Statistically speaking, the odds of an active shooter situation or terror attack occurring are incredibly low. Nonetheless, the potential risk is in the back of many people’s minds when they go out to a concert, nightclub or drop their kids off at school.  

Public spaces like schools, shopping malls, outdoor venues, convention sites, public transit, restaurants and concert halls are regular components of the lives of citizens everywhere. They provide communities with spaces to gather and come together.  But each time an act of violence occurs in a public space, creating a widely covered tragedy, it is deeply affecting and can have a real impact on the way citizens go about their daily lives.

It prompts the question – do safe public spaces still exist? By their very nature, public spaces can be hard to defend – given the sheer number and differing type of recreational public space, applying security measures would be logistically difficult and require an enormous amount of resources. Further, those in charge of creating, securing and maintaining safe public spaces must walk a thin line between not creating an area so intimidating that it limits or inhibits citizens from using it at all, but not so invisible that it would encourage would-be offenders.

Citizens look to public safety leaders to protect these public spaces so we can continue to enjoy them free from fear of violence. It’s critical that leaders from across industries collaborate on best practices for securing public spaces because it takes proper planning, budgeting and implementation to make a tangible difference.

Of course, public safety personnel and law enforcement officers are well aware of the importance of securing such spaces and already implement many tactics to do so. Methods utilized by public safety leaders to harden soft targets and create safer public spaces include:

Barriers – Some methods of preventing vehicle-ramming attacks or car bombings include installing barriers like concrete barriers, benches and bollards around sidewalks, parks and in front of buildings and store entrances to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering or idling too close to buildings. Some barrier methods are beautified in the form of heavy cement-filled potted plants or trees to preserve the welcoming atmosphere of the space. For large street events like parades, marches and marathons, using sand-filled dumpster trucks can serve as a barrier.

Increase security cameras – Perpetrators are usually familiar with the location of their attack. More security cameras in public spaces can serve as a deterrent and allow for law enforcement to monitor and notice any unusual activity. Picking up on the subtle signs of an impending attack can help law enforcement respond quickly and be better informed.

Incorporating public safety considerations into architectural and landscaping design – This is the new frontier of safe public spaces. The newly designed Sandy Hook Elementary School features a multitude of new security features that blend into the friendly architecture and landscaping of the school. These include things like reducing visibility from the street, reinforced walls, bullet resistant windows beside doors, a series of footbridges, landscape buffers and floor-to-ceiling windows for better natural surveillance of anyone approaching the building.

The risk of mass violence can never be completely eliminated. But with forward-thinking ideas and new innovative methods from a variety of industry leaders, local agencies can ensure that their public spaces stay as safe as possible for their citizens to enjoy.