Written by: Greg Ellifritz
It’s the season for outdoor festivals, concerts, and Independence Day celebrations. All of those events are vulnerable to terrorist vehicle run-down attacks.
These attacks have not gone away. There were several in Europe last month. They still form a critical part of the Islamist attack strategy.
I wrote this article for police officers and administrators in order to give them guidance in protecting their residents. I had some assistance from some friends of mine who work or worked for three-letter government agencies and were responsible for stopping vehicle attacks overseas.
Even if you are not a cop, read the article. Look for these protection strategies at the next public event you attend. If you don’t see them, question your city leaders and find out why they are not doing everything they can do to keep you safe.
With the rapidly increasing frequency of terrorist vehicle ramming attacks, I believe it would be prudent for the police departments across the country to improve security at all large public events that are vulnerable to vehicular traffic. Unfortunately, not many agencies are doing anything to improve the security of their residents.
I did an informal poll of the 5000+ people who follow me on Facebook last week. I asked all my police readers to send me comments about what tactics and security precautions their police agencies were utilizing to specifically combat terrorist vehicle attacks. The single most common response was I received was “NOTHING.” Most police departments aren’t even considering the possibility of a terrorist vehicle attack and are doing absolutely nothing to prevent one from occurring in their jurisdiction.
Let that sink in for a minute. The agencies you pay for police protection are failing to do anything whatsoever to foil the most rapidly increasing form of terrorist attack on the planet. That is absolutely unacceptable.
There are certainly corrupt and self serving police bureaucrats in some places. There are many more inept police leaders. Despite these failures, I think most police administrators want to do a good job protecting their residents and officers, but they don’t have the specific knowledge to implement a good plan. I think it’s more an issue of cluelessness than an issue of malice or corruption.
With that thought in mind, I wrote this article to describe some of the generic tactics that police departments can immediately implement to help defend their population against a terrorist vehicle attack. I’m not giving away any trade secrets or confidential techniques. These are just common-sense protective measures designed to give police executives a basic plan to secure their large public events.
For my readers who aren’t cops, this article still has merit. Keep reading until the end and I’ll have a call to action for you as well.
Here are my suggestions:
1) Deny vehicular access to the event. If possible, police should create blockades that would stop a terrorist vehicle at all entry points to the event. This is actually a strategy that a lot of police departments already utilize. “Blocking vehicular access” was the most common countermeasure police officers cited when they responded to my question about departmental terrorist vehicle attack preparations. It is one of the few precautions that many police departments already have in place.
Whatever material used as a vehicle blockade should be capable of stopping a large truck. Take a look at some of the most recent terrorist vehicle attacks in Europe. The terrorists used large rented trucks because those vehicles have the mass to drive through obstacles and are more difficult to stop after the ramming attack has commenced.
A sawhorse with a “road closed” sign isn’t enough of a blockade in today’s world. If the barrier is inconsequential, terrorists will simply drive through it (or around it). We need to do better than that.
The gold standard of vehicle blockades is either a “Jersey Wall” concrete barrier or one of the new commercially available portable steel barriers. These work very well, but may be costly, difficult to store, and time consuming to set up.
Instead of utilizing these purpose-built devices, some cities have accomplished the same goal by blocking off entry roads and side streets with police cars, fire trucks, city service vehicles (like dump trucks or garbage trucks), or city buses. Most of these solutions are cost effective and easy to implement. Larger vehicles are better for this task as they are more likely to stop a large rental truck driven by a terrorist. Wooden, or even water-filled plastic barricades are not enough protection.
When I asked my question about police vehicle terrorism countermeasures, one officer described a rather unique way of acquiring large vehicles to block roadways. He contacted a local heavy equipment rental store. In exchange for some advertising at the event, the rental facility brought in a bunch of backhoes and bulldozers. The police placed these heavy pieces of equipment at key intersections they were trying to block off. They treated the parked heavy equipment like a “touch a truck” event for children. What young boy wouldn’t want to play around on a parked bulldozer?
The heavy equipment admirably blockaded the roads surrounding the event and provided endless amounts of entertainment for the young children walking nearby. I thought it was a brilliant way to provide some low profile but effective event security.
2) Create a “buffer zone.” If the event you are trying to protect is located in a large open area (like a city park) immediately adjacent to a roadway, you should probably close the nearby roads and deny those routes of ingress to any potential terrorists. The presence of a vehicle in the closed “buffer zone” will be immediately identifiable as a potential problem by officers on the scene and will provide a few extra seconds for officers to engage before people start getting run over.
Having adjacent roadways closed also provides easier access for emergency vehicles that will be responding to a mass casualty scene should a terrorist attack be successful. Closing adjacent roadways buys officers some time to stop the attack and allows for a staging area for EMS/Fire personnel in an emergency.
3) Position marked police cruisers as “Interceptor Cars” in the closed road buffer zone. The goal of these cars is to intercept all vehicle traffic in the buffer zone before a car can drive over a curb and into the event.
If you lack enough marked cars police cars to perform this function, unmarked cars (equipped with lights and siren) could also be used for this purpose. Officers manning these intercept vehicles should be carrying shotguns loaded with slugs. Rifled slugs are the best weapon for penetrating vehicles during a ramming attack. The slugs will penetrate deeper into most vehicles than buckshot, handgun rounds, or even 5.56mm rifles.
