Physical security has always been an important part of any enterprise. It’s how people protect themselves as well as their businesses and interests. But most of the time, they only consider part of the spectrum of security.
Use of multiple locked barriers — locked containers, safes and vaults — as well as data security measures protect important information, whether it’s customer and employee identities or financial assets. However, businesses may not always think of all the measures necessary to protect personnel and property from physical damage or injury in an attack.
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These days, it’s a very real threat, and it’s crucial for companies and organizations to think through all the risks to fully protect personnel and business interests. Indeed, in the years since 9/11, our very conception of what the potential risks could be has changed drastically. Before then, most businesses would not have thought it was necessary to consider a blast as a potential risk when forming a physical security plan. The world — or at least our collective understanding of its hazards — has changed. For our own safety, we need to look at a fuller picture.
That picture, for many businesses and organizations, is going to include the threat of an attack with an explosive device and how to protect personnel and assets with blast shield walls.
Risk Assessment and Mitigation
Risk assessment is the process of identifying potential hazards, determining the likelihood or possibility of their occurrence and determining the potential damage an occurrence might cause. When it comes to physical security, every business or organization should conduct some sort of risk assessment in the interest of protecting personnel, assets and customers.
A good risk assessment takes into account the objective probability of each potential hazard and prioritizes those risks accordingly. For example, a small business in an area where there is a high crime rate will probably indicate the potential for armed robbery is one of the hazards associated with conducting business in that location. That means also that there is likely a higher probability of an armed robbery happening, than maybe say, a fire.
No matter how small the enterprise, all businesses should conduct some form of risk assessment. Looking at the common threats to their personnel and assets and putting them in a high-to-low list of probability is an important step in maintaining the security of that enterprise — the process doesn’t stop there, though. A risk assessment should follow through with steps to mitigate those risks.
Let’s look at that small business in the hypothetical high-crime neighborhood we mentioned. As they assign a higher probability to the potential of an attempted armed robbery, they will put measures in place to mitigate that threat. They may use a surveillance system or an easily accessible silent alarm. They may hire security guards or put employees and cash registers behind bulletproof glass.
All of those steps can help that business reduce the likelihood of an armed robber successfully accessing any cash assets or harming any employees. Thorough risk assessment and mitigation can save a business or operation, and poor assessment and mitigation can doom it. Indeed, successfully controlling hazards can save lives.
It may not be possible to completely offset all threats, but with each level of mitigation, it’s possible to reduce the risks posed to personnel and assets to a degree that makes an environment safe.
For decades there was a collective “it can’t happen here” feeling in the United States — and then it happened. While the airline industry had not fully realized the potential threats before the attacks of September 11, 2001, they have since put a variety of factors in place to mitigate the threat of such attacks happening again.
Cockpit doors are more secure, and the cabin crew locks them from the inside. This prevents an attacker from gaining access to the cabin and control of the plane. Additionally, with more rigorous security checks and full-body scans, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has upgraded the measures to prevent passengers from carrying potentially dangerous objects onto the plane.
The airline industry and international transportation safety agencies have combined to make air travel arguably much safer than it was prior to 9/11. They’ve used more thorough risk assessment to protect travelers — but the threats from extremists who carried out those attacks don’t end with the possibility of hijacking air planes.
Additionally, the threat of an attack by someone with a semi-automatic rifle may get a great deal of media attention because of the number of mass shootings that have occurred and the politically divisive issue of gun control in the United States. Whether these attacks are carried out by a “lone wolf” or a member of an extremist group, the threat is significant, and this should be considered in many risk assessments.
Still, there is a potentially more dangerous and damaging threat that has occurred in both the United States and Europe: the threat of an attack with explosives. There is a relatively long history of such attacks in the United States:
- In 1993, a bomb was detonated in the basement garage of the World Trade Center.
- In April 1995, a car bomb exploded outside the federal office building in Oklahoma City.
- In May 2010, a car bomb that failed to detonate was discovered in Times Square in New York City.
- Again in May 2010, a pipe bomb exploded outside a Mosque in Jacksonville, Florida.
- In April 2013, two bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
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These events show that many extremist attacks are against symbolic or emotional targets, governmental facilities or places where people simply would just expect that they’re safe. Most people won’t expect to encounter a blast from an explosive device at a tourist attraction, for instance, but this doesn’t change the responsibility for thorough risk management by organizations and businesses.
Mitigating the Blast Risk
For years, businesses and event organizers have been mitigating the risk of a blast with simple measures. Usually, people aren’t allowed to carry backpacks or larger purses into events, or security teams inspect each bag before someone is allowed admittance. Security personnel watch for suspicious looking bulges under clothing that could be explosive vests or other explosive devices. Everyone is encouraged to look for suspicious bags or packages that are unattended.
