Defending Soft Targets

The recent attack by terrorists on a shopping mall in Nairobi shows why soft targets are important. Once inside, the terrorists have numerous defenceless high-value targets. The bad guys, having automatic weapons and explosives can do a lot of damage in a short time. Being unafraid of dying for their cause, they can then use the high ground and prepared fire-zones to hold even military forces at bay for hours or days to maximize the propaganda value of their effort.

There have been suggestions that the attackers had hidden supplies in the mall and infiltrated fighters to use them when the time came. That could well be true, so, how does one defend a large soft target from enemies without and within? A few security guards at the gates and wandering around won’t do it. The mall in Nairobi apparently had a layered defence outside but the attackers had plenty of time to design a plan to overwhelm the defence. Once inside, the terrorists had hours to do great harm and to prepare a defence of their position in the building. The police and military had to run gauntlets of fire to gain entry being in the open with snipers able to fire on them from concealment. Only the large size of the mall and the small numbers of terrorists enabled the government to eventually regain control after days of fighting.

This is not good enough. Terrorists will always have opportunities. They have the advantage of knowing where they will strike, blending in with crowds and planning effectively whereas the good guys, the ordinary citizens will always be unsure where safety lies and where treachery lies. Either society has to trade lives and money for business as usual, treating safety as a cost of doing business or society has to build defence in depth everywhere.

What would have made a difference in Nairobi was a few strong points where well-armed guards could have clear lines of site in the high traffic areas. A single guard can easily hold off a dozen attackers flooding through a choke-point like a doorway if he has a long-range automatic rifle, plenty of ammunition and a bit of armour. In Nairobi, a few guards well-positioned could have prevented all but a few terrorists from entering and the event would have involved much less asymmetry in body-counts for the police could have flooded the building before as many civilians were slaughtered. Considering the number of guards involved and the value of the building, this is affordable. We need to do this for all public buildings: schools, government offices, shopping centres, sports arenas, theatres, etc. At the very least it would force the terrorists to pick smaller soft targets where the expense of better defence might be seen as excessive.

Above all, we should stop creating “gun-free zones” where terrorists and ordinary criminals can operate with impunity knowing there will be no defence. Having a significant fraction of citizens well vetted, armed and trained is a cost-effective solution to providing defence in depth around our big soft targets. Ask the survivors of Nairobi whether or not they could have dealt with the terrorists in short order had they been properly prepared and equipped. There was plenty of courage and daring exhibited by citizens but without proper means of defence many were slaughtered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or not being able to demonstrate the right beliefs when confronted by murderous bastards.

Kenya, in fact, is better prepared than Canada to deal with such attacks. They at least did have multiple layers of defence but they crumbled, not being mutually supportive. The attackers had only to peel the onion’s outer layers to get inside. Meanwhile malls and schools where I live are naked, utterly defenceless except by 911 and a few locked doors. Terrorism, as demonstrated in Nairobi, can devastate a school and escape before police could even appear on the scene. A typical school is ~100m in size. It would take only a few minutes to distribute bombs in such a building and depart. The fastest 911 response here is 3 minutes on a good day, with a tail-wind. What happens if the terrorists create diversions or the weather is bad or traffic is heavy? What happens if a few guards armed with rifles defend each corridor and the schoolyard? We wear seat-belts for a reason. They work most of the time. So do armed guards.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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14 Responses to Defending Soft Targets

  1. oiaohm says:

    –oiaohm wrote, ” Firecrackers are not supersonic.”

    Of course they are. I regularly push 220 grain lead balls to 1700 ft/s with black powder.–

    I should have been more exact. Firecrackers are not a supersonic projectile. Supersonic projectiles generate Sonic booms.

    Supersonic blast wave does not generate a Sonic boom. Yes a firecracker might put of a Supersonic blast wave but this is in audio is not a sonic boom not even close. About the only thing that could be mistaken for a bullet is like a bull whip because its tip can cross the sound barrier. Reason why a bull whip would not be targeted is the time frame super sonic is too short to be a bullet. Most schools a bull whip should not be on school grounds either. Robert there is very little that does generate Sonic booms. Almost nothing generates a long sonic boom. Mill aircraft are not meant to go supersonic above populated areas. This is why sonic boom was chosen for the signature to look for to detect gun fire since there should be nothing making a sonic boom.

    To generate a sonic boom you need a object travelling over the speed of sound.

