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The changing threat of terrorism: What it means for construction

Recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester have highlighted a shift that presents a plethora of new challenges to the construction industry.

Although the use of explosive devices is still a concern to us all, the most noticeable shift is the increased use of ‘low tech / high impact’ methods such as vehicles and bladed weapons.

Recent moves to provide temporary barriers on the three main bridges in London provide some reassurance for commuters.

But how can we reinforce protection at other iconic – and crowded – open spaces? And what about the continued threat of a terrorist weapon attack?

Our national infrastructure and its associated open spaces have traditionally been protected by conventional barriers, such as bollards installed where the threat of a vehicle attack was seen as significant. However, following this shift in modus operandi, these defensive lines now need to be able to protect our people as well.

A solution would be to start assessing all open spaces designed into new developments to see how the use of landscaping and street furniture can stop an attack on people. These solutions can also be used to mitigate routes as has been done on the South Bank in London.

Enhanced measures

The task of mitigating attacks falls, in most cases, to localised security plans and incident management protocols, including lockdown procedures and searching people as they enter a building. Some organisations are now introducing ‘safe rooms or spaces’ in their design or refurbishment plans.

There is also a significant increase in the use of technology to ascertain building resilience to blast, ballistics and vehicle impact. This data is vital when planning and procuring the necessary measures required to reduce or mitigate this type of attacks.

“The recent wave of attacks in the UK and on mainland Europe has certainly caused a shift in determining the levels of threat to organisations and the wider population”

Historically, these enhanced security measures were associated with high-risk establishments. But we can now start to see them percolate down to more ‘benign’ organisations striving to protect their people and property.

The obvious consequence of these additional layers of protective security is cost, not just financial but in terms of space, particularly when an organisation needs to plan for and procure specialist equipment as well as the extra resource and training required to maintain a constant level of security proportionate to the threat level.

Added responsibility

The recent wave of attacks in the UK and on mainland Europe has certainly caused a shift in determining the levels of threat to organisations and the wider population.

We may now see an additional responsibility being placed on developers from local authorities and the police to ensure they have considered the impact and probability of similar attacks being replicated, and more importantly what they intend to do to protect that space.

Unfortunately, it is hypothesised that this unsophisticated attack methodology of using a vehicle and bladed weapon will remain for the foreseeable future.

It will be one of many challenges the construction industry will continue to consider and mitigate against, now and in the future.

Mark Lindsay is an associate director and security risk management consultant at WSP

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