Los Angeles

Terror-Ramming Attacks Increase Demand for Protective Barriers

Demands for bollards have increased since a series of recent terror attacks that had vehicles as the weapons.

The term "bollard" may not come up often in daily conversation, but examples of it are increasingly appearing across the Southland as protection for pedestrians against automobiles that become weapons -- either accidentally or deliberately.

As horrific as was the deadly attack last week when terrorists in a van aimed at pedestrians on the London Bridge, it was only the most recent in a series of crude assaults using a truck or car as a deadly weapon against pedestrians. In the past year, it's taken lives on the promenade in Nice, France; at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany; and in America at Ohio State last fall, when an angry man drove into students, then emerged with a knife.

In the three years prior to the London Bridge attack, a study by the federal Transportation Security Administration found 173 deaths in 17 incidents it described as "vehicle ramming attacks."

Bollards are engineered posts or other structural devices that can stop a vehicle. Small ones serve to guide vehicles through parking lots at low speed. The stoutest are designed to arrest a 15,000-pound vehicle traveling 50 mph.

A Southern California firm that manufactures bollards, Calpipe, is seeing such an increase in demand that it intends to double its Rancho Dominguez manufacturing space, said division supervisor Carlos Gonzalez.

"I definitely see bollards becoming more common fixtures in a lot more areas across the nation," Gonzalez said.

Calpipe recently installed bollards on the Santa Monica pier, replaced the existing bollards at the Hollywood Bowl, and is currently is working on major projects for AT&T Park in San Francisco and Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Last month in New York City's Times Square, Calpipe bollards stopped a car driven onto a sidewalk.

"We're very proud our product stood up to the test and did what it was designed to do,"" Gonzalez said.

For security applications, the challenge is to anticipate where a terrorist might strike.

"You can't defend everywhere," said Rob Reiter, Calpipe's security consultant. "But you can certainly make soft targets harder -- pretty inexpensively."

For the past two decades, Reiter has focused on defending against "vehicle incursions" -- deliberate terror attacks amounting to only a small minority of them. Many involve cars going through storefronts facing parking lots after a driver has mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake.

Ten people died in Santa Monica in 2003 when an an 86-year-old man made a wrong turn and drove his Buick through an outdoor farmers market two blocks before stopping. 

Four years ago, a disturbed man drove onto the Venice Boardwalk, striking 18 and killing a newlywed from Italy on her honeymoon. Nathan Campbell was convicted of second degree murder.

Still pending is civil litigation alleging the city of Los Angeles is liable for failing to have installed preventive measures that would have kept Campbell's car away from the throngs on the boardwalk.

Bollards began appearing around government facilities in the wake of the 1995 truck bomb attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and more so after the 9/11 terror attacks six years later. 

In many locations, including the perimeter of Staples Center and LA Live, large concrete planter boxes serve the function of separating roadways from areas where pedestrians gather.

Reiter believes bollards -- had they been in place -- could have protected pedestrians on the London Bridge. After the terror attack, concrete barriers were installed between the sidewalk and roadway.

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