    Yes you put black powder in and no lead ball then fire the bullet detection systems will ignore you. You can blow up a full load truck with explosives and bullet detection systems will still ignore unless a fragment gets sent supersonic . Its the physical travel of the lead ball in the air that is being targeted. Why the bang barrel will get to sensors after the sonic boom off the bullet itself.

    Its all about the fastest return fire time.

    Yes the audio shape of the sonic boom tells you the approx size of the round. Multi sampling tells you how fast the round is moving. Triangulation gives you where it came from. 404 bullet is nothing like a 202 bullet.

    Not only does the electronic sensors tell you that someone fired a bullet they tell if you or they have more range.

    Yes you can tell the difference between a bullet from a pistol and a bullet from a riffle even if they are the same size bullet. Why they have different travel paths.

    There enough detail to id rough type of weapon. Yes if it was a pistol or rifle and what size round it was firing. Not enough to Id the gun enough to know how much range they have. But you also have record exactly where the bullet went. So recovering bullet to match up against gun is simple.

  2. oiaohm wrote, ” Firecrackers are not supersonic.”

    Of course they are. I regularly push 220 grain lead balls to 1700 ft/s with black powder.

  3. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson yes metal storm weapons are able to machine gun this is correct but they also fully lockable to single shot weapons. But there is a big catch here. Speed and exactness of lock will mean only 1 shot has to be fired.

    Bullets are tracked by there supersonic foot print. Firecrackers are not supersonic. RPG and Firecracker that can be hard to sort out.

    Guard with rifle is limited usefulness.

    Mostly guards would hit what they aimed to hit.
    Key word most and next point humans ears are horible for tracking locations of bullet fire. So without electronic assistance attacker will be able to get off many shots before engaged.

    Deploying Human guards with rifle is not the best effective use. You have to deploy a electronic gun fire web anyhow or you allowing guards to be sitting ducks to be picked off while working out where the attacker is shooting from.

    Metal Storm weapons have a broad range of rounds. Not all are lethal. 2 of the more interesting non lethal are fire-fighting foam and entrapment foam. Funny enough entrapment foam does work as fire-fighting other than blocking humans from getting through it.

    This is my problem Metal Storm Denial Weapon System does not have to be lethal. But it achieves the 2 things are important things.
    One the attacker cannot keep on moving.
    Two the return fire is fast. Particularly faster than human target can move. This reduces number of rounds fired so reducing death toll.

    I never said Metal Storm solution loaded with lethal, rounds. Non lethal rounds miss fire odds of death is insanely low. Yes upset people is the most likely outcome of non lethal Metal storm loads..

    Robert the big thing to remember is even if you do put a computer fully in charge of targeting metal storm weapons it still possible to choose to leave a human in charge of the fire yes/no. Doing this return round will still be fired faster than guard holding rifle. Yes force multiplied configuration uses tracked robots with shot tracking but with human with fire command.

    You still need humans for engaging those who have not fired yet. But what way is better. Guard with tracked robot so robot faces person with gun and tells them to disarm or human have to face person with gun.

    A school is fairly much a controlled and predictable environment for robots to move around.

    The problem here like you could get some people suggest like but you are missing why turrets are so exact. A turret does not have a beating hart and can spin faster than human. In fact turrets rotation is just under supersonic. This is the problem out to 1 km a turret can return a shot to source before the human who fired gun can move even if it was facing exactly the other way when shot was fired. Robert a human pulling off that shot is impossible.

    The unique signature of bullets means if you did deploy a metal storm solution over a school using guns at schools would be stupidity. Attacker will only ever have 1 shot. Most of the weapons that are not supersonic are single to worst 3 shot.

    Even in places like iraq the rebels have learnt use RPG’s across deployed zones. Slower travelling projectiles don’t get you killed instantly.

    Yes there is a huge difference between a firecracker and a shot to electronic ears.

    Electronic ears have been deployed in the USA in hot spots for a long time with cameras to take photo of target. The audio in fact identifies size of bullet and about 70 percent of time the correct gun. Yes one shot lot of detail.

  4. oiaohm wrote, “best defence against a rifle at range is a Metal storm Area denial weapon system. “

    That may literally be true but no machine-gun should be used in densely populated areas where most schools are located. Imagine what could go wrong if some kids set off some fire-crackers and some robot cut them down… There have been many instances of police emptying their semi-auto pistols at some suspect and injuring bystanders. We don’t want to deny an area to citizens. We want to protect soft targets by taking out an isolated threat. A rifle is the right tool. Mostly guards would hit what they aimed to hit.

