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Guarded Diplomacy

DIPLOMATIC AND PEACEKEEPING organizations aim to prevent war, defend human rights, and improve living standards for the world’s citizens. Despite their peaceful aims, these organizations sometimes find themselves the targets of violence and disaster. What’s more, given the nature of their mission, they are often in challenging environs.

While their facilities have to be aesthetically pleasing and inviting, they must also be secure enough to withstand any attack or disaster. As a consultant, I’ve helped to implement security for such facilities in locations ranging from North America to South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The lessons I’ve learned along the way can be applied to any high-profile, high-risk property.


Every site does not need the same level of protection. The first step is to conduct evaluations of the risk and threat of each location. Evaluation should address everything from analysis of the geographic location to the identities of each facility’s neighbors.

Sometimes, in my experience, it was the neighbors who drove up the risk. For example, at some locations, there was a U. S. embassy across the street or in close proximity. Facilities at those sites had to undergo more hardening of their own because of the threat in the proximity.

A look around the neighborhoods and geographical areas also taught me what types of security other buildings had and what the norm was for the location. It was not odd to have an electrical fence in certain locations—even the residences used them—while in other cities, that was out of the question.

Evaluations included thoroughly going over every aspect of the perimeter. One goal was to have space between where the public was and where the building stood. If that space did not exist, perhaps it could be built in as part of the project.

In one case, a recommendation was made to move the facility (a process that is still undergoing review). The assessment that a facility should be moved is not, however, an easy conclusion to make—many of these facilities were given as gifts and originally placed in certain locations for specific reasons.

A major aspect to look out for was the location of parking. A parking garage underneath a building meant that we had a lot more to consider than a parking garage or lot built above ground. An explosion beneath the building would likely cause greater damage than at another outside location.

One element that is less obvious but needs consideration is the use of partitioning in some manner within the building. A lot of these buildings attract visitors such as school groups who might not necessarily have to submit to the normal screening process. I had to assess how to create a “wall” to divide these groups and the rest of the individuals in the facility when such division did not already exist.

Another consideration is the city’s infrastructure. For example, in one location, there was no ability to provide air conditioning, so main doors had to be left open for air and doorways had to have screens to keep out dangerous mosquitoes. These differences between cities require that security solutions be tailored to the circumstances.

As a part of the assessment, I met with certain community members, such as the head of the police organizations in the area. The conversations ranged from a discussion of general crime in the locale to a breakdown of traffic and parking patterns surrounding the building campus. For example, if there was street parking adjacent to the sites, sometimes negotiations were necessary to move the parking farther from the building. The goal was to keep unscreened vehicles a good distance away from the building.

I also worked closely with the security management teams at every location. These teams were critical to the success of the projects. They informed me about building specifics, including legacy security systems, crime, and any natural disaster threats. It was important that these people and those from the surrounding area be included in the evaluation and planning because they were the ones with the more complete knowledge of the building and its environs.

Design and Implementation

Based on the threats and vulnerabilities, and with input from the teams at each location, a final plan was devised. Among the most critical considerations is that the solution will withstand the test of time. Ideally, that means it will use technology that is proven enough not to be experimental but cutting edge enough to avoid early obsolescence. As someone who has worked on both the operational and technology sides, I look for functionality that may become the future industry standard. One example is smart cards. Because multiple technologies can be added to the cards and the information stored is more secure, I think they are likely to become more widespread in the future.

It’s also important to incorporate layers of protection in the design. That’s not a new concept, but it’s especially important in a high-risk, high-profile property. By layering, any single point of failure will not be catastrophic. For example, the first layer might be the fencing. The next layer is an intrusion detection system, the next layer is surveillance cameras, and so on.

Perimeter protection. Good protection at the perimeter helps to deter unauthorized personnel and to fend off potential attacks from vehicle-borne explosive devices. The first step in perimeter security is to demarcate the boundary with fencing. Mark Morrison, of the landscape architecture firm Mark K. Morrison Associates Ltd., who designed fences for projects I worked on in the United States and Europe, takes the view that fences for these types of facilities should not be fortress-like.

For example, the fence plan for the U.S. headquarters facility of the peacekeeping agency I worked with originally called for a twelve-foot-high fence with one-inch openings. But Morrison argued against that type of stronghold approach and instead recommended a softer façade that would be friendly and inviting while still achieving a reasonable level of perimeter security.

To that end, he presented a design for a more attractive fence that matches the original international style of the building. It consists of an 18-inch tall granite wall, with a seven-foot steel bar fence on top of the wall, for an overall height of about 8.5 feet. Other barriers and deterrents around the location provide additional ways to stop vehicles.

The fence is also designed to be difficult to climb for the average person. This design has become the model for the agency’s many other locations.

Landscaping. General landscape amenities, such as a flagpole or a park bench, do not come with specifications regarding their abilities to withstand impacts or meet established barrier criteria, but these everyday objects can enhance security in addition to serving an aesthetic purpose.

In working on the peacekeeping facilities with Morrison, we took steps to bolster the security benefits of the landscaping elements. In some cases, the amenities were modified and hardened to help them better resist possible vehicular impacts.

