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10 Factors to Consider in Designing Vehicle Checkpoints

Police officers and contract guards are screening motor vehicles somewhere in nearly every city today before granting them access to a site or facility. This mainly occurs at military and government facilities, but many more places are now routinely performing these inspections, including at entry points for private parking garages, business campuses, and even commercial centers.

Screeners are looking for weapons, explosives, or contraband, and sometimes all three at once. Less often, guards are checking vehicles for fugitives, stowaways, or watch-listed individuals.

With the demand for these checkpoints at civilian facilities growing, relatively inexperienced personnel are likely to be involved in planning, design, and implementation. Below are 10 key factors to consider in designing vehicle-screening posts.

1. Speed Reduction

Slowing oncoming vehicles is a nearly universal aim, as it gives guard personnel a chance to assess, respond, and to thwart a potential attacker's ability to use speed as a weapon. Forced turns, narrowed lanes, earth berms, bollards, speed bumps, and walls are all effective ways to reduce vehicle speeds.

Keep in mind, though, that some high-threat posts do require alternative, high-speed entrances for friendly vehicles.

2. Remote Observation

Screeners should be able to observe vehicles approaching and entering the control zone from protected locations well away from approaching vehicles. Their aim is to assess intentions using factors, such as speed of travel, number of passengers, and visibility of the vehicle's interior or cargo areas.

3. Remote Disabling

High-threat environments require methods for remote vehicle disabling, using devices such as stop-sticks or power-deployed bollards. Some posts also require emplacements for counter-attack forces and weapons.

4. Signaling and Communications

Approaching drivers need to know what screeners want: should a vehicle stop or advance? Should drivers leave engines running, or turn them off? Windows up or down? Should hands be visible at all times?

Simple, automated signals, even just red-or-green lights, can help make it clear what drivers should do. Oral instructions must also be audible; if guards issue instructions from a distance or from a guardhouse, amplification may be required to hear them.

5. Containment

Once a vehicle has entered a screening and inspection zone, it must be contained. This means preventing unauthorized movement, but also limiting the potential for damage from an explosion or an armed attack.

Impact-absorbing sally ports offer one approach, as do ballistic-resistant surrounds. Some sites will allow the use of earth berms or impact-deflecting walls. If these provisions won't work, inspection areas may have to be located well away from target facilities.

6. Bypassing

Some vehicles (company cars, patrol vehicles, or trusted delivery trucks) may be exempt from screening and waived through or cleared with reduced scrutiny. Bypass lanes can reduce backups in inspection bays, but they must be fortified against unauthorized use.

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If an entry for visitors and guests is also used by high-profile figures and protected individuals, the objective may be to avoid slowing or stopping their vehicles outside of the protected zone--the exact opposite of the aim with other vehicles.

7. Vehicle Removal

A vehicle will inevitably stall or become disabled, requiring removal from the inspection area. It may also become necessary to displace a suspect vehicle for further scrutiny elsewhere or to remove a known hazard. Designs must allocate space and provide barrier systems in ways that allow vehicle removal with minimal disruptions to flow.

8. Vehicle Staging

Lines of vehicles awaiting inspection can present overwhelming logistical problems, jeopardizing performance. Parking policies can reduce the number of vehicles near the most vulnerable areas--as now happens at airports--or waiting cars can be kept away from the inspection area and green-lighted for close approach one at a time.

9. Command, Communications, and Control

Screening stations need a central post for system overrides and backup, with communications capabilities and direct views of critical positions. If screening personnel are also staffing the command and control post, at least one person must remain in a position to run it.

10. Searching Humans

If passengers are subject to search outside of their vehicles, you may need to create search areas for males, females, and children. Considerations of flow are paramount, taking into account distance from vehicles and control of belongings.

Security professionals and designers are gaining more experience with vehicle screening in civilian settings. Basic principles of military checkpoint design are valid, but we cannot always apply them. Still, keeping these principles and practical considerations in mind will help to ensure excellent solutions.

Thomas Vonier, CPP, FAIA (Fellow, American Institute of Architects), is a licensed architect and certified security professional. He works in Paris and Washington, D.C., for companies and organizations with operations in high-risk locations.