  5. bw says:

    My own estimates of the need is of the order of $1 billion

    You always woefully underestimate the size of the problem with your simplistic solutions. In Seminole County, FL, the home of the Lake Mary PD featured in the clip you cited, the sheriff added 12 deputies to the school service deputy corps at an annual budget cost of $1.2M. That is for the elementary and middle schools outside of city limits. Lake Mary, Altamonte Springs, Longwood, Winter Springs, and Sanford added staff for the schools in their city limits as well. I have not seen any figures for that part.

    With 100K or so public schools in the US that is some $10B or so annual expense to just put 1 officer or deputy on each site. That sum is only a little less than the sequester cuts that have sidelined 25% of the US Navy forces and whatever has happened to the Marines, Air Force, and Army.

    It would be a lot less expensive to ban gun and ammunition sales and institute the kind of control that Australia seems to have managed to put in place. They should do it in Canada, too.

    There wasn’t any regulation for automobiles ages ago either until the need to identify who owned one and regulate who could drive one became clear to everyone. You cannot even get a dive shop to put air into a scuba tank without showing a dive qualification card. It is a matter of public safety and will certainly come to be some day. The day will be sooner than later as the gun nuts continue to pine for a return to Wyatt Earp and Tombstone.

  6. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson in fact you are wrong best defence against a rifle at range is a Metal storm Area denial weapon system. Mixed with these kinds of sensors.

    Result is person with rifle fires one shot before the auto turret returns fire. No matter how well you train humans they are not good at detecting where a rifle shot came from. Human with gun is limited effectiveness. Human with turret with sensors to assist different matter. Humans with guns vs turrets more often than not the Humans will lose if the terrain does not hinder the turrets movement..

    Spread a few of sensors designed to track gun shots around the school you have exact location of anyone firing gun. Even using a suppressor. Human vs gun with suppressor or low flash rounds not that effective at locationing. PA system can be automatically telling everyone where the last gun shot was. This allows evacuation and interception planing.

    A guy shooting from a balcony will be better handled by a auto turent than any number guards. Why because auto turret from hidden to firing in 2 seconds max. Why rounds in auto turret means it could shot out threw solid wall at attacker. Yes one of the big advantages to the turrets is they don’t need line of site to engage. They just need ballistic line to target. Yes they can be nicely locked away in cupboards where students or attackers don’t see or know where they are. Yes finding out after you have fired a shot that there was a auto turret waiting for this event is kinda too late.

    This causes attacker to live to have to target the turrets first if they can find them. Yes turrets do not take a wage. Same with smoke screens and even tear gas.

    Robert Pogson the problem with a hand gun is the fact you can lose control of it on top of the person with the hard gun becomes a high target.

    A mobile metal storm turret is 100 000 dollars. Auto targeting those who fire so no remote command and control. And you really don’t care if an attacker puts a few holes in an item like that. Cheaper to patch up a auto turret than an human.

    Hostile engagement is not really suitable for humans. Teacher with auto turret at disposal could use the auto turret as a cover device until the students and teacher leave. Yes these devices can be biometric locked.

    Robert serous choice gun or turret. I would take turret. At least teachers then can stay with the guiding the students in escape.

    Guns in school I don’t see the point. They are don’t address the most critical thing intelligence on where the shooter is.

  7. oiaohm wrote, “I don’t agree with firearms in school mostly because I know of other ways of dealing with the problem.”

    That’s not an unreasonable position to hold until a bad guy gets in a position where a number of people are at his mercy (none). e.g. a guy starts shooting 500 people in the gym from a balcony… He doesn’t even have to aim… A few guards firing at him from several directions would have an effect. e.g. a guy with a rifle fires into crowds entering or leaving the school. A guard with a rifle is the best defence. A crowd just can’t disperse rapidly enough especially if heavy hard-nosed bullets are used and the shooter could be up high so cover is less effective. A guard with binoculars may well detect the sniper and sound an alarm to prevent dismissal.

    The problem isn’t firearms or even nut-cases. It’s big soft targets. They are risky whether it’s a plane-crash, lightning, fire or a murdering bastard. We either have to eliminate the big soft target with smaller schools, etc. or harden them with guards, weapons, fortification, …

    The nature of the threat used to be the angry individual. It’s a whole new ballgame with organized groups of sociopaths. There is no simple answer. Only multiple layers of defence are of any value. We saw what the terrorists did in Nairobi with ~1K people scattered around a large building. Imagine what they could do at a soccer-game. There just is no alternative to a flexible armed perimeter and defence in depth.

