Can physical security be both effective and visually appealing?

Gavin Hepburn, director at ATG Access and board member of the Perimeter Security Suppliers Association, discusses the advancements in the aesthetics of security and how architects/builders can implement the measures into new and existing environments, to ensure people are kept safe but that buildings and landmarks are also left appealing

On 24 May 2014, an attack on a Jewish Museum that left four people dead began a wave of terror across Europe. Since then, some of the continent’s most popular cities including London, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona have fallen victim to an assault. However, what initially started as knife and gun attacks, has now progressed to terrorists using vehicles as the preferred weapon of choice, due to their ability to cause high amounts of damage in a short period of time.

This has resulted in public hotspots – from concert venues to shopping centres – becoming the ideal target for vehicle attacks as they confine large volumes of people to small spaces. You just have to look at the shocking incidents that took place at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the MEN arena in Manchester and Westminster Bridge in the UK’s capital to see just how vulnerable cities are to this new-style of threat.

But while many security officials have been quick to implement anti-terror measures, through the placement of heavy-duty concrete barriers at locations such as Westminster and London bridges, these solutions are not applicable to every situation.

Take the recent attack on Muenster – a popular German city that attracts over 600,000 visitors to its Old Town district every year because of its famed architecture. While the appalling attack in April highlighted the city’s need for improved security measures to safeguard civilians, the use of concrete bollards would not be in keeping with the surroundings. And for a city attracting tourists on this basis, such barriers could act as a deterrent rather than evoke the feeling of safety.

As a result, security officials are now tasked with finding the perfect balance between implementing physical security measures to protect people, and ones that look aesthetically pleasing and can blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

The art of anti-terrorism
Above all else, security solutions need to be efficient at preventing hostile forces from breaching the perimeter. And thanks to today’s innovations in physical security, measures are now available that can effectively deter and prevent attacks. You need only look at the latest developments in temporary event security to see that some barriers can bring a vehicle weighing 7,200kg travelling at 32kph to a standstill, with permanent barriers also able to withstand the impact of a 7,500kg vehicle travelling at 80kph.  

But while product effectiveness is the number one priority for security manufacturers, design aesthetics are a consideration increasingly moving up the priority list, as city architects, building managers and operations managers are having to think about weaving security solutions into their plans.

For example, the Eiffel Tower, probably the most iconic landmark in France, has recently installed a range of anti-terror measures including; a 10ft high metal barrier that will run around two sides of the tower, with the other two sides protected by a series of 6.5cm glass walls, both bullet and vehicle proof. Both solutions come in response to the 240 lives that have been lost in France as a result of terror attacks since 2015.

What’s evident from both new measures is that whilst they are there to secure the area, they have been designed to be visually appealing. The metal barriers, for instance, have a brown metal finish that is similar to the one on the tower itself. This creates synchronicity for the area as a whole, instead of the fences solely appearing as an outright security measure.

The public’s efforts to beautify existing measures
It’s not just new security solutions that are succumbing to being beautified, but also existing anti-terror measures, including unsightly concrete blocks and barriers. Following the attack on a busy shopping centre in Melbourne, where a vehicle was used to target pedestrians in December 2017, concrete blocks were placed around the city as a measure to deter against future attacks.

While these measures weren’t as imposing as some of the larger concrete blocks that were used to secure the perimeters of UK Christmas markets in 2017, Melbourne’s residents felt they weren’t aesthetically pleasing and took it upon themselves to decorate the baron blocks with handmade covers – highlighting the need for defence professionals to take more consideration over the look of security measures before placing them into an environment.

Although, this isn’t the only example of existing measures receiving an uplift from non-security officials. In fact, earlier in 2017, artwork by French artist Jennifer Abessira was commissioned by Team London Bridge to decorate bollards around London Bridge station, to symbolise the area’s contemporary character and heritage.

However, it should not be the responsibility of the general public nor artists to improve the design of security measures. Instead, this should be on the onus of security and government officials – especially as technology allows for bespoke sleeves to be created and placed over bollards to allow their appearance to be altered.

Take the Renaissance Hotel in London, for example, a Grade I listed building which takes residence in the historic St Pancras Station. In this case, the idea of brightly coloured bollards wasn’t quite in keeping with the area’s traditional style. Therefore, an alternative solution was provided in the form of shallow mounted bollards fitted with bespoke burgundy sleeves. This meant the perimeter of the building could be kept secure from vehicle attacks, and the bollards could also match the traditional appearance of the building and its surrounding area.

Similarly, at Changi Airport in Singapore, bespoke bollards that have been turned into large metal plant pots were fitted outside the airport’s main terminal. These uniquely designed perimeter protection measures have been created to not only reduce passenger anxiety, by their presence providing an added level of beauty, but to also be effective in bringing a moving vehicle to a halt.

Security solutions fit for the 21st Century
The growing threat of vehicle attacks has meant that security solutions are continually being rolled out and integrated into the heart of much-loved cities. But while security officials are battling to change this, the continuation of turning towards large concrete bollards and blocks as the preferred solutions risks driving people away from some of our most popular destinations.

Therefore, it’s imperative that future measures are chosen, not only with safety and effectiveness in mind, but also for their ability to blend into the surrounding area. Manufacturers are now more versatile than ever before at meeting this requirement and can easily adapt to meet changing threats. But ultimately, it’s up to officials to provide the public with security solutions that are representative of the threats we now face in 2018 and beyond.


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