Could vehicular barriers prevent another terrorist attack?

Texas A&M Transportation Institute conducts 60 to 70 tests each year

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS – In February, the Defenders told you about a new manufacturing standard, developed by researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for bollards. Bollards are metal, often engineered, barriers meant to keep vehicles from going into buildings or hitting pedestrians.

"We see that we're probably killing about 500 people a year even with just pedal error,” Dean Alberson, a senior research engineer at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, said.

By “we,” Alberson is referring to all drivers, when it comes to motor vehicle/pedestrian accidents. In November, the institute created the manufacturing standard for bollards, which had never existed before. They have also streamlined the testing procedures for bollards, which many believe will increase safety. 

Then, just weeks ago, the terrorist attack in Nice, France, pushed the stakes even higher for this type of research.

"I think we're going to see more of this type stuff,” said Alberson, of the terrorist attack. 

It is also changing how major event planners look at vehicular barriers. Now there are fears that a terrorist might try to drive into crowds of people.    

"We're not as conscious of trying to save a driver's life in that case, we're trying to protect everybody and everything behind those barriers,” Alberson said.

Sixty to 70 tests are completed at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute every year, including with large trucks, effectively simulating a terrorist, with barrels in the bed of the truck representing a bomb. Those trucks are sent speeding into barriers, sometimes as fast as 50 mph.      

"I think one of our only paths forward is to put things in place that can thwart those types of events on people’s lives,” Alberson said. "Those can weigh as little as 5,000 pounds or a little bit lighter, so a 5,000 pound pickup going five to 10 mph can push that thing out of the way.”

The institute is busy, with that idea in mind, by testing barriers of all kinds, including standard concrete barriers which are often used at annual events. 

How the concrete barriers are connected to each other are also a variable.  In the end, changes may be ahead for gatherings of large amounts of people.  As security is heightened, inconveniences for those attending the event, especially pedestrian traffic, may also occur.

"If you want us to protect you, you’re going to have to put up with a little inconvenience sometime because we have to put stuff in place that's going to stop a vehicle,” Alberson said.

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