  8. oiaohm wrote, ” Usage of guns advantage disappears very quickly in close quarters combat. “

    Yep. The doorway to a classroom is a strongpoint. Once in a classroom a fellow with a firearm is in a pretty weak situation if rushed by a dozen people with a dozen more throwing stuff… unless it’s a machine-gun. I always tried to keep my door locked for several reasons. This would be high on the list. Anything that slows down or inconveniences an attacker is a Good Thing. School doors on classrooms were almost always 2 inch thick maple or other good solid wood in a steel frame, not your typical hollow door.

    I still want guards armed with rifles in open spaces like hallways and schoolyards. Handguns against rifles are no contest. I still think teachers could use handguns effectively. They could be locked up, too, if the door delays the bad guy and warns the teacher. Add marksmanship to the annual review…

  9. oiaohm says:

    Really it would sound stupid but make kendo and judo mandatory sport in USA schools. This now restrict everyone using a gun to long range. Even a wooden kendo sword can drop attack at close range. Like walking threw a door way and not aware a kendo person is on the otherside waiting.

    Lot of the USA school massacres happen because the person with gun does not have to fear the possibility that a student/teacher might be on the other side of the door waiting with a classroom item ready to kill.

    Guns are not the only weapon. Usage of guns advantage disappears very quickly in close quarters combat.

    bw judo is close quarters combat.

  10. oiaohm says:

    bw depends on the gun. I have taken a riffle out of an attackers hands while I was unarmed. The guy was stupid and attempted to hit me with the rifle but instead of ordering me out way. Rifle is not a close combat weapon so judo is highly effective if person with Rifle is idiot enough to get into close combat.

    Even with a pistol you can make a positional mistake. Trained person does stand a chance against a untrained with a gun. Mostly because the untrained with a gun in a lot of cases makes mistakes allowing them to be disarmed or killed by their own weapon. Lot of mistakes are taught to people watching tv. Yes TV shows hitting people with but of firearm that exactly puts the person with firmarm in position to be disarmed.

    Trained without gun facing off against untrained with gun. If the trained knows the gun person is coming they stand a 50/50 chance if not better. Yes better can be the room they are in has the ideal items to take the attacker down.

    There are a lot of weapons in school that a trained can use. 1 metre long ruler to neck is basically equal to sword particularly if it metal.

    The key part of training is the means to see the weapons around you then be able to exploit them.

    Yes the old highschool prank of bucket above door filed with paint can fairly much ruin a person with gun day.

    I don’t agree with firearms in school mostly because I know of other ways of dealing with the problem. Fogging devices can cover escape and trap attacker.

  11. bw, having trouble reading again, wrote, ” In any case, it is not putting any money into guard(s) in schools or even arming anyone.”

    Here, let me help you:
    “Obama administration taking tip from the NRA
    Sets aside millions for more police officers in schools”

    At 15s it’s a banner beneath the video. Again this is an example why video is not the greatest tool for education. Simple text is. On the TV channel, I recall the amount was $35million, which is ludicrous but it got the government some airtime. My own estimates of the need is of the order of $1 billion. Of course it depends on the price of an officer. With high unemployment perhaps they can do better.

  12. bw says:

    Obama has decided…

    Nothing in that clip about Obama or even armed guards. Quite the opposite if you actually watch it. The Lake Mary PD guy is teaching some sort of judo class for teachers who think that they can maybe gang up on some guy with a gun. Maybe that works, but I have my doubts. In any case, it is not putting any money into guard(s) in schools or even arming anyone.

  13. bw wrote, “Seat belts don’t want wages, though, and armed guards do.”

    I was watching CNN recently and Obama has decided to place armed guards in schools that want them. He’s even up to teaching teachers and students how to deal with bad guys in tight places like the classrooms. Still, you can’t swarm a rifleman across the schoolyard.

  14. bw says:

    They work most of the time. So do armed guards.

    Seat belts don’t want wages, though, and armed guards do. Else maybe you could get all the Linux-using, pistol-packing brethren that you run around with to do it for free. Maybe you could call yourselves the Debian Irregulars and get George Zimmerman to show you how to organize and operate effectively. You might get on CNN.

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