There was the attack in Barcelona in August when a man drove a van through a crowd, killing 13 and injuring 100. There was a similar attack involving a truck in July 2016 in Nice, France, where more than 80 died. And then there was Tuesday’s attack in New York City — a truck drove onto a bike path killing eight and wounding 11 more.
Low-tech terror. Using vehicles as weapons. There are ways to help prevent such attacks, such as deploying bollards or huge planters to block vehicles from pedestrian-heavy areas. But although that might be a way to prevent a deranged driver, or perhaps just a bad driver, is it really a strategy for terrorism?
So how do we mitigate these low-tech attacks?
“You can’t stop crazy,” says Bo Mitchell of 911 Consulting. Mitchell used as an example the attack on Sandy Hook elementary school, where the perpetrator was thwarted by a locked door and resistance from school staff but “shot his way in” through a window.
Mitchell also used a political quote from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill to make a point. O’Neil’s said, “All politics is local.” For Mitchell, “All emergency response is local.”
The point is that mitigation depends on who you are, where you are and what your role is.
If you’re New York City, you can erect bollards in bike paths and walking paths, but you can’t put them, say, in Central Park or other areas. And a bollard isn’t going to stop a knife.
“If you’re an employer, and in charge of a site, you’re supposed to be able to respond to crazy, that’s your legal duty of care,” Mitchell said. It means to have a plan, a team to respond, etc. “When there’s a fire you pull the fire alarm. What do you do with a guy with a knife? Figure it out — all response is local.”
But citizens have a responsibility too to be situationally aware, but we’re not. “Generally speaking, how many people are walking down the street with their earbuds in, paying no attention to what’s going on around them?” He said some jurisdictions are passing laws that say you can’t do that.
The problem, Mitchell said is that “everybody is going to forget about this in about 10 minutes. How long did it take Las Vegas, the second worst terrorist event in American history, to disappear from the news?”
While on one hand, moving on from a disaster is good, and shows that we won’t be intimidated or change from such attacks, it also shows that as a society we’re getting inured to such happenings and there is a good reason for that.
“If the statistics are true,” Mitchell said, before Sandy Hook there was a workplace shooting where one or more people were killed happening on a monthly basis. Now such shootings happen weekly.
“If we had been told ahead of time that [the New York City attack] was going to happen, I don’t know that anyone would have listened,” he said. “I’m going to guess that as far as the American citizenry is concerned, you can say that you can be angry, but you can’t be surprised.”
Matt Mayer, president of Opportunity Ohio and former visiting fellow on domestic security issues for the American Enterprise Institute, said steps like erecting bollards are good prophylactics but don’t position us for the future. He cited five moves that should be taken to fight terrorism:
• Reform America’s immigration system, secure the border and fix flawed visa system.
• Consolidate overlapping intelligence activities at Homeland Security and the FBI to help connect the dots.
• Increase monitoring and surveillance by local law enforcement using encrypted technologies.
• Create regional outreach groups in key cities bringing together Muslim communities and law enforcement to improve trust.
• Launch a national commission on terrorists’ use of technology to find the right balance between privacy rights and law enforcement’s need to track terrorist.
“If we don’t make these reforms, we’re going to be in a constant state of catchup,” Mayer said. “These reforms increase the odds to stop any attack, whether it’s truck borne, weapon borne or others.”