Data and Tools to Counter Terrorism

The art of providing effective protection against terrorism threats through the Security by Design concept

The European Commission publishes a new Security by Design handbook on the protection of public spaces against terrorist attacks

We all want beautiful and aesthetic cities but also be protected from malicious terrorist attacks without being reminded of the topic constantly by protective measures in place. This is where a new Commission publication comes in. The recently published ‘Security by Design’ handbook can help in this transition - especially if enough urban planners and authorities start using this concept. I spoke to Martin Larcher from the Safety and Security unit in the Joint Research Centre, who explains why we should change the way we protect public spaces using the security by design concept.

What is this publication about?

It is about our way to protect public spaces from terrorist attacks and how we think about designing them against this threat. We all want to make public spaces not only safer but also multifunctional, sustainable, beautiful and accessible for all people, but we do not want to create unliveable urban fortresses. Security by design strives to do exactly that.

Everything begins with research and innovation in a sense, so we provide best practice from all around Europe here. Science can pave the way to make those shared places less vulnerable by better understanding the challenges in securing them, to protect citizens’ lives and livelihoods.

Most of us probably remember how in the aftermath of the New York 9/11 attacks and successive attacks in several European cities protective antiterrorism measures appeared in European city centres. After repeated attacks using fast-moving vehicles – so-called vehicle-as-a weapon attacks or vehicle ramming attacks – on crowded locations in Berlin (2016), Nice (2016), Barcelona (2017), Paris (2017), Stockholm (2017), London (2017) and elsewhere, many European cities once again looked to bollards and barriers for additional protection. As we primarily focused only on the protective aspects of the equipment, we overlooked that modern urban centres should reflect the openness and inclusiveness of European society.

To prevent this from happening again, we need a mind shift in how we innovate. We must look beyond the primary protective aspects that seek to ‘design out’ terrorism. We have to consider urban revitalisation attempts, which increasingly emphasise inclusivity, liveability, accessibility, and quality of life aspects across the whole life cycle of public spaces in advance. This publication, created by the Commission with the help of a broad range of security experts and academia, can support such a transition in every step along the way.

How does this matter to urban planners, architects and local authorities?

The question for urban planners, architects and public authorities in charge of the planning, development and protection of public spaces is, can we have better alternatives for protective solutions that do not compromise their essential protective function but that integrate better within the urban landscape?

When you choose to develop a new or redevelop an existing public space, you want to make sure that it will serve its purpose throughout its entire life cycle. You can minimise risks by using the security by design concept in order to incorporate security aspects early on at the design stage.

There are promising trends. The public is also becoming more conscious of these issues, so that there are more and more integrated solutions for protective security measures. Researchers are investigating new solutions that integrate sustainability and cost-effectiveness, multi-functionality, and social acceptability in line with the New European Bauhaus initiative that connects the European Green Deal to our living spaces and experiences. Climate change adaptation often has an urban dimension, and individual cities have a major role to play in their implementation through reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these approaches can be selected and/or designed in a multifunctional way to serve as a protective measure as part of the security-by-design concept. As an example, the protective effect of plants during explosions has previously been tested. Certain plants can reduce the pressure of an explosion wave by up to 60 %. We also have a growing number of like-minded research projects across Europe.

Some protective equipment must be there for a reason. What happens if you remove it? Can you replace it with better alternatives?

Indeed, you cannot always remove all existing protective security measures because sometimes they are there for a very good reason and there is no alternative yet. The objective here is to assess the risk and be able to identify existing vulnerabilities in order to define proportional protective measures. However, there are also many cases where an existing, highly visible obtrusive protection solution can be replaced with a better alternative that embeds protective security as one of the many material considerations in the design of public spaces using the security by design concept.

What is the biggest challenge?

Our ambition is to contribute to make modern urban centres should reflect the openness and inclusiveness of European society without resembling fortified zones. EU security research is a strategic enabler for integrating innovative technologies and disseminating expertise and best practices so that protective measures fit harmoniously into the surrounding environment and are not disproportionate. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre is playing an active role in adapting the security-by-design concept to the protection of public spaces and bringing together multidisciplinary communities of experts within the security field.

We need urban planners, architects, companies, researchers, and local authorities to be on board and help us spread the word. That is how we will speed up the transition. This is why we continue to engage with stakeholders, why we develop solutions and tools. At the same time, the Commission will keep on providing funding opportunities under our research programmes.

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