Security is a topic that affects everyone and is of great importance, especially in today’s world. The Verband für Sicherheitstechnik e.V. (VfS) published a new handbook entitled “Access protection in practice. Access protection in urban areas”. It was written, among others, by security expert Yan St-Pierre.

The author, counter-terrorism specialist and security expert Yan St-Pierre introduces us to the book and explains why access protection is an important issue.

Welcome, Mr. St-Pierre!

Mr. St-Pierre, what topic do you cover in the book?

Yan St-Pierre: The aim of the book is to provide an overview of the various aspects of access protection. In my chapter, I talk about the evolution of hostile vehicular attacks (HVM) and the security strategies to respond to this evolution. The core message is that the focus should not only be on terrorist attacks because of their relatively low number. As it is, vehicles are regularly used as weapons, and therefore managing this threat requires a broad assessment using data and also considering public and political perceptions. Not only terrorist attacks but also everyday crimes must be taken into account and responded to with security measures.

The use of vehicles as weapons has not only become more widespread but normalized. One reason for this is the easy use and accessibility of cars and vehicles in general. However, too many people think of vehicles as weapons in terms of terrorist attacks, although we are dealing more with everyday threats. Examples include domestic violence, where a man uses a car to run over his partner, or someone being turned away at the door of a club uses a car to run over the bouncer. The unpredictability and spontaneity of hostile vehicle attacks are the biggest problem for access protection.

How can you still prepare for something unpredictable in terms of security strategies and measures?

Yan St-Pierre: We have learned from analyzing threats that security concepts need to be developed like an onion, i.e with multiple layers. Vehicles as weapons are becoming the norm and can be found in different places, being used in different ways. We then have to respond to this in just as many different ways with security strategies and measures. In terms of access protection for example, this means that people also need to be protected where there are large crowds – and that is not always just one place but it can also be a busy street with many pedestrians.

If we look at the security measures at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz for example, we can see that strong measures were taken to protect the square, including barriers. However, the driver who targeted pedestrians on June 8, 2022 in Berlin simply used the other side of the road to run people over. It was not a terrorist attack but the act of a lone perpetrator with mental health problems, who attacked for no particular political reason. This case shows that the dispersion and diffusion effects of protection or deterrence measures are limited to the protected site and no longer include the periphery. This is particularly the case when there are large crowds of people, such as on Tauentzienstraße across from Breitscheidplatz. Furthermore, access protection is of great importance because we are only a few months away from the EURO24. Decision-makers must be aware of the need to protect people even at large gatherings – not just from extremists but also from someone who could rapidly decide to target a crowd of people.

The challenge here is to find a solution, taking into account all possible situations, which on the one hand is applicable, i.e. protects people, and on the other hand does not restrict them.

Given the ever-changing security landscape, how do you identify current challenges in terms of access protection and what role do these play in your book?

Yan St-Pierre: Challenges can be identified when we take physical, psychological and economic components into account in the development of security strategies. This is the only way to act effectively, which the book explicitly emphasizes. One challenge, for example, is choosing the most effective measure for access protection. Concrete blocks, which are generally used, are actually not suitable for perimeter protection if all aspects are taken into account. On the contrary, they can be additional weapons or act as shrapnel. It is also the credo of co-author Christian Schneider: People do not understand that concrete blocks are more dangerous than a barrier. If concrete blocks had been used in securing the Berlin Christmas market, the impact energy generated by the attacking truck could have sent them flying up to 194 meters, which would have led to even more casualties.

Which target groups are you addressing with the book and how can they benefit from the security advice it contains?

Yan St-Pierre: The target group is an audience that has to deal with traffic guidance systems and access protection on a professional and practical level. This includes civil servants, authorities and politicians. The book is intended to show them what good concepts look like and how they should be used. The entire process of developing a decision and plans are described from A to Z, and challenges facing decision-makers are taken into account. Decision-makers have to deal with this topical issue, regardless of whether they are dealing with fun fairs, the Love Parade, the Oktoberfest or demonstrations. The security market has evolved, and it has become difficult to find the best strategy with suitable measures. The book is intended to help with the decision and to counter misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding hostile vehicle mitigation. Together with other authors, VfS also offers seminars on access protection and HVM in Berlin.

What changes in security paradigms do you see today?

Yan St-Pierre: Security measures must be integrated into our everyday lives in such a way that people are protected but not restricted. In many places there is a shift from concrete blocks to less visible measures. In Britain, for example, the lettering and logo of a soccer team were used as a blockade while decorating the stadium. Barriers can be embellished and they can fit with green policies, such as park benches or pedestrian areas. The multi-functionality of barriers must be utilized, which is possible with today’s technology and should be a matter of course for modern cities. Urbanization plans for transport will be integrated and designs of new cities must consider security. It is a perpetual threat and decision-makers need to realize this: High costs arise not from barriers but from poor planning and execution. 100% security is impossible, but it is our task to optimize the efficiency of protective measures as much as possible.

Thank you very much, Yan St-Pierre!