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Middle East  

Security Consulting - An Insight

In this day and age security is foremost on everyone’s mind but do we really know what measures are being taken around us to mitigate the risks? Head of Security Risk Management at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Peter Richards gives us an insight into some of the more subtle protective measures that are being employed all around us.


As a security risk management consultant thinking about risk and how to mitigate it is my every day job. We are constantly asking ourselves how we can put in place designs and systems to better protect people from the ever changing security threats that are present today.  How do we do this effectively yet also support the architects design vision?  If we get our designs right then they should incorporate many protective measures whilst being hardly noticeable to the untrained eye.  Of course, the terrorist attacks and individual pursuits like we have seen across the globe in recent years has brought this subject to the fore but for the most part what we do is still a hidden art.

Our job is simply, to identify the threat and risk levels to our clients’ projects and assets and help them mitigate those risks by either minimizing them or designing them out altogether, though the latter is often a significant challenge.  We do an initial analysis to determine what the risk is and we use that information to come up with a cost effective and realistic solution to reduce the overall risk to an acceptable and manageable level.  

An example could be a vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) – incidents of which are devastating and pose a very real risk, though thankfully no precedent has been set in the UAE.  If we are working with a client who is building a new commercial tower we would combine a number of different mitigation measures in order to reduce this risk by putting in place hostile vehicle mitigation, which is essentially a number of obstacles to restrict how close a vehicle could get to the building.  This distance is called standoff distance. 

The first step would be to advise on standoff distances – thinking about the fact that the strength of a blast dissipates very quickly over distance, so keeping the bomb further away from your building is the first line of defence.  There are these ‘obstacles’ all around the cities we live in; they take many different forms but essentially they are things vehicles can’t easily traverse in the landscaping of the grounds surrounding a building like low walls, water features, grade changes or street furniture – which are reinforced to resist a vehicle impact.  These enforce vehicle exclusion, stopping cars getting too close to a building because as I’ve mentioned, every meter enforced is valuable in terms of blast.   

Incorporating low features rather than high walls for hostile vehicle mitigation also supports a number of approaches to reducing low level crimes because by keeping perimeters low, perhaps knee or hip level, we promote better sight lines and increased visibility of activity in the vicinity.  This is called natural surveillance.  If you think about a burglar entering a house, often the first thing they would do is close the curtains to ensure they are hidden from the view of anyone passing by.  This is a particular problem in this region where there is a perception that having high compound walls around the perimeter of a building is a good security measure but actually these block sightlines – hiding an intruder once they have penetrated this ‘defense’.

What is exciting in our industry are the advancements in technology, which are changing the way we protect our communities for the better.  In Dubai we are seeing a rise in the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) for law enforcement purposes.  This fantastic technology will go a long way to improving the quality and depth of the Police’s information - once ANPR is installed widely, they will be able to quickly and efficiently place a vehicles movements over previous hours and days which is a powerful forensic tool in locating suspect vehicles and tackling criminality.

There is never a dull day working leading a security risk management consultancy for a global business where we have the opportunity to work on some of the most high profile projects in the region. However for me, the best thing about my job is the knowledge that I am improving the communities we work and live in by making them safer for everyone. Even if no one knows it.

Peter Richards is Head of Security Risk Management at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff