What can be done to prevent Berlin-style attacks in modern cities?

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Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium
Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium / © Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Terrorist attacks using vehicles are very hard to prevent – but there are safety measures cities can use, experts say

The Berlin lorry attack on Monday that killed 12 people and injured 48 others raises a pressing question for security services across the world: what can be done to stop such attacks?

The attack on Berlin’s Christmas market came six months after a 19-tonne cargo truck was deliberately driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, killing 86 people and injuring 484.

This seemingly new – and brutally destructive – form of terrorist attack is quickly becoming one that security experts fear the most: it can cause untold carnage and seemingly come out of nowhere. And there are obvious limits on the effect of practical measures.

On Wednesday, Berlin’s police chief, Klaus Kandt, argued that bollards would not have prevented the attack. With “so many potential targets” – 2,500 Christmas markets in Germany and 60 in Berlin alone – he said it was impossible to reduce the risk to zero. But can they at least be made less likely? Yes, is the simplistic answer – but the measures to achieve that are varied, complex, and far from a panacea.

Barriers in public spaces
The primary way is to erect huge, imposing barriers around vulnerable crowded areas: indeed, police chiefs in Berlin said on Tuesday they would now erect new barriers.

In Britain, a lower-key approach has been favoured – until now, perhaps.

Ruth Reed, the head of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) planning group and its former president, said counter-terrorism officers would reassess the security of open spaces in the wake of the Berlin attack. […]