Waukesha shows how vehicle framing is a new security threat

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Thompson said barricades had been set up at crossroads and police patrols were in place to prevent traffic from breaking into the parade.


“When the police tried to engage and stop the threat, [the driver] continued to the audience anyway, Thompson said. The police fired their pistol at the SUV but could not prevent the attack.

The video shows how the red SUV crashes into and over metal barricades that are placed end to end on the roadway and then roars past a police officer.

A website for the Department of Homeland Security on vehicle framing notes that street events and other gatherings provide “soft targets” that often have little protection and can be attacked with “devastating effect”.

The DHS guide says that safety plans should take into account event needs and venues, so strategies “cannot be a holistic approach”. Standard precautions include the use of bollards, trucks, plantations and other barricades to distinguish crowds from armed vehicles.

“It is important to ensure that these architectural solutions are of a suitable size, adequately anchored and intentionally reinforced against impact loads,” says DHS’s council.

Mia Bloom, a fellow at Georgia State University’s New America’s International Security Program, said event planning can help, but in the end, “securing a seat is virtually impossible,” especially when the crowd is on the street. There are simply too many access points, she said, and too many ways to attack.

She noted that the Waukesha driver penetrated security just as a terrorist would: “It was not deliberate”, she added, “but it was not by mistake”.

Bloom warned that vehicle-related incidents are likely to increase as at least 15 U.S. states have passed or are considering laws that protect motorists from criminal charges when they drive into protesters.

In an article for Just security, Bloom said the tactic gained traction among right-wing extremists after neo-Nazi James Fields killed a protester and injured others with his vehicle during a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Fields was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Today, Bloom said, fringe groups use social media to advocate for vehicle attacks, emphasizing that drivers can simply claim they were scared and defend themselves against insurgents. That legal position seems to be successful: according to Globe, of 139 vehicle attacks on political crowds over the past 16 months, less than half resulted in criminal charges.

From the mid-1960s until Floyd’s death, there were only three such attacks aimed at political protests.

Bruce Butterwork, senior transportation researcher at the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, said Waukesha’s tragedy pointed to the difficulties security planners face.

City officials could hardly foresee such an attack, he noted, and the preparations always involved a balance between cost and security – partly based on intelligence.

Butterwork, who was involved in writing a study from 2019 with the title Wrapped in crowds, said almost half of all incidents involve a driver who is mentally unstable. Their behavior is unpredictable, he noted, and often does not appear on the intelligence radar used by threat analysts.

Brooks’ psychological history is unknown, however Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reported that he was recently released from prison while facing several charges stemming from violent incidents.

Butterwork compared a heavy car or truck that plowed into pedestrians with a motorized bowling ball that cut down pins. The goal is to “eliminate the bowling alley,” he said, or limit mortality by creating barriers and escape routes.

In the midst of attacks from mentally disturbed people and the sharp increase in framing at political gatherings, Butterworth said that even small-town officials have a more difficult job of preparing security for carnivals, parades and meetings.

“The availability of a car as a weapon has now become part of the landscape,” he said. “It’s not that you can eliminate simple goals, but you can certainly reduce them.”

USA today

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