Officers deployed as interceptors should use their shotguns to stop a terrorist attack vehicle if a physical blockade with the intercepting police cars is unsuccessful. Officers should be instructed to shoot through the windshield, side windows, or door panels to target the driver. It requires fewer shots to stop the driver than would be necessary to disable the vehicle with gunfire. Target the terrorist, not the engine block or tires.
4) All city service vehicles should be parked where it is possible to block avenues of ingress for the terrorists. At any large outdoor gathering, most cities will have service staff (park workers, standby medics, vendors, trash disposal equipment, etc.) on scene. Instead of parking those service vehicles at a random parking lot nearby, you should park them somewhere along the perimeter of the event to act as additional barriers against terrorist vehicle attacks. The city vehicles will be on scene anyway. We might as well put them to good use.
Strategic vehicle placement will protect at least some of the people who are attending the event and may serve to “funnel” a terrorist vehicle into a predictable path where it can be intercepted before striking large numbers of people.
5) Position officers in vehicles within the perimeter of the event itself to act as blocking or ramming vehicles. Their goal would be to crash into and physically disable any vehicle that makes it past the buffer zone and enters the event. Crashing into a terrorist attack vehicle with another car or truck is a faster and more reliable way of stopping the attack than firing on the vehicle with handguns or shotguns.
Since many previous attackers have utilized large trucks in their attacks, I would recommend that the officers stationed as blocking/ramming vehicles use large city trucks (like dump trucks or garbage trucks) for this purpose. A police cruiser is not likely to stop a large box truck by ramming it. A larger city dump truck or similar vehicle would do a better job disabling the terrorist vehicle before a large number of people are run down.
These officers should also be equipped with slug-loaded shotguns as a contingency plan if blocking or ramming the terrorist vehicle is unsuccessful or too dangerous to attempt based on the positioning of the people in the crowd.
6) Position an officer with a megaphone or loud sound system near the center of the event. In all previous vehicle attacks of this nature, many casualties occurred when the crowd panicked during or shortly after the attack. People are trampled or injured during their escape attempts. Having the ability to verbally provide instructions to the crowd in the event of an emergency will reduce panic and allow you to direct people to safety.
That lookout/announcement officer should be actively watching the perimeter of the crowd for the duration of the event. If any vehicle gets into the event, the officer should quickly provide escape instructions to the crowd. Issuing the officer(s) in this position a set of binoculars would be useful, as would placing that officer in an elevated position to better observe the perimeter.
If a terrorist attack occurs, the loudspeaker can also be used to direct volunteer aid to where it is needed the most. It can be used to direct casualties to a safe pre-identified casualty collection point where they can be triaged and transported by medical personnel.
The loudspeaker system must have enough volume so that the majority of the people attending the event can hear the instructions over the sounds of music, crowd noise, and/or fireworks. Cruiser PA systems are probably not loud enough for this purpose.
I strongly suggest that you police administrators consider these recommendations. I’ve researched terrorist vehicle attacks extensively. These suggestions essentially contain the “best practices” recommended by counter-terrorist experts around the world. They would be relatively easy to implement and will undoubtedly save dozens of lives in the event of a terrorist attack.
With that said, most police administrators have absolutely no interest in terrorism or counter-terrorist tactics. They don’t read websites like mine. You patrol officers, SWAT types, or detectives reading this article will attempt to implement some of these strategies at your next large public event to no avail. Don’t expect your commanders to embrace these tactics. Institutional inertia and “we’ve always done it this way” thinking is commonplace in police work. Change is difficult, making police administrators throughout the country notorious for ignoring suggestions from a “lowly” patrol officer.
If the brass likes the ideas I presented here, great. You will make tangible changes that will better protect your community. If the bosses ignore your suggestions, there isn’t much you can do about it. Don’t give up. Even if the administrators are actively ignoring your contributions, your suggestions will still serve your community well. If you’ve identified a security risk within your agency and provided instructions about how to remediate that problem, you’ve done all you can do. When the brass ignores your suggestions (given in written form or email), the liability will be on them should terrorists successfully attack your community.
Your suggestions will then be used as evidence against your inept “leaders” in the numerous lawsuits that inevitably follow such an attack. When the community finds out what a poor job that police bosses have done in preventing a terrorist attack, they might exert enough pressure to have the police bosses fired. As an officer, I’d really like see my community well protected. If bosses ignore my suggestions about how to do that, I’ll settle for the enjoyment I feel when those same bosses are fired and sued for their ineptitude and laziness.
What about the majority of you folks reading who aren’t cops? Why do you need this information?
You should be doing an evaluation of the security practices at the next large outdoor event you attend. Are the cops doing some or most of the things I suggested? If so, you likely have a competent and attentive police department. If not, you should be asking your representatives on city council or city managers some painful questions. Why aren’t they doing all they can to protect you from a series of unrelenting terrorist attacks? A few phone calls or emails to city management and council members can have a profoundly positive effect on the level of service your municipality provides. Make sure your local cops are doing all they can to keep you safe from harm.
Special thanks go out to Marcus Wynne and several other very high level anonymous counter-terrorism experts (you know who you are) who provided me with information and ideas to make this article possible.