Christmas market security: protecting the public this Christmas season

Christmas market security
© iStock/Juergen Sack

As the holidays approach and Christmas markets become more and more ubiquitous, Christmas market security is an increasing priority. Iain Moran, head of high security sales for the US, UK and Australia at ATG access, the leading manufacturer of bollards, road blockers and barriers, discusses security options.

As we edge closer to the start of the festive season, we will soon start to see Christmas markets – and Christmas market security concerns – popping up once again all over the UK and across Europe. Markets have been a staple of the festive landscape for many years and their popularity seems to be showing no sign of dwindling. A report by the Local Government Association revealed that at least £500m was injected into the UK economy by just six of these markets alone last year.

It’s easy to see why so many local authorities now organise their own annual Christmas markets. Not only do they have a positive social impact by bringing communities together and creating a sense of inclusiveness, but they also attract jobs, activities and visitors at a time when the usual visitor economy is less active. However, as with any busy public event, their popularity also means that they are unfortunately potential targets for terrorist activity. This was tragically demonstrated in Berlin in December 2016, when a large truck was deliberately driven into the city’s famous market just a few days before Christmas.

This incident was reflective of a wider trend that has emerged over the past few years: the use of vehicles as deadly weapons. A spate of similar hostile vehicle attacks in cities around the world, including London, Barcelona, Nice and New York, have shown just how much damage can be inflicted in a short space of time. We shouldn’t let these incidents disrupt our way of life, and there are sophisticated Christmas market security measures that local authorities can implement in order to keep the risk to a minimum without putting a dampener on the festive fun.

What Christmas market security measures are currently in place?

Last year saw many Christmas market organisers sensibly taking precautionary steps to bolster security in response to the attack in Berlin the year before.

At particularly busy markets in the UK and Europe such as those in Manchester and Frankfurt’s city centres, there was a visibly increased police presence. Both uniformed and undercover police officers were carrying guns and mingling with the crowds to act as a deterrent and ensure that they could act quickly in the event of any trouble.

Other striking additions to some of last year’s markets were the large concrete blocks that had been strategically placed around the edges of many venues. These blocks are frequently used in city centres when temporary barriers are needed for an event or celebration, as they do not require any kind of foundation so can be installed relatively quickly and easily.

However, while these concrete barriers provide some protection against vehicle attacks, they have some significant flaws which make them far from the ideal choice when implementing Christmas market security.

The design of the blocks means that points of entry and exit are extremely limited, with visitors only able to walk through certain designated gaps in the perimeter. This severely restricts the flow of pedestrians and can result in large queues and crowds of people on both sides of the barriers.

Not only does this leave the people queuing on the outside vulnerable to attack, but it has been shown that some surface mounted concrete blocks slide on impact, which means they have the potential to create a crushing effect that would be incredibly dangerous for those on the inside too.

It’s also important for local authorities to consider the aesthetics of the Christmas market security solutions they choose to put in place. Our research last year showed that 29% of people would like to see more visible security measures at events to make them feel safer. However, Christmas market organisers should try to strike a delicate balance, making people feel reassured without creating a fortress mentality.

Visually, temporary concrete barriers are one of the crudest solutions available on the market, with a purely functional appearance. Their bulky size makes them seem very obtrusive, and means they serve as a very constant reminder of the potential Christmas market security threat. This could make attendees feel on edge, and might even deter people from visiting a market again the following year.

Are there more effective measures that can be employed?

Instead of rudimentary concrete barriers, councils should consider implementing purpose-built security systems that are both pedestrian permeable and more discrete.

There are now a range of temporary surface-mounted bollards and barriers available that have been specifically designed to prevent vehicle attacks and can be deployed by just a few people in a matter of hours. These lightweight systems can either be rented or bought, and their compact, modular design means that they are easy to transport and store as needed.

These barriers are designed to allow people to flow in and out of a venue with minimal disruption, which prevents the unnecessary build-up of queues and crowds. An additional vehicle access point can also often be added, to allow authorised emergency service vehicles to gain access in just minutes in the event of an emergency.

There are even some surface-mounted barrier solutions available that incorporate footfall trackers, which can be used to monitor how many attendees pass into a venue. If a large number of people enter into the zone, organisers can take the appropriate action to limit overcrowding by slowing or stopping the flow of traffic. This is particularly useful to Christmas market security as Christmas markets are usually non-ticketed events, which can make it very hard to estimate visitor numbers.

Already neater and more inconspicuous than their concrete counterparts, temporary surface-mounted barriers can also often be customised using bespoke covers and vinyl wraps. Organisers can choose to accessorise the barriers purely to make them look more festive, or it they can offer them as an advertising opportunity to sponsors, which creates an additional revenue stream for the event.

Hostile vehicle attacks seem to be on the rise, and by their nature can be incredibly difficult to predict. Fortunately, there are increasingly sophisticated temporary Christmas market security solutions available that make it easy to ensure that visitors are fully protected.

With just a few weeks to go before this year’s markets return to towns and cities across Europe, event organisers should take this time to make sure their planned Christmas market security measures are as effective as possible.

Iain Moran

Head of high security sales for the UK, USA and Australia

ATG Access

Founded over 25 years ago, ATG Access is the world’s most innovative vehicle barrier company and was established to design and manufacture bollards, road blockers, barriers and bespoke solutions. Exporting to over 42 countries and manufacturing security products across five different global locations, ATG Access is a British manufacturer with a global reach, delivering state-of-the-art, intelligent security worldwide.

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