There are several ways of doing this. One option is to increase the size and strength of an item’s components. Another is to anchor the object, such as a bench, in place.

A great deal of a site element’s ability to withstand an impact is at the point of the connection to the pavement, curb, or footing. An element that might usually be anchored in a footing of concrete typically one foot square by three feet deep might instead be given a footing three or four feet square by five feet deep. To take it a step further, we would opt for an underground modification to create a monolithic structure to resist an impact.

One effective example of underground choice is to change the way items are connected. For example, if there was a row of flagpoles outside of a building, we would interconnect those flagpoles underground so that, in effect, when a vehicle crashes into one flagpole, it is actually crashing into a whole line of them.

One of the benefits of using these common landscaping amenities as security elements is that the hardening techniques are invisible to the casual observer and, hence, do not detract from the aesthetics.

There may, however, be impediments to adopting some of these options. For example, we found that, in some cases, there were extenuating considerations, such as underground utilities. I studied these conflicts prior to drawing up the security design, and armed with that knowledge, I could sometimes avoid the utilities by altering the design so that it would require either a shorter dig or a surface-mounted system.

Another consideration is the potentially disastrous effect that underground footings and curbs can have on existing trees, or the limitation they can place on the development and lifespan of newly planted trees. Working with a landscape architect is essential in mapping out planned work so that trees have the opportunity to spread their roots.

The use of structural soils when possible supports the pavements above while directing root growth downward. The location of utilities and trees often drove the feasibility of using streetscape and landscape elements for enhanced perimeter security.

Landscaping can also be used to hide more powerful items such as bollards. A bollard is a metal post often used to direct traffic. Morrison has hidden bollards in hedges to fortify something that actually helps make an area softer and more inviting and might be mistaken as an area of vulnerability.

Barriers. The immediate physical response to the 9-11 attacks was to use just about anything heavy or strong enough to stop vehicles from entering a secured zone and to create a fortified perimeter. These barriers would facilitate security prescreening for vehicles and visitors. The most common temporary element I saw used were precast Jersey barriers, followed closely by large precast planters, although actual potted plants were optional. These planters often became trash cans for passersby. And worse, if these planters were not properly secured, they could become projectiles themselves if impacted.

These items were cheap because they were prefabricated, and they were easy to install because they could be placed without worrying about utilities; they just sat on the curb. But these components provide limited security. Jersey barriers were designed to direct traffic, not to stop a high-speed, high weight vehicle, and they have no landscape appeal whatsoever. Although in many cases they were better than nothing, they were meant to be temporary and are now being widely replaced.

The Department of State has a rating system for perimeter barriers. It assesses them based on the vehicle size and speed that they can withstand. The certified barriers range from bollards to planters to barricades.

Surface-mounted vehicle protection barriers were generally the easiest for us to install around the peacekeeping agency’s facilities since they required no major excavation work on existing roads or sidewalks. These typically consist of a rising plate of heavy gauge steel, often used at entry points or where vehicles will pass. The frame and top plate are designed to bolt onto an existing concrete slab.

The barrier is operated by a self-contained hydraulic pumping unit. It can be raised or lowered in order to let vehicles pass by. In the event of a power failure or operational malfunction, the units can be operated manually at the barrier location.

Walls, windows. In the event that an attacker does succeed in setting off a bomb near the building, the impact of the blast will depend largely on two factors: how close to the building the bomb was detonated and the strength of the façade. The façade remains the building occupants’ last form of true protection. The façade is made up of two elements: the structural skin or wall section and the window, or glazing.

Ideally, a building’s exterior walls should be constructed of a more durable material, such as reinforced cast-in-place concrete, instead of block walls or curtain walls (at least on the lower floors). If that is done, the building will be able to resist or absorb certain blast loads, resulting in less bodily injury to inhabitants.

In addition, a properly designed concrete wall will aid in preventing progressive collapse, as the wall will assist in carrying the load of a damaged column. With a new building or building extension, you may have the opportunity to try to ensure that walls meet these standards.

In my own case, and in most situations, the walls are already in place. There may, however, be a way to enhance the blast-resistance of windows or to limit the damage from flying glass in the event of an attack.

Ordinary glazing provides little to no protection. In fact, commonly used annealed glass, which is just normal window glass, behaves poorly when hit by a blast. The failure mode for annealed glass creates large sharp-edged shards, resembling knives and daggers. Historically, failed window glazing due to direct pressures produced by an explosion can add to a considerable proportion of the injuries and casualties. To avoid this, windows must be capable of resisting blast pressures and transferring the loads to the adjacent structure.

Most of the buildings we secured were made to resemble glass museums, which meant that strengthening the glass against a bombing was all the more important. Blast hazard protection with fragment-retention window film for all exterior glass was our major option for blast resistance and exposure mitigation.

The film is applied directly to the glass to reduce fragmentation. In addition, we anchored it to existing window frames to increase the overall performance of the glass. With structural adhesive systems, the gaskets on the existing windows were removed or cut to allow adhesive to extrude into the frame.

