After 9-11, anti-ram vehicle barriers became a necessity for buildings in high-risk areas. Here is a brief overview of what issues companies and organizations face when deciding whether anti-ram vehicle barriers are appropriate for their new facility. (Online exclusive)
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.
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.
The first step to a protection perimeter plan is conducting a thorough vulnerability study. The study should identify and take into account the assets protected, the value of the assets, the intended target, the threat and its potential capabilities and limitations. The study should consider the probability and consequences of an attack, including loss of human life.
Site Security Survey: A vulnerability assessment should begin with a security survey. The survey must include the description of the target location, surrounding structures, roads and intersections, landscaping, existing property boundaries, and limitations. Based on the security survey, the required distance between the perimeter and the target can be determined. The size of the stand-off distance is critical, especially in urban areas where real estate is at a premium. Roadways are generally designed as a straight throughway to minimize travel time and maximize convenience and safety, not building security.
While it is desirable to establish maximum stand-off distance from the target, it may not be easily achievable. For areas where significant stand-off distance from the target is not practical, street alignments--including traffic calming strategies—should be considered. These may include planters; concrete highway medians, or “jerseys”; speed humps; berms; high curbs; or any other aesthetically pleasing obstacle to slow down an approaching threat.
The most critical factor to consider when analyzing a threat from a moving vehicle is the kinetic energy. In simple terms, the kinetic energy is the weight of the vehicle as well as the speed that must be absorbed to stop the threat from reaching the target. It’s important to remember that straight paths provide an opportunity for maximum vehicle speeds, therefore the required number of access points should also be evaluated. Ideally, the reduction of entry points will improve security and lower the cost of vehicle barrier systems.
In areas where a reasonable stand-off distance cannot be achieved or where oversized vehicles require entry, a sally-port configuration should be considered. The sally port configuration will provide for a redundant system of vehicle barriers allowing inspection of a vehicle while maintaining a secured perimeter. Whatever strategy a protection plan chooses, the goal is to slow down or stop a vehicle before it can slam into the target.
Threat Assessment: A threat assessment must be conducted on the building to determine whether the facility is a target and what the likely outcome of an attack will be. The threat assessment must take into consideration the risk, the vulnerability, and the probability of an attack occurring as well as the potential loss to life and property if the target is attacked or destroyed. A threat analysis should include the possible maximum loss (maximum loss to life and property if the target is destroyed) and the probable maximum loss (the reasonable amount of loss the target will sustain.) Once a threat analysis has been conducted, the process can move forward to selecting the most appropriate device to include the type, rating, and design of a protective vehicle barrier. More importantly, the risk management process should take into consideration the anticipated budget for target hardening.
Traffic Flow: Once the configuration of the checkpoint has been identified, a traffic flow study should be performed. The ideal result of the study should yield the most effective means to maintain throughput without causing significant delays. It’s the balance between maintaining security without significant business interruptions.
Human Operation: Human operations consist of the manpower required to operate a checkpoint. The inspection and barrier operation duties should always be separate duties. The separation of duties helps avoid an unauthorized entry into a secured perimeter. Entry should only be authorized once the screener has completed agency-specific guidelines for inspection of the vehicle before authorizing entry. The barrier design should be simple and easy to activate. The control area for security personnel assigned to activate the barrier should be clutter free. Distractions should be minimal in order to ensure the operator devotes his full attention to operating the barrier. Ongoing and documented training is recommended for security personnel operating even simple barriers systems. The training should include a check list to be performed at the opening of each post as well as operational guidelines.
Vehicle Barrier Design
At the conclusion of a vulnerability study, the organization should solicit various manufacturers to identify the most appropriate style of anti-ram vehicle barrier. Organizations have two primary choices of vehicle barriers: passive, such as bollards and planters, and active, such as power gating and fencing systems and electric retractable bollards.
Appearance: First and foremost, aesthetics must be considered in design. Targets in urban areas will likely require a fairly discrete perimeter protection device, such as bollards, planters, and berms, which blends into the environment. On the other hand, targets in urban warfare areas may require barriers that express the gravity of the threat an organization faces, such as concrete jersey barriers and anti-ram walls.
Installation: Today, many manufacturers offer protective barrier system with shallow installation capability. Many underground infrastructures especially in urban areas make deep excavation impractical. For this reason, a vehicle barrier that can be shallowly installed should be considered. Installation of shallow-mounted barriers may also allow faster and cheaper replacement of a vehicle barrier if necessary.
