Alternatives in Physical Perimeter Protection

Security solutions such as rotating decorative bollards,safety nets and collapsible sidewalks are just some of thenontraditional ways campuses can protect their perimeters whilemaintaining an attractive appearance. Check out these three innovativetechnologies.

Responding to an ever-present possibility of hostile action is most certainly a challenge for education and healthcare campuses of all types. For many of these facilities, the needs are complex and change almost daily. Traffic patterns are modified, visitors come and go, and special events are held sporadically. All of these add to the stress of keeping students, patients and employees safe. 

On any given fall weekend, for example, more than 1,000 NCAA college campuses transform into virtual cities. Campers arrive, along with thousands of football fans — ready to come together in colossal stadiums to cheer on their favorite teams. And the stadiums just keep getting bigger: 107,000 seats at both the University of Michigan and Penn State, 104,000 at the University of Tennessee, 101,000 at Ohio State, and 92,000 at the University of Alabama. Acres of ground and facility must be kept secure while accommodating massive amounts of transient traffic. 

The same holds true for hospitals that continue to spread out over larger and larger areas, providing care for increasing numbers of patients. For most of these large institutions, each new wing, building or acquisition poses new security issues. 

Keeping these mega-facilities secure is an ever-growing challenge and carries many facets of needs. The last thing any organization wants, though, is to have the landscape ruined by obtrusive devices that begin to transform the campus into a fortress-like environment. Fortunately, physical perimeter security solutions, such as collapsible sidewalks, moving pavement and safety nets, are invisible to would-be terrorists but can move into action when there is a threat.

Compressible Materials Collapse With Vehicle Weight
Collapsible sidewalks actually had their beginnings as an airport safety innovation. The precursor to this solution was another product developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and ZODIAC ESCO, called the Engineering Material Arresting System (EMAS). This solution uses a substance that readily and predictably crushes under the weight of an aircraft that has overrun the available distance of a runway safety area. The system works, and it has saved lives.

That basic principle and design was incorporated into a perimeter security solution that would provide protection, but not intrude on the landscape. This compressible material concept evolved into a collapsible sidewalk system that blends into the landscape but will stop a hostile vehicle in its tracks. Pedestrians can walk on the sidewalk, but vehicles loaded with explosives will find themselves collapsed in a moat-like trap. 

The idea behind the technology is simple — the collapsible sidewalk compresses under the weight of a vehicle into the “trap” that is otherwise hidden by decorative material that takes the form of a sidewalk or a planting bed.

Applications for this compressible material product are seemingly endless when it comes to campus security. It can help protect those incredible stadiums that house thousands of fans, for example. The system can also defend hospitals from vehicles attempting to drive onto the medical campus away from guarded entrances.

Officials in New York City have already recognized the benefit of the technology, placing the virtually undetectable security system in various locations within the metropolitan area. Terrorists or other potential perpetrators can’t see it, but it will stop them. 

Rotating Bollards Allow Authorized Traffic to Enter
That’s just one of the security products with roots in another field. Another example is a new security technology inspired by the turntables used by the railroad industry to reposition locomotives in a rail yard. The technology advanced through the years and is now deployed on loading docks, assembly lines, auto shows, theater stages, revolving restaurants and now perimeter security. 

This protective device, which has bollards installed on it that can be decorative, rotates in the roadway to let in wanted traffic — but turns back to keep a threat at bay (see opening art). Designed with aesthetics in mind, this solution allows campuses to have the benefit of protection without obscuring the landscape. It blends into a designed streetscape and can even match the surrounding roadway, while its defensive elements can be easily fitted with architectural metals, walls or even sculptures. 

The casual observer is not aware of the device or its function, yet high-value assets have another layer of defense against possible attack. 

Concealed Nets Can Capture Speeding Cars
Another solution that can stop vehicles incorporates powerful nets that are concealed either in the ground or overhead. They can be deployed remotely to ensnare speeding vehicles and stop them dead in their tracks. This product is also flexible enough to allow legitimate traffic to drive unabated. 

The technology has already proven successful on urban Texas interstates where officials have been able to avert disaster. Campus applications of the vehicle arrestors include stationary entrances to high-value targets, stadium security — anywhere there is a need to have the flexibility to allow some traffic in and keep other traffic out. 

The Future Looks Good for Perimeter Security
As security needs evolve, so too will technologies that address new threats faced by educational and healthcare campuses. More and more, security officials will want the “now you see it, now you don’t” concepts as options to protect their people and their investments. 

Students, patients, employees, faculty and fans will be secure without ever realizing that they’re being protected. And the future of security will continue to evolve. 

Mark Allen is the Director for the Security Products Group of ESCO Zodiac based in Ashton, Pa. For more information on ESCO Zodiac, Rock12 and Macton, please visit, and

For the unabridged version of this article, please refer to the May/June 2007 issue of Campus Safety magazine. To subscribe, go to

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