London attacks: Security around seats of power in Britain and elsewhere

Members of the New York City Police Department's Counterterrorism Bureau stand guard in front of the building housing the British Consulate General in New York on March 23, 2017.
Members of the New York City Police Department's Counterterrorism Bureau stand guard in front of the building housing the British Consulate General in New York on March 23, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON - The attacks in the British capital on March 22 confirm a disturbing trend first seen in France and then in Germany: terrorists aim to kill as many people as possible by running them over with vehicles.

Security services in Britain and many other countries are now reviewing their preventive measures to limit the destructive potential of such attacks.

Here's a quick look at the current security around the seats of government in Britain and elsewhere:

WESTMINSTER, LONDON

  • Defences around Whitehall, an area of 1km in radius in central London where Parliament and most key government departments are located, have already been strengthened considerably during the past two decades. There is a two-layer steel and concrete physical barrier restricting the road adjacent to the Parliament building.
  • Access to Downing Street, the British Prime Minister's official residence, is also heavily restricted and a variety of other barriers - mostly made of steel but disguised as stone structures designed to look suitably ancient - protect pedestrians across the adjacent pavements
  • But the pavement on the bridge over the Thames river which leads to the iconic Big Ben tower has almost no protective devices, and the gate through which MPs walk or drive their cars into Parliament remains vulnerable. Until the attack, it was protected only by two makeshift police barriers which can be set aside by a single person, and a few "bobbies" greeting passers-by with "Good morning". The gate will now have to be secured with permanent structures, and traffic in the square facing Big Ben may have to be curbed.
  • Security services will also have to take another look at arrangements protecting the Parliament building from the river


Armed police officers secure the area on Whitehall leading towards the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

 

US CAPITOL & WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON

  • The grounds around the Capitol building are open to pedestrians, but unauthorised vehicle traffic is blocked by barriers.
  • Visitors enter the Capitol building through a visitors' centre where security is extremely tight, like that at the US airports.
  • The White House is protected on all sides by steel railings which are encircled by steel bollards and chains. The mansion is located some distance from the railings, giving Secret Service ample time to stop any intruder.But there was a case in 2014 when a man, carrying a knife, made it into the building.
  •  Armed guards and Secret Service officers are deployed, and high-tech defences include sniper surveillance and radar technology on the rooftop. There is also an emergency operations centre under the building.


A Secret Service agent stands guard by the fence along the northern boundary of the White House grounds, March 20, 2017. PHOTO: NYT

 

REICHSTAG, BERLIN

  • The Reichstag building has fences in front where the main entrance is, but not on other sides. It is relatively accessible to the public.
  •  Admission to the glass dome on the rooftop is free, but visitors need to register in advance. The Parliament building also claims to be the only one in the world to have a rooftop restaurant. Dinners need to register in advance and bring their passports or IDs with them.
  •  The Reichstag was set alight in an arson attack in 1933 by a young Dutch communist.


A German policeman guards the Reichstag building, the seat of the German Lower House of parliament Bundestag on Feb 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

 

ASSEMBLÉE NATIONALE, PARIS

  • The front gates of the French National Assembly face a bridge of the river Seine, offering a view to the iconic Place de la Concorde. Concrete bollards in front of the gates prevent any high-speed ramming from that long straight road.
  •  The Senate meets in the Palais du Luxembourg where one exterior wall by the roadside is solid stone, while the remainder lies among public walkways. Although the area is patrolled by heavily armed police, members of the public can stroll up to a waist-high gate separating them from the building.
  •  Visits to the French National Assembly and the Senate have been suspended because of security measures in effect in France.
  •  More than 230 people have died in terror attacks in France since Jan 2015.


Policemen control motorists on the Place de la Concorde on the implementation day of a traffic restricted area in Paris, on Jan 18, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS

  • The Brussels headquarters of the European Parliament is easily accessibly by road or on foot, protected only by low steel bollards on the roadside.
  • Entry requires a national ID card or passport, and airport-style security checks. But when Parliament is in session, one can slip in as an observer without advance notice.
  • The nearby Maelbeek metro station was one of the targets of the 2016 Brussels attacks.


European and national flags fly outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on March 1, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SOURCE: THE STRAITS TIMES ARCHIVES, BBC

 

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