While the film and adhesive system is effective in keeping glass fragments together, it is not always particularly effective in holding the glass to the frame. It is stronger when it is used in conjunction with a blast-tested anchorage system, which is what we used in all of our buildings. This involved employing screws and batten strips to attach the film to the frame along two or four sides.

Blast curtains offer an additional layer of protection and have been added to the buildings I worked on. The technology has been proven to be effective in limiting damage and injuries from glass. The main components of a blast curtain are the curtain itself, which appears similar to a normal curtain; the attachment mechanism by which the curtain is secured to the window frame; and either a trough or mechanism at the base of the window to hold the excess curtain material. Blast curtains are a low cost and easy to install solution for areas of increased risk and threat.

Blast curtains may not be effective, however, because they have to be closed to work, and personnel often keep the curtains open for increased sunlight or fresh air. Still, we decided to go with them. Blast curtains and window filming were installed for the ground floors of the buildings, as well as in special meeting rooms and executive suites.

If we had been constructing new buildings from the ground up, laminated glass might have been used instead; it’s often a better choice than film. This innovation consists of two or more pieces of glass permanently bonded together by a tough plastic interlayer. Once sealed together, the glass system behaves as a single unit, thus making it stronger. However, it is important that the design of the new windows should be balanced from glazing to frame to anchorage.

Any blast mitigation can become more dangerous if the design is unbalanced. In other words, if the window is designed not to fragment, but the window comes out entirely, it can become a lethal weapon.

Parking. In many cases, we had to find a way to mitigate risk from parking garages located beneath the facility. The solutions ranged from having properly trained guards with mirrors to check beneath vehicles for bombs to purchasing radiation scanners. We also installed cameras in the ground for the car to drive over; the system would then compare the pictures with a database of what the pictures of a vehicle’s underside should look like, and it would alarm if it detected an anomaly. In an underground garage, we would often implement these measures in conjunction with having a trained bomb-sniffing dog on-site.

Access controls. Another layer in the protection is provided by access controls and surveillance cameras, including not only a network of IP cameras but also electronic motion sensors, direct-burial and seismic cables along the fences, card readers on critical doors, alarm contacts on windows, and glass-break alarms.

Access control systems had to be tailored to each specific property, but they also needed to be compatible across continents. Although designs were specific, we did not want to re-engineer systems for each location.

We chose a system with a graphical user interface and mapping. Maps show the current status of each device as well as alarm conditions. Since it is easy to locate an alarm on a map, appropriate security personnel can be dispatched quickly.

To make response times even quicker, a map can be set up to be displayed automatically when an alarm occurs. The system can also allow an operator to control devices, such as grant access through a selected door or switch a surveillance camera to a specified monitor. The simplicity and intuitiveness of the interface enables personnel to use the equipment with minimal previous knowledge.

When there is an alarm, such as a forced entry or a perimeter intrusion, the control room is immediately alerted. Cameras are programmed at that point to record at a higher frame rate for a sharper image that can be used as evidence.

Installing the surveillance systems and other cabling was a major undertaking in many of these facilities. Their existing systems ranged from analog to IP, and from black and white to color. They had varying levels of effectiveness and maintenance needs. I chose to move all the facilities over to IP systems, with color, high-resolution cameras. The cameras were fitted with site-specific enclosures when needed. All of the other security management subsystems had to be integrated with the access control, including surveillance cameras, badging, intrusion-detection alarms, and parking-lot management.

The system installation was even more difficult in these buildings because many of them, due to their historical significance, were more like museums than office buildings. We weren’t dealing with dropped ceilings and sheetrock walls, but rather with marble, plaster, and granite areas that were difficult to run wires through. Additionally, it was essential that any cabling not detract from the aesthetics of the buildings—which often featured works of art throughout.

In one building, we had to implement a wireless system. By running a hefty communications ring through the core of the building, we could ensure the system’s reliability. Although it appeared daunting at first, this approach ended up costing a fraction of what a cabled system would have run, because the general construction costs were nominal.

Minimal painting and patching was needed since there was no wire to run to each of the many security devices and no demolition to the walls or ceilings was required. Architectural finishes were preserved with original beauty, and the surveillance system did not detract from that. Exposed devices were painted to match their environment. This technique was implemented in many buildings.

Several facilities had existing trapdoors and side hatches that we used for cable raceways. In some cases, these were even hidden behind paintings and pictures.

IT infrastructure. A security system is only as reliable as its backbone—the IT network on which it relies to send data from the alarms, sensors, and surveillance cameras. One important aspect of this is having what are called self-healing and auto-rerouting network architectures. These include a switch network to allow for routing and multiple cabling systems so that data has more than one path it can travel. That way, if the main path that information takes back to the control center is broken (intentionally or not), the information will have alternative means to get where it needs to go. Additionally, uninterruptible power supplies for the computers and battery backups at locks and control panels further provide resources for maintainable systems.

Redundancy. Like the entire IT network, the security systems also have been designed with built-in redundancy, which means a system failure will not result in the entire system becoming inoperative. The redundancy was facilitated by extensive multiple routing within the network, from the IP-video systems to the rest of the IT network. Instead of having just one path back to central control, each system had several network paths.