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Defense By Design: How Developers Are Countering Terrorism

In the past three years, terrorists have killed more than 300 people in attacks in Western cities around the world like Paris, London, Orlando and Berlin. 

These attacks represent a new type of terrorism, and a new kind of threat to real estate.

The World Trade Center bombing in 1993 ushered in a new era of security checks in office buildings in cities across the world. The 9/11 attacks changed the way skyscrapers were built to ensure structures would not collapse in the event of a catastrophic assault.

In the wake of this recent wave of attacks the built environment is once again undergoing a big evolution to try to minimize the impact of terrorism.

Floral tributes at the site of the London Bridge terrorist attack.

The industry first needs to understand the new nature of the threat and how it affects buildings and cities.

“If you go back to the 1980s and 1990s in the U.K. you had the Irish Republican Army and their use of large bombs to undertake attacks in places like Canary Wharf or Manchester,” said Mark Whyte, senior partner at risk analysis firm Control Risks. The same attack strategy was used by the terrorists who bombed New York’s World Trade Center in 1993.

“With Islamist terrorism, the threat has changed from attempts to destroy property and cause disruption to causing mass casualties, and now it is increasingly undertaken by small groups or individuals with few or no formal links to terrorist organizations,” Whyte said. “That creates a different problem for developers and architects. They are putting up buildings to last for 50 to 100 years, so they need to find a balance between what is built into the layout and what is added later on.”

Measures to minimize the impact of car bombs, like shatter-proof glazing and reinforced plates built into the ceilings of underground car parks, are now a fairly routine element of major buildings in large cities.

Street furniture is installed to ensure cars cannot get too close to buildings — either those filled with explosives or being used as a battering ram. They are placed far enough away from buildings so that the blast radius of any bomb causes as little damage as possible. To improve security without creating too great a sense of foreboding, reinforced planters filled with flowers, plants and trees are often used.

London Bridge, where barriers and bollards have been installed to prevent future attacks using vehicles.

But recent attacks in places like Nice, France, Westminster Bridge and London Bridge have seen cars used as weapons on busy city streets. This is forcing changes in the wider urban environment, in particular new developments that include large amounts of the public realm.

Visitors to the MIPIM property conference in Cannes, France, may have noticed an increase in the number of those reinforced planters along Boulevarde de la Croisette, a reaction to the July 2016 attack in Nice where a truck drove along the sidewalk, killing 86 people.

London Bridge now has barriers to stop cars mounting the pavement, and similar changes will be made in large cities across the world.

“In New York we had a deranged driver mount the sidewalk on Broadway and drive for five blocks before he was stopped by a bollard,” K2 Intelligence Vice Chairman Ray Kelly said. “But bollards were not in place to stop him getting onto the sidewalk there. Coverage is spotty.”

As the New York Police Department commissioner at the time of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, Kelly is well placed to comment on the evolving nature of the threat of terrorism and importance of preventive measures.

“I am surprised by how little developers look at issues of security before going forward with a scheme. Often they do it after the structure is up and in place,” Kelly said. “I think it is a question of reducing cost and keeping costs low. Security can impact the bottom line, and businesses are often reluctant to spend.”

Master Planning For Counterterrorism

In the 19th century when he was rebuilding Paris at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann knocked down areas with warrens of windy narrow streets because they helped ferment revolution. The layout made them easy to barricade and difficult for soldiers to fight in. The long, straight avenues for which Paris is now famous were easy to fire cannons down and clear mobs.

But we may be seeing the end of this kind of city design. Guidance from the Royal Institute of British Architects on how to build counterterrorism into the design of streets advises that long straight roads should be avoided in new schemes with busy public realm, so cars cannot build up too much speed.

When creating the master plans for large, multi-building schemes, architects and developers are bearing in mind layouts that can help to improve safety.

“Now on big schemes you make sure space is shared,” said Ken Shuttleworth, a partner at architect Make, who was involved in designing the Gherkin in London. “You make sure there are no dead ends or small alleys where people can become caught or packages left.”