However, an attacker does not necessarily need to bring an explosive inside a building or into an event. A car bomb can cause an incredible amount of destruction and injury. A vehicle can be parked outside a building and the bomb detonated from a distance, or more fanatical extremists may drive the vehicle and accelerate it into the targeted building to detonate on impact.
New buildings include risk assessment in the design, and architects take the potential threat into consideration when creating a safety perimeter for a new construction. Parking lots are set further away from the building and various objects — bollards, large concrete planters and fountains — are put in place to prevent a vehicle from both parking too close and approaching at a high speed.
Older buildings that have assessed vehicle bombs as a potential risk have retrofitted their perimeter by installing bollards or concrete planters or even Jersey barriers.
These perimeter barriers keep potential car bombs further away from the building to reduce the risk of property damage from the bomb’s blast wave or from shrapnel. While this is the primary reason to expand the perimeter, an added benefit is that the area is more open for observation of suspicious packages that may be left outside.
While these measures can reduce damage and injury, there are limitations:
- These barriers prevent vehicles from getting close to a building, but they do not contain the blast or shrapnel.
- People inside the perimeter but not inside the building are still at risk from shock wave and shrapnel injury.
- Depending on the size of the explosive device, the building can still be damaged, and people on the inside can still be injured
There’s a better way to mitigate the blast risk for personnel and assets.
Bomb Blast Walls
The best way to protect buildings and personnel from a potential car bomb or explosive device is to use a bomb blast wall or blast shield. While Jersey barriers and heavy concrete planters can help prevent shrapnel from flying, they only provide protection up to a certain height. There’s also the potential for a Jersey barrier to fragment and cause further damage or potential injury.
TMI bomb blast walls can be used to prevent blast and shrapnel damage at a much higher angle than concrete barriers. They can even be used to cover the openings on the side of a parking garage to prevent a blast from damaging any building on the outside.
Also, because of their design, blast shield walls won’t fragment, so they won’t compound the damage from a blast the way a Jersey barrier has the potential to. Their woven-wire design serves as a filter for the shock wave and flying shrapnel. The shock wave gets through the weave, but its force is reduced by up to 80 percent. This means parking areas can be set closer to buildings without compromising safety in both older buildings and new construction.
TMI products have a long history of protecting employees on work sites where explosives are used and in industries with volatile processes. Now, TMI blast walls are the best option for enhancing building and perimeter safety where an explosive blast is a potential hazard. TMI blast walls are the only product of its kind.
Our bomb blast shields are also incredibly versatile. They can be integrated into the risk mitigations of a newly designed building, and they can also be used to upgrade the protections in an older building. Doing both while limiting the amount of empty space between the facility and parking areas. They’re also lightweight, allowing for easy installation and upgrading.
Blast walls can also be used on a contingency basis because of the ease of installation. If there’s an increase in the risk of a blast, such as a credible terror threat, they can be installed to temporarily mitigate the blast risk for the duration of that increased threat.
TMI has a long history of industrial blast protection and saving lives, and now we’re the world leader in mitigating the risks from a potential explosive attack.
Tested for Effectiveness
TMI blast shields have been tested with controlled blasts using up to 130 pounds of TNT, and over the last 20 years, the results have consistently shown that they effectively:
- Reduce the force of explosive shock waves
- Absorb the majority of shrapnel
- Reduce the velocity of any shrapnel that passes through.
Some of these demonstrations are available to view on YouTube.
Taking the Next Steps
There are quite a few extremist organizations in the world. This isn’t a shocking or even new development, and there is no foreseeable end to them in the future. Over the years, we have increased our diligence to help prevent further attacks. We should all play our part, and if we see something, we should say something. However, there is still the possibility of an extremist organization or a lone wolf making it through that defense.
We may be able to minimize the risk of an attack by an extremist with an explosive device, but we probably won’t be able to completely eliminate that threat. Explosives may not necessarily be for sale, but the components can be discretely assembled from a variety of objects.
Some locations and organizations will be better prepared than others to deal with a threat of an explosive attack. However, in just about any case, the best way to mitigate that threat is to integrate TMI blast shields into the building perimeter.
There’s no other device like it in the world, and there is no better way to protect personnel and assets from a blast when the risk for one is high. The world isn’t always the safest place, but we can make it much safer.
If you want to enhance the safety of your facility and reduce the risk of damage from a blast, we can help. Contact us for more information.