How to protect Times Square -- and other highