Security and protection of public spaces

Pilar de la Torre, project manager for the European Forum for Urban Security (Efus), discusses the forum’s PRoTECT project and the role of municipal authorities in protecting public spaces

Over the years, strategies to protect public space against terrorism have strengthened and evolved, mainly focusing on protecting critical infrastructures. However, terrorist attacks are evolving as well. As a result of new contexts and opportunities, public space has recently become an attractive target for terrorist attacks. To illustrate, the latest terrorist attacks in European cities such as London, Paris, Manchester, Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels, Barcelona… all targeted public areas. These areas are considered as ‘soft targets’, crowded public spaces as metro, shopping centres, sports stadiums, bars, restaurants, clubs and commercial sidewalks, that are easily accessible to the public and an easy target for terrorists with high negative societal impact. Soft targets are targets because attacking them can aid terrorist organisations to obtain their goals, such as threatening the safety and quality of life of the public.

Following the resolution of the European Commission, in the Action Plan to support the protection of public spaces, which states that ‘local and regional authorities are also important stakeholders in the protection of public space’, PRoTECT project aims to raise the awareness of municipal authorities on their role in protecting public spaces and provide them with tools, good practices, access to technology concepts, and the knowledge to tailor them to their needs to better prevent this kind of threat and to act more effectively in case of attacks.

The European Forum for Urban Security (Efus) has more than 30 years’ experience, working with 250 local and regional member authorities from more than 16 European countries, in the promotion of a balanced vision of urban security, combining prevention, sanctions and social cohesion, to obtain recognition of the role of local and regional authorities in drafting and implementing national and European security policies. It has the capability to foster the exchange of experiences between authorities for the benefit of long-term security and to support local and regional authorities in the conception, implementation and evaluation of their local security policy. As such, it adds value in its participation in the PRoTECT project for the protection of public spaces against terrorism threats, as well as other initiatives such as the Partnership on Security in Public Spaces of the Urban Agenda for the European Union. The later is one of 13 Urban Agenda partnerships, in which the cities of Nice and Madrid and partners of PACTESUR project that is coordinated by the city of Nice and which aims to empower cities and local police forces to better address current vulnerabilities in public spaces.

Important actors in the protection of public space
Terrorism is a reality in many European countries and a continuous threat to a number of European cities. It seriously threatens the safety and values of democratic states and the rights and liberties of their citizens. Acts of terrorism bring about long-term negative effects for cities and high social costs. Not only from a financial, but also from a psychological point of view in the sense of an increased feeling of insecurity among locals and visitors.

It is the duty of cities to be responsible for the safety and security of their citizens. Local authorities play a key role, in terms of the immediate response in cases of a terrorist act and crisis management, as well as in being aware of the vulnerabilities their public spaces might have in order to be able to adopt appropriate measures to prevent and mitigate terrorist attacks and their consequences (European Commission, 2017). The EU Commission is thus committed to reinforcing the involvement of these stakeholders by promoting dialogue and exchange between national, regional and local authorities and supporting the development of operational projects.

Local authorities in Europe have taken a number of steps needed to protect and prevent their citizens against terrorist attacks. Some municipalities across Europe have made progress in counter terrorism and have adopted measures to prevent and prepare against a terrorist attack in public space. However, in examining the role of cities in the protection of public spaces against terrorism, further steps in this direction are to be taken. Development of common guidance and the exchange of good practices are indispensable elements of sustainable and effective solutions. In correlation with these considerations, local authorities can play a significant role in the improvement of the protection of public spaces if they are able to: identify and mitigate vulnerabilities of their public spaces, have the specific skills to do so, have knowledge about existing solutions both technological and human-centred that meet their needs, and foster coordination and cooperation between key stakeholders.

Provide local authorities with tools to prevent and intervene more effectively - PRoTECT
PRoTECT project seeks to strengthen local authorities’ capabilities in public protection by putting in place an overarching concept where tools, technology, training and field demonstrations will lead to situational awareness and improve direct responses to secure public places before, during, and after a terrorist threat. The five EU cities (Eindhoven, Malaga, Larissa, Vilnius, Brasov) are being supported by the Dutch Institute for Technology, Safety and Security (DITSS), the Lithuanian Centre for Cybersecurity (Lietuvos Kibernetiniu Nusikaltimu Kompetenciju Ir Tyrimu Centras) (LT), the Meleton Asfaleias Centre-KEMEA (GR), the Romanian police Inspectorate (RO), the Spanish Ministry of the Interior (ES) and by networks as the European Network for Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS) and Efus.

The project aims to provide cities beyond the project with an actionable perspective on the protection of their public spaces and other soft targets, by equipping them with good practices and access to technology concepts, and the knowledge to tailor them to their needs. It aims to build a closer, permanent collaboration between municipal authorities and law enforcement agencies via existing networks (ENLETS, Efus). Expected outcomes are risk and cost reduction related to the protection of public spaces for municipalities and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and implementation of a pan European technology capability assessment tool for cities.

The project has been implemented for more than a year and already has a series of tools which are being tested by the partner cities to facilitate the protection of public spaces, providing city partners with tools to conduct both a vulnerability self-assessment and technology assessment in their municipalities.

Vulnerability self-assessment
The PRoTECT project is based on the EU Vulnerability Assessment Tool (VAT), developed by the DG HOME (2019), the objective of which is to support actors engaged in counter terrorism strategies at the national level to assess the vulnerability of a specific public space. PRoTECT has developed a Manual of the VAT addressed to Municipal staff that is responsible for safety and security in public space and other local stakeholders involved in the security management of public spaces. It aids them in identifying vulnerabilities as a result of the risk identification and risk analysis processes. The areas identified as public space have to be areas where regular and/or incidental masses of public come for an activity. The activity at the main site can lead to other congested areas around the main site (e.g. an access road to a sports venue). These surrounding sites should also be taken into consideration when conceiving a security plan for the main site. In the project, the main site, together with the surrounding sites associated with the activity, are called the Public Space of Interest (PSOI).

The manual provides the steps that have to be taken, to do a vulnerability assessment as part of the security management process. Actors using the tool will be able to identify the following elements necessary to assess vulnerabilities of a PSOI: characteristics of the site, existing security measures, potential threats, consequences and probabilities. These elements will contribute to analysis and take measures in terms of technologies, infrastructure and human resources etc.


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