All of us have moved through an airport, a rail station, a bus depot... we have walked into court houses, into police lobbys and such. What do all of these places have in common? You are likely to see protective bollards. Those bollards are there to prevent lunatics from ramming vehicles into the innards of structures, where they would do the most damage. The design of these is enough to stop a truck. If they were there to act as velvet ropes whispering "please don't go beyond this point", they would have been built far flimsier.
Every time you see a set of bollards, you need to understand that the force protection designers put them there BECAUSE THEY FEEL THERE IS A THREAT.
Bollards are effective. They can be passive (like the cast in place monolithic silver ones above), or retractable versions that can allow traffic to pass, then be deployed in an instant. Try driving onto any American military base, and you will see a hardened entry control point (they look new, seem to be mostly precast concrete with an attractive brick-like finish) with bollards and a fail-safe vehicle wedge obstacle a 100 meters or so into the base to catch any infiltrators.
Examples where structures were not adequately separated from VBIEDs are too numerous. You have all seen The Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City. That was achieved by extreme over match to a office structure that was never designed for anything remotely like that. The Saudi Arabian Khobar Towers incident (report at link) began to define modern anti-terrorism/force protection planning. It is a crying shame that the Beirut Bombing did not budge the needle on this urgent topic.
|Khobar Towers Complex|
Force protection is more than hardening buildings. This means more than using more concrete. The very shape of the building can have a lot to do with survivability. One aspect that is of extreme importance is the setback of the structure... how far from the closest point a vehicle can get to. There is one "3 letter" Bureau type building that has probably about 2-300 feet of setback in additional to a chain link fence that is properly reinforced and anchored. But wait, there is more. They added numerous boulders at the fenceline, just to be sure. There are bollards at an entry control point dogleg to the right of the picture. These actions make this structure below MUCH more survivable. No, I'm not telling you where it is. It is easy enough to find, though.
|"Bollards" can be man-made or natural like these boulders on the fence line|
Given that examples like these are plentiful to the point of being ubiquitous, what then are they designing these structures to withstand? The answer is in the title of this piece, the VBIED. When one considers the minimum safe distance for actual ordnance, like artillery or military aerial bombs, these structures look like they are designed to take at least a 500 pound VBIED in close proximity and keep on humming along.
Beirut Marine Barracks bombing. 241 dead American servicemen. 1 truck bomb (VBIED).
U.S.S. Cole, Yemen. 17 KIA, 700 pounds of explosive in a fiberglass boat.
You will see at this point that the VBIED is an asymmetrical technique that is used to notable effect. These devices have been built by non-PhD types. The planning has been surprisingly complete. The cost for any of these devices is ridiculously cheap compared to what American procurement of fully developed weapons rings up as. It is vastly cheaper than all the security measures, structure and planning required to mitigate them (hence, "asymmetric"). As such, since it is a proven technique, it is within reach financially of moderately motivated small groups and it has altered American policy and stance. The use of VBIEDs against soft targets without professional hardening WILL be seen here.
A point to consider before I close out this short article... not all VBIEDs that are planned and built for an attack make the news. There is no way they have a 100% success rate. That said, there is no way to determine what we don't know on this... how many FAIL. I am not talking about the poorly made devices that are built to fail on purpose by federal informants. There must be some number, greater than zero of VBIEDs that have failed to be used or have failed to function as designed. It is in this threat environment that we as citizens must operate, without our heads in the sand. So, the next time you are at a public center of whatever, transport or administration, even shopping... look to the design features that may prevent a VBIED from getting inside the building, like the one in Beirut did. Understand what they are designing to stop. Understand that if they are spending the treasure to stop it, they must logically assess that a real and present threat against that location exists. Now look at locations you frequent that do not have these features. Are you more or less safe, now that seeking out "vulnerable" and "soft" targets will be a priority for guerilla terrorists? What types of these hardening measures could you adapt to increase your own security if they don't already exist?