Gavin Hepburn 14 November 2017

Safeguarding the public at Christmas markets

Safeguarding the public at Christmas markets image

We are now edging towards the festive season, which can only mean one thing, Christmas. The first Christmas adverts are beginning to appear on TV and Christmas markets across the UK will soon be open for business.

The festive period is primarily a time of happiness and joy, and hundreds of people will be looking forward to coming together to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the popular Christmas markets. But, given the recent surge in terror attacks across Europe, particularly the attack that took place last year at the Christmas markets in Berlin, security will unfortunately be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

What we can deduce from the attacks that took place this year in London, Barcelona, Nice and recently in New York is that vehicles are becoming the new weapon of choice for terrorists. This new style of attack is leaving councils and governments with the difficult task of trying to predict and prevent further incidents.

So, as we head into the Christmas period, authorities need to be sourcing ways to considerably increase security around festive events over the coming weeks without ruining the Christmas spirit.

What security measures are councils currently utilising?

Local councils throughout the UK are beginning to take precautionary steps to keep the public safe at this year’s Christmas markets, following the increased threat of vehicle attacks.

In Birmingham, for example, undercover police officers will be deployed to mingle in with crowds to help detect suspicious activity. In Manchester, armed police officers (both in uniform and in plain clothes) will patrol the markets for the first time in response to the UK’s current ‘severe’ threat level.

Concrete blocks are also being installed by councils across the UK to stop hostile vehicles in their tracks. Southampton council, for instance, is installing concrete blocks around the perimeter of its Christmas markets, as are Birmingham and Manchester councils to prevent vehicles from mounting the pavements.

While concrete barriers provide protection against a vehicle ramming attack, it is important to note that their size and crude aesthetic appearance could make event attendees feel uncomfortable in their surroundings and detract from their experience. Just their presence will likely remind the public of the severity of the current threat level. Large barriers can also be potentially dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists due to the narrowing of pathways to create space for the barriers to be installed. This could create bottlenecks of people who are all trying to push and shove to get past the barrier, which could cause injury and leave queues of visitors, vulnerable to attack, on the wrong side of the barrier.

Are there more effective measures that councils can implement to safeguard the festive markets?

To make people feel reassured when visiting public events, visible security measures can go some way towards showing that steps have been taken to keep them safe. However, while measures like concrete barriers can reassure the public, it is vital that they don’t impede the flow of visitors accessing the site.

Installing security measures with a more subtle aesthetic, and that are pedestrian permeable, may be a better way of increasing security within a highly populated public area.

There are temporary security barriers now on the market, which have been specifically designed to prevent vehicles attacks, while blending into their surroundings. These barriers can be customised using bespoke aesthetic covers and vinyl wrap coverings. This enables sponsors of events to utilise the barriers as additional advertising opportunities. Being completely pedestrian permeable, the barriers see footfall of hundreds of thousands of visitors attending or leaving the event, people who would then see the adverts.

Crucially, these barriers have been developed to handle the impact of a vehicle travelling at 48kph, weighing up to 2,500kg. And because of their modular, lightweight design, they can secure a road in just over 20 minutes using solely man-power, meaning they can be deployed immediately without the need for heavy machinery or extensive road closures.

Their porose design also has the added benefit of allowing pedestrians to easily manoeuvre in and out of the barriers, avoiding queues or crowds from forming and ensuring visitors move through security measures to be at the right side of the barrier before additional security checks are then made.

The world is experiencing an increased number of terror attacks, and a further attack can never be ruled out. Given the huge numbers of visitors that are planning to visit Christmas markets this year, increasing security around these areas has to be of the highest priority over the next few weeks. There is a wide variety of innovative barriers now available that can be rented or bought and deployed in a matter of hours - there is no excuse for the general public to be left vunreable at this year’s Christmas markets.

Gavin Hepburn is sales and marketing director at ATG Access

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