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Hostile Vehicle Mitigation for non-specialists

January 30, 2024


Philip Ingram MBE provides an understanding of Hostile Vehicle Mitigation for non-specialists.

In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of terror attacks carried out using vehicles. These attacks have become a popular tactic among extremist groups due to their simplicity and effectiveness. The use of vehicles as weapons allows attackers to cause mass casualties and instil fear in the public.

Hostile Vehicle Mitigation: Background

One of the most notable terror attacks involving vehicles occurred in Nice, France in 2016, where a truck was driven into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, resulting in the deaths of 86 people and injuring hundreds more. This attack highlighted the devastating impact that a vehicle can have when used as a weapon.

Another significant incident took place in London in 2017, when a van was driven into pedestrians on London Bridge, followed by a stabbing rampage. These attacks serve as a grim reminder of the ever-evolving nature of terrorism and the need for constant vigilance in ensuring public safety.

Governments around the world have been implementing measures to mitigate the risk of such attacks, including the installation of barriers and bollards in public spaces to prevent vehicles from accessing pedestrian areas.

However, it is crucial for intelligence agencies and law enforcement to remain proactive in identifying and thwarting potential threats to prevent further tragedies. As a result, the need for effective Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) strategies has become paramount. The types of attack using a vehicle tend to fall into 3 categories:

  • Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED): In this method, an explosive device is either visible or concealed within a vehicle and transported to the target. The blast stand-off distance, the distance between the device and the target, plays a crucial role in determining the extent of damage caused.
  • Vehicle As a Weapon (VAW): Deliberately driving a vehicle into individuals or crowds of people or using a vehicle to damage infrastructure are examples of VAW attacks. This method is attractive to terrorists due to its potential for causing multiple casualties, low complexity, affordability, minimal planning, and perceived lower detection risk.
  • Layered Attack Vehicles: This method involves combining different types of attacks. A vehicle may facilitate the delivery of armed attackers or be used in conjunction with a VBIED or VAW attack. Terrorists employ various exploits to overcome operational and physical security measures.

So, what is Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM)? In essence it is a critical discipline within protective security, focusing on reducing the risks associated with vehicle-borne threats posed by terrorists and criminals.

HVM involves the deployment of measures informed by threat assessments, vulnerability analysis, and the specific needs of the enterprise requiring protection. The foundation of a robust HVM strategy lies in security risk assessments, planning, design, and the implementation of risk-based measures.

HVM measures encompass a range of integrated security processes, procedures, and physical obstructions designed to counter vehicle-borne threats. These measures include deterrent communications, security awareness, incident response planning and training, operational security, traffic management, and the deployment of physical obstructions such as vehicle security barriers and traffic calming measures. A thorough threat-based assessment is critical to understand what measures may be needed to mitigate any threats.

Vehicle Security Barriers: An essential component of HVM

A crucial element within the realm of HVM is the deployment of Vehicle Security Barriers (VSBs). VSBs are physical security devices that provide perimeter protection to defined areas and control vehicular access. These barriers play a vital role in mitigating various styles of criminal or terrorist vehicle-borne threats. By effectively preventing vehicle access, VSBs act as a powerful deterrent against potential attacks.

·       Passive Vehicle Security Barriers

Passive VSBs are commonly used for perimeter protection and to enforce blast stand-off distance. They include fixed or removable bollards, planter units, structural walls, enhanced fences, specialist structural cycle racks, integrated or strengthened street furniture, earthworks and level changes, water features, and strategically placed trees. These barriers provide a visible and physical obstacle to vehicle access while maintaining the aesthetics of the surrounding environment.

·       Active Vehicle Security Barriers

Active VSBs are deployed at Vehicle Access Control Points (VACPs) where secure site access is required. These barriers include retractable bollards, road blockers, and various types of gates such as folding, rising, sliding, or swinging gates. Active VSBs allow authorised vehicles to pass through while effectively blocking unauthorized vehicles from entering protected areas.

Integration within the public realm

The integration of HVM measures within the public realm has become increasingly common. While ensuring the safety and security of crowded places, it is essential to strike a balance between implementing effective security measures and preserving the functionality and aesthetics of public spaces. The design and placement of VSBs should consider various factors, including accessibility, traffic flow, and the impact on pedestrians.

  • Aesthetics: Maintaining or enhancing the look and feel of the environment is crucial in deploying HVM measures, whether in commercial sites or historically significant public spaces.
  • Functionality: HVM measures should not impede the key functions of a location. Considerations should be made to ensure accessibility at transport interchanges and the smooth flow of vehicle access control.
  • Accessibility: Clear gaps between VSB measures should be maintained to allow wheelchair users and individuals pushing prams to permeate the barrier line. Collaboration with groups representing disabled individuals is recommended to address any impact on access.
  • Traffic Calming: Horizontal deflections, such as chicanes enforced by VSBs, can limit vehicle approach speed, and reduce the effectiveness of penetrative vehicle impacts.
  • Pedestrian Crossings and Bus Stops: The design of VSBs should consider the impact on pedestrian crossings and bus stops, ensuring that barriers do not impede accessibility and provide adequate protection for pedestrians.

By carefully integrating HVM measures into the public realm, security professionals can maintain a balance between security and the functionality of public spaces.  Functionality is threat related and this is where the best up to date advice can be obtained from the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA).

As the threat of vehicle-borne attacks continues to evolve, the need for effective Hostile Vehicle Mitigation strategies remains critical. But it is essential that all are aware of the basics so that the specialists can be given a clear steer on what the needs are.

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