Barrier Dimension: The width of the barrier must be considered as well. Many manufacturers produce vehicle barriers of different length to accommodate entry points. The dimensions should accommodate an oversized vehicle—such as an oversized fire truck, even at a wide radius turn.
Power Requirements: For organizations that choose power anti-ram barriers, power requirements must also factor into their decision. The power supply should provide continuous and uninterrupted power with a back up source at all times. Some manufacturers offer battery back-up standard or as an upgrade to provide continuous operation of a barrier during an unscheduled power failure for a limited number of cycles.
Safety: The presence of a vehicle barrier must be clearly defined for drivers and pedestrians. The barrier not only defines the boundaries of a protected area, but should serve to minimize accidental entry by unauthorized persons. Signage warning of the vehicle barrier must be in simple to understand language. Many vehicle barrier manufacturers provide decals to warn oncoming traffic when they are in a fully secured area.
Another safety option that organizations should consider is an illuminated gate arm with light emitting diodes when they choose certain powered anti-ram barriers. The gate arm should hover directly over the barrier to show its clear position. The gate arm should be installed in front of the barrier on the traffic side of the barrier and provide a common warning command to oncoming traffic, such as “STOP.” Depending on aesthetics limitations, manufacturers may offer options to paint the surface of the barrier in bright colors to create a sharp contrast to the roadway.
For checkpoints in close proximity to pedestrian walk ways, an audible alarm, capable of providing a continuous audible tone, can be used to alert pedestrians of the barrier when it’s in use. Nevertheless, every effort should be made to direct pedestrian walkways away from the barrier if possible.
No matter what other warning devices are used, every measure must be taken to ensure that motorists are aware of an approaching vehicle barrier to prevent an accidental collision. Many vehicle barrier systems are equipped with safety loops, which are designed to prevent the unintended deployment of a barrier when a vehicle is present over the designated field on both the attack and the secured side of the barrier. The manufacturer should provide standards on the size and location for installation of these loops. The safety loop should be capable of being overridden by security staff.
Enviromental Concerns: The vehicle barrier must be protected from rain, dirt, debris or run-off by ensuring proper drainage. The drain system must be continuously maintained to ensure adequate removal of water during rain fall. Any water accumulation may impact the operation of the barrier. In colder climates, standing water may freeze, hindering the barrier’s movement. Many barrier products offer below-ground heaters embedded in concrete to keep the ground surface at above freezing temperatures and prevent ice build-up. Also, cooling systems to keep the equipment at cool temperatures should be considered when barriers are installed in hot environments.
Maintenance: Vehicle barriers must be capable of operating continuously with minimal failures. Once barriers are installed, the manufacturer must provide all installation, electrical, and wiring diagrams, along with a warranty. Included should also be the barrier’s maintenance schedule and instructions for the system. At the very least, the maintenance program should include recommendations for how often maintenance should occur, a detailed checklist of what to do, trouble shooting guidelines, and basic repair procedures.
Lighting: Another area of importance is lighting. Depending on the proximity of the checkpoint to the target and inspection protocols, adequate lighting is required to provide visibility for security personnel to inspect the vehicle and cargo prior to granting access. Lighting should be evenly distributed to allow drivers a clear view of the check point without creating a glare, which may interfere with the driver’s view of the checkpoint. The most common type of lighting is continuous lighting. The lighting should also be sufficient to provide a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system with a clear look at the checkpoint.
Security Cameras and Alarms: To prevent tampering with the barrier on remote sites or during nonoperational times, facilities may want to install CCTV equipment and alarm points on the vehicle barrier. The CCTV equipment will provide continuous coverage of the checkpoint from a remote site. An intrusion detection system should also be considered to protect against unauthorized access into the control shack where the barrier equipment controller is located.
The threat of terrorists ramming explosive-laden vehicles into buildings has made anti-ram vehicle barriers an important consideration for organizations building new facilities in high-risk areas. By thoroughly assessing the threats that face a particular building from the beginning of the design phase, organizations and their design team can factor in the particular anti-ram barriers that can provide the necessary protection, without unnecessarily making the building’s surrounding look like a warzone. By minimizing the reach of a threat, anti-ram barriers can make it harder for terrorists or other adversaries to get close enough to do significant harm to a facility and the people who occupy it.
Sonny Sharmin, CPP, CLSD, CHS, is the lead force protection specialist with the U.S. Capitol Police. He is responsible for overseeing perimeter security protection assets around the Capitol complex and the Library of Congress.
♦ Photo by Matthew Harwood/Security Management