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Red Alert

As the threat from terrorism in the UK continues, civil engineers and designers will increasingly become central to the battle to protect the public and the infrastructure it relies on.
If you live or work in any of the UK's major cities you cannot fail to have noticed the increasingly visible evidence of a nation on high terror alert.

The heightened police presence on the city streets, the security cameras watching at every corner, the black barriers that have just been installed to guard the Houses of Parliament in London and the sudden arrival of large planters outside most public buildings across the nation all demonstrate that life is changing.

The current threat is actually "severe" – the second highest of five graduated threat levels classified by the government as meaning that "an attack is highly likely".

And it is clear why. The atrocious London Tube attacks in 2005 were in many ways the UK's first taste of the new threat from bombers prepared to die for their cause. These were followed by numerous foiled plans for attacks in the capital and around the UK and, of course, the more recent Glasgow Airport vehicle bomb attack last year.

We are, without question, now expecting more such attacks to come. And these attacks will differ from previous UK terror campaigns in that they will most likely come without warning, have been well planned, will probably use vehicle borne explosives and crucially will involve one or more suicide bomber.

The Government revealed its first National Security Strategy last month, a document necessarily broad in its language and scope to cover the threat from a multitude of sources – terrorism and nuclear weapons through to trans-national organised crime and climate change.

However, crucially, specific reference was made – possibly for the first time formally by government – to the need for design professionals to actively enhance, adapt and rethink the design, construction and fabric of our public infrastructure to resist the new terror threat in the future.

The barriers outside the Houses of Parliament are a good example of this engagement with industry. Certainly they are very obvious – and not the prettiest – statements of both deterrent and alert to this new environment. But they are also tangible evidence of the industry investing in research and development to solve a problem.

But even Corus Bi-Steel General Manager Jurek Tolloczko, developer of this ultra blast resistant product, accepts the solution is not just about building barriers around buildings.

"We don't have to create Fortress Britain," he says pointing out that these particular barriers were quickly installed in Westminster in response to a specific threat following the London bombings. The second generation he says has more options on appearance.

"What we are trying to teach is pragmatism in design," he points out. "The priority is to integrate security measures into the planning stage – it is much easier to design-in security at concept stage."
Corus Bi-Steel is one of the few products that have been enthusiastically embraced by government officials in their battle to protect the realm. It works by sandwiching concrete between two steel plates to create strong, blast-proof multi-purpose panels and structures.

These panels can be used as surface mounted barriers – such as outside the Houses of Parliament as part of the large National Barrier Asset which is also seen deployed at other events such as the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit – or as permanent barriers such as will soon be installed in Whitehall as part of the Whitehall Streetscape Improvement to boost the security in the area around Parliament.But for Tolloczko the barriers are just one part of the solution. Next month he will be hosting a conference with specialist testing house TRL and with support from government to highlight the ways that designers must embrace this new threat. At the conference he will be drawing on the results of an online survey Protecting against terrorist bomb attack being run in conjunction with NCE. Enter now & have your say.

This new threat is based around the assumption that, in contrast to the past, modern terrorists are prepared to die in an attack. It has prompted a wholesale rethink of the UK security strategy and brought about the proliferation of physical barriers as an immediate response to protecting public buildings and infrastructure from both people and vehicle borne explosives.

Yet it is clear that simply "securing the perimeter" of every building is only part of the answer. Hence, perhaps, the latest appeal to design professionals for help. Help that will take us beyond the current knee-jerk reaction from some designers that "Big Brother" is simply trying to outlaw glass as a building material and homogenise future designs.

Instead the UK's latest national security strategy builds on the existing long term strategy for countering international terrorism. Known as CONTEST, the approach is based on the integration of four distinct strands of operation, each with a clear counter-terror objective:

- Pursue stopping attacks
- Protect strengthening protection against attack
- Prepare mitigating the impact of attacks
- Prevent stopping people supporting violent extremism

And while this approach is endorsed by the latest government strategy, it is the clear reference to a new private sector role and the need for government to actually work with industry to improve – and perhaps even design – infrastructure to resist attack that is turning heads in industry.

The strategy talks formally about government working "with partners in the private sector and local government, and others to improve the protection of our critical infrastructure, hazardous sites and materials, and crowded places (including cinemas, theatres, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and commercial centres, hospitals, schools and places of worship).

More specifically the strategy pledges government support to "work with architects and planners to 'design-in' safe areas, and blast-resistant materials and enhanced physical protection against vehicle bomb attacks".

In short, the theory, explains Tolloczko, is first to provide standoff to a building to prevent terrorists getting too close to vulnerable buildings. Since explosive blast waves decay exponentially, every extra metre of standoff can make a big difference.

Perimeter security – be it bollards, fencing, planters or walls – therefore needs to be blast and impact resistant but also versatile with a finished look and feel that isn't oppressive to the public, fits with the surrounding environment and is easy to install.

And for public buildings and areas, such perimeter boundaries must also provide security, while maintaining access and making security 'pleasing' to the eye.

But if you can't provide sufficient standoff, then the next step is to integrate protection into the façade to strengthen the building against attack.

The primary objective is to stop vehicles from penetrating the façade of the building to ensure that any explosive stays outside.

Ultimately, construction and design professionals will increasingly have a responsibility to consider security at the initial design stage for new structures, rather than as an afterthought.
Already some draft design guidance is becoming available from the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) to assist. More is likely to follow and it is vital that design professionals get involved in this process early.

According to Tolloczko, it is not just central government that is looking to protect its infrastructure. The trend, he says, is moving from public sector to private sector clients as transport operators and retail outlets realise that they are vulnerable.

"Greater awareness [of the changing security threat] is the driver for this increasing private sector interest," he reckons, pointing out that clients are increasingly seeking information.

And while he accepts that care has to be taken to avoid giving potential terrorists too much information about the nation's defences, he is clear that security services and the industry must share knowledge.

"We are trying to tell the industry what is available to architects and designers," he says. "It is about knowledge exchange and sharing best practice – there can't be any secrets when it comes to safety. If the information is available let's get it out there."

Key government organisations in national security

The National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO)

Offers specialist advice regarding the security of explosives and guidance in relation to business continuity, designing out vehicle borne terrorism, the protection of crowded places and reducing opportunities for terrorism through environmental design. It trains, tasks and coordinates a nationwide network of Counter Terrorism Security Advisers who provide help, advice and guidance across a variety of sectors.

CPNI - Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure

Was launched on 1 February 2007 and is responsible for providing integrated security advice to the
businesses and organisations which make up the national infrastructure.

Critical National Infrastructure

Those assets, services or systems that support the economic, political and social life of the UK. The ten sectors are:

 Communications
 Emergency services
 Energy
 Finance
 Food
 Government and public service
 Public safety
 Health
 Transport
 Water


Funding for counter-terrorism and intelligence increased from Ł1bn in 2001 to Ł2.5bn this year, rising to £3.5bn by 2010/11


The conference "Protecting against terrorist bomb attack - Reviewing best practice for the physical protection of structures and site perimeters against vehicle borne explosive attack" will be held in Westminster on 4 June. For details visit

Free tickets

For your chance to win a free place at the conference, complete the online survey Protecting against terrorist bomb attack

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