But Shuttleworth has a warning as to the limits of what design can do.

“When it comes to bombs and explosive material there have been things around you can do for years,” he said. “When it comes to the man with the machine gun, that is more difficult. I don’t think there’s much of an architectural solution.”

CCTV technology can now be programmed to spot particular security threats.

Instead, the management of buildings and the procedures put in place by owners and managers becomes paramount. 

Technology is being used to assist well-trained security professionals and act as a “force multiplier” that can increase effectiveness and reduce human error.

Security cameras have come down in cost, and are no longer a dumb tool to simply record and observe. Cameras can be linked via apps to phones and computers used by law enforcement and security forces to give them a live feed of a building if an attack does occur.

And on a day-to-day level, they can be programmed with specific analytic capabilities to enhance what security teams can do.

“People just watching cameras has never been effective, after five minutes you get bored out of your mind,” security firm Allied Universal's vice president of vertical markets, Ken Bukowski, said.

Tech cannot replace human efforts, but it can make it more efficient.

“You can have analytics that say a car can’t be parked in front of a building for more than five minutes, or that a person can’t be in a certain area near your building,” Bukowski said. “It alerts the security professional who then makes a decision on what action to take. Is it just taking a while to get grandma out of the car, or is it something else?”

Some larger companies are investing in facial recognition technology to control who can enter a building, Kelly said. “Technology has certainly played a significant part.”

A Knightscope K5 Autonomous Data Machine

Shopping centers are the most difficult type of building to monitor — tens of thousands of people might pass through a busy center on any given day. They are seen as potential targets for active shooters of all types, particularly in the U.S. where guns are more freely available than in Europe.

Here human analysis of behavior that might develop into an attack plays a big role. And again it is being supplemented by advances in technology.

In a typical large shopping center, security teams trained by law enforcement are monitoring visitors for suspicious behavior such as wearing oversized clothes with bulky objects beneath or big coats on hot days; scoping out the location of cameras or other security equipment; or cars driving erratically around the property.

Multiple cameras can track individuals behaving suspiciously around a center to determine whether they are a threat. Facial recognition technology can remember individuals and alert security staff or law enforcement officials when they come back to a center.

Security robots are also being increasingly used in shopping centers and other commercial buildings. They are often equipped with 360-degree cameras and sensors that can remember the mobile phone signal of particular individuals and alert security teams if they return to a property.

As well as the physical environment, shopping center owners are monitoring the digital world for potential threats.

“They have big teams whose job is primarily to monitor social media to promote malls and interact with customers,” Strongin Rothman & Abrams partner Barry Rothman said.

Rothman advises clients on terrorism prevention and sits on the International Council of Shopping Centers Security Task Force.

“If someone says they can’t find a parking space then [security agents] jump straight on and tell them where they can park. But they are also on the lookout for potential threats. Less so with terrorism but often in an active shooter scenario a disgruntled employee, or a jilted spouse or partner might go on Facebook or Twitter and announce they are going to go to a mall and start shooting. Mall owners are monitoring that and working with law enforcement to prevent this.”

Some property owners have systems in place to text and email store owners if an attack does occur, advising employees to lock down their store, run or hide, Bukowski said.

The question for shopping mall owners is always how intrusive security should be. In Israel, shoppers regularly have their bag searched on entry — the same is true in Paris department stores in the wake of attacks in the city.

“Do shoppers and mall owners want that in the U.S.? Of course not,” Rothman said. “But another major incident might push us over that line.”

The problem with counterterrorism is that, because terrorism is always evolving, it is very difficult to avoid fighting the last war.

Terrorist attacks typically occur in cities, due to the density of population and the impact created by events in global cities. And for that reason they inherently impact the world of commercial real estate. There is nothing that can be done to entirely prevent or nullify an attack. But the right combination of design, procedure, analysis, training and technology can help the sector to keep pace with the threat.