9-11 and the reality of suicide bombers crashing explosive-packed vehicles into buildings—such as the 2003 attack against the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq—upset those assumptions. The age of the anti-ram vehicle barrier was born.

Today organizations designing and constructing new buildings should seriously consider the threat posed by vehicle-borne bombs, especially in high-risk and high-target areas. To do it right, they need to include perimeter protection strategies early in their planning, receive input from the right stakeholders, and finally analyze the many variables that make choosing the right anti-ram vehicle barrier difficult if they deem the risk they face sufficient.

Getting Started

Including perimeter protection strategies early on in the facility’s design stage will make it easier to provide for the maximum stand-off distance between the facility and an attacker. It will also make it easier to meet the aesthetic requirements and crime-prevention-through-environmental-design (CPTED) strategies to minimize the likelihood of the facility looking like a fortress. Therefore, many of the following objectives should be accomplished in the early stages of the facility’s design when mitigation is least costly. For those who wait, the cost for change and alteration can be significant if made after construction’s completed.

Another critical aspect of implementating a robust perimeter protection program is creating a working group that can provide critical input to selecting the appropriate vehicle barrier. This group, at a minimum, should include security professionals, engineers, landscape designers, architects, and members of the facility’s law enforcement or security force responsible for protecting the facility and its occupants. These stakeholders are critical in the design and implementation process for several reasons. They know the building’s design, its proposed infrastructure, and some will be responsible for protecting it after it’s built.

Once building property owners and its building team decide to integrate perimeter protection early on in their plans and organize a security working group, they can begin the process of developing a perimeter protection plan and choosing what anti-ram barrier is ideal for their facility before construction.

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