Can Cities Protect Themselves Against Vehicle Attacks?

The van attack in Barcelona in which 13 were killed raises that question. The short answer is no, but authorities can do much to mitigate the threat to obvious targets.

Can cities protect themselves against terrorists using vehicles as weapons? No, is the short answer, no more than they can against terrorists using other everyday items to execute attacks, The Guardian reports. Authorities can do much to mitigate the threat, at least to some obvious targets. With hindsight, officials will be regretting not moving faster to boost security measures on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas boulevard, packed with tourists on a sunny August afternoon, after vehicle attacks elsewhere in Europe since last year. Thirteen people were killed and hundreds were injured in a van attack yesterday.

The mayor of Nice will convene European counterparts next month to see how they can improve security in their cities. The most obvious defenses are barriers that prevent vehicles either gathering speed or continuing for long distances. These can be highly visible – such as the deliberately obvious metal-cased concrete blocks outside the Houses of Parliament in London – or disguised, as with heavy flower pots and sculptures that are appearing on streets. Less obviously, streets and access roads can be redesigned to prevent vehicles reaching targets or accelerating. This has been done throughout much of central London. At Columbia Road flower market in the East End of London, traders have been parking their trucks diagonally across each entrance to the often densely packed street to guard against would-be attackers. After a truck was driven into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin last year, Police Chief Klaus Kandt said that with so many potential targets – 2,500 such markets in Germany and 60 in the city alone – it was impossible to reduce the risk to zero.