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The tragic Christmas Parade incident in Waukesha, WI points to the vulnerability that exists with any public crowd gathering.  Christmas is a high profile holiday with many events that can bring out the worst on those intending to do harm to others. Vehicle mitigation strategies need to be implemented by groups, parades, municipalities and sporting venues as part of the overall event security plan. Vehicle attacks are becoming more prevalent around the world.  Many organizations are not doing enough to address this very real threat to crowds and outdoor events.

The vulnerability of crowds

 In a pre-event assessment, attention needs to be given to the perimeter around crowds which is a complex undertaking depending on the size and nature of the crowd.  The access roads around the area of events need to be assessed for ease of accessibility to the gathering/event and potential ingress and egress points. Anywhere a perimeter can be breached by a vehicle poses extreme risk to any crowd.  Vehicle attacks are unpredictable and can happen anywhere that is accessible or vulnerable to breaching by a vehicle.  When a vehicle does plow into a crowd, it happens very fast.

The current trend of vehicle attacks

According to Counter Extremism Project in a 2020 article titled, Vehicles as Weapons of Terror, there have been 57 vehicle attacks since 2006 resulting in 207 deaths.  The deadliest was the Nice, France attack in 2016 where 86 people were killed and 430 were injured.  Along with France, vehicles have been used in attacks in Germany, Austria, England, New York, North Carolina and others.  Al Qaeda and ISIS have both publicly called on their followers to engage in vehicle attacks .

“On July 14, 2016, Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a 19-ton truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day at Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people and wounding more than 430 others. ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack two days later, calling Lahouaiej-Bouhlel a “soldier of the Islamic State.”

In 2014, ISIS called for the use of “everyday objects” to carry out terrorist attacks rather than the more predictable and detectable bombs and guns. The objects ISIS called for are rocks, knives and vehicles. These have all been used very successfully in recent European attacks.

In 2010, Al Qaeda published an article calling for vehicle attacks on innocent civilians.  They referred to a pickup truck as a weapon that could be a “potential  ‘mowing machine’ that can be used to ‘mow down the enemies of Allah.’

Protecting yourself in a crowd

What can you do to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of vehicle related attacks and terrorism?

First, always remain vigilant when you are at a large outdoor gathering. Don’t allow yourself to be so jammed up in a crowd that you don’t have a way to move quickly. Always give yourself an out.  This applies to indoor gatherings as well.

Second, be aware of the roads and vehicle access points-ingress and egress-near the perimeter of the gathering. Try to remain clear of the areas closest to where a vehicle could enter the outdoor venue.

Third, and most important, “see something, say something.” This applies to anywhere you are. If something or someone looks suspicious or out of place, report it. If there is a suspicious or concerning vehicle that you spot while you are walking to the event, report it. Many potentially violent occurrences are prevented because someone was alert and said something.

A greater risk for terrorism

It is assessed that the west and the U.S. are now at a higher risk for acts of terror than at any time since 9-11.  The accused attacker in Waukesha has been charged with five counts of intentional homicide. Whether this mass casualty event was classified as an act of terrorism or not, 5 dead and 48 injured is every bit as deadly and more so than many preceding terrorism events.

The concept of using vehicles to attack innocent people has proven to be a successful weapon in the arsenal of those wishing to kill innocent people. Measures must be taken to address the risk to those who participate in any outdoor activities and events. There are security companies that can assess the risk and companies that can implement technology, surveillance and physical measures to mitigate the risk against vehicle attacks.

Photo credit: Pexels; David Guerrero