Do we need to rethink how we design public spaces, with smarter integrated security?

integrated security
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Ian Robinson, Director of Business Development at RWS Ltd, has managed and installed key security projects for the national infrastructure and government agencies worldwide. He asks if we need to rethink how we design public spaces, with smarter integrated security in mind

Protecting our public infrastructure and the people within them has never been easy, but at
least we had a good idea of the likely targets. But now the threat and focus have shifted.

Security has always been a challenge, but attention has mostly centred on public infrastructure, government buildings and business. That is because they are obvious targets, but also because that is exactly where criminals or terrorists have focused their efforts on.

In the past decade, terrorist tactics have changed. The targets are less about symbols of the West and more about maximum damage. This has led to crude but deadly attacks in public spaces not previously optimised for security, such as the vehicle attacks in Berlin, Barcelona, Nice and on Westminster Bridge.

This creates a huge challenge for designers, planners and security professionals. Not only do current public spaces need to be retrofitted with security measures, but new spaces also need rethinking – not to mention the fact that while we all want to be safe, we also want
to be in pleasant environments rather than be continuously reminded of the peril we may be in. Therefore, we must address this design challenge as early in the process as possible.

An evolving approach

We have already seen changes in our public spaces following terrorist attacks in urban areas across the world. Perhaps the most prominent are bollards and barriers designed to prevent vehicle access to a public space or prevent a vehicle mounting the pavement.

These are sensible measures but are reactive in their nature. They have been installed after and in response to an event. Security and counter-terror measures are always changing to meet the changing threats, but we must also adjust our mindset, so we think about security and design more holistically rather than two opposing forces where compromise is seen negatively.

Security is a design issue that must be incorporated at the initial concept design phase. Traditionally, aesthetics has dominated the overall building design with an architects’ concern for the working environment being compromised by security provision and the security expert worrying about the lack of security provision during the concept phase.

A simple solution that we implement is to have a security expert engaged during the concept phase and working closely with the design team to ensure security is woven into the fabric of the building or public space. This ensures all teams involved will achieve the common goal of keeping the public safe.

As the CNPI says in its Integrated Security report, those responsible for designing should: “Consider the project requirements for protective security at the earliest possible design stage. There is a need to innovate and design integrated solutions that not only protect sites deemed to be vulnerable to vehicle-borne threat, but that are also considerate to the functionality and aesthetics of their surroundings.” (1)

Incorporating integrated security in existing public spaces

The market has been slow on the uptake of integrated security measures due to the inability to combine existing security software and physical technology. Open space security has been built up over the past 25 years and as these standalone systems come to the end of their lifecycle innovative municipal councils and commercial organisations have realised the opportunity to take a holistic approach.

Integration with other key government departments and the emergency services has provided the ideal opportunity to look at streamlining disparate security systems and bring them all under one roof.

This smart approach, however, does not rely purely on CCTV, but on any information system that can store abnormalities from the norm. The key is the system being able to interpret the data or abnormalities.

In an integrated system fit for the modern age, this information is interrogated by software capable of recognising irregularities. Should a threat be detected, then a host of deterrents can be activated to slow the individuals and notify the correct response team.

Systems that can be intelligently integrated this way might include communication systems, transport and traffic management, emergency incident alarms (fire, smoke detection, explosion detection) and public lighting.

For example, consider a system that can identify a vehicle near a public space that is behaving erratically. The software would mark the vehicle as a potential threat or irregularity and, in this instance, alert traffic management teams and transport officers. Additional traffic calming measures could be initiated while the relevant human teams assess the situation.

If the threat escalates, emergency alarms could sound in public spaces, along with a change in the lighting, to alert those in the vicinity to take precautions and move out of the area.

This is a very simple example, but you can begin to see how fairly basic system integration can provide much more advanced threat detection and, crucially, alert authorities and the public to the potential danger.

By integrating existing technologies on a single command and control platform, the combination of a digital and physical infrastructure to secure and manage key assets and public areas will ultimately improve the security of existing public spaces and the lives of residents.

Designing security for new spaces – a new

There are limits to what can be done in existing spaces, which is why it is imperative we ensure the same limitations are not built into new public spaces. The best approach is to incorporate security at the design and planning stage and get a security consultant on board – this will ultimately save time, money and lives.

Integrated security means a change of mindset and will lead to better results. As the CNPI report on integrated security goes on to say, “successful security is most effective when implemented on a number of geographic layers”.

This is the mindset we must adopt – we must look beyond the individual asset or area we want to protect. Rather than simply thinking about how we can stop a threat once it arrives at its intended target, we must look at how we can prevent or disrupt the threat beforehand.

Of course, not everything will be in our control, but this is all the more reason for deploying an integrated security system that can communicate with others, reducing the risk of missing a threat or being too late to stop it.

However, there are still measures that any planner or designer should consider when it comes to public spaces. The degree of security installation should be proportionate to the threat. This could mean, for example, the first layer of protection is at the district layer.
This immediately changes the dynamic around planning, design and security – so consideration must now be given to wider site planning, traffic management and vehicular access control in the surrounding area as opposed to just the vicinity of the public space.

Looking to history

This way of thinking about security is not new either. Look at any well-designed and constructed castle – the castle and grounds did not just house VIPs or military assets (although they were certainly most protected), but would often include shelter for villagers, markets and more; particularly during times of war.

The defence of the castle started well ahead of the walls. Layered defences were designed to weaken and grind down the enemy as they approached the perimeter. The castle grounds would often be placed on a hill to give the defending forces a height advantage and an excellent field of view. Knowing where your enemy may attack and indeed knowing the attack is coming in the first place, is key to mounting a successful defence – comparable to an advanced surveillance system today.

Additional perimeter defences were also seen, such as moats, effectively forcing the attacking forces into predefined, narrow approaches to the castle. This has the simultaneous effect of slowing the enemy down but also allows the defending forces to concentrate their resources on a few large targets rather than spreading their resources thinly. Many of these tactics apply today and can be replicated in a modern, less militaristic context.

For instance, simple measures such as incorporating bends and chicanes into the surrounding road system create a ‘natural’ mechanism forcing vehicles to slow down and prevent direct access. This approach provides protection to the perimeter and subsequently to the asset.

In addition, Vehicle Access Control Points (VACP) can be raised at times of increased threat, further reducing the need for other more intrusive countermeasures and allow more discreet protection at the asset layer/building threshold.

The incorporation of physical barriers does not have to be intrusive either. There are excellent examples of public spaces and other key assets incorporating sculptures, public seating, raised landscaping or natural barriers, such as trees and water features, as part of
the security infrastructure.

A mixture of these approaches and a change of mindset when it comes to designing and planning will increase the deterrent and provide a more publicly accessible, inclusive and altogether safer environment. Integrated security in public spaces requires engagement with local government and may have onerous costs to local business and their daily operations, but the payoff is surely worth it.

Ian Robinson
Director of Business Development
Tel: +44 (0)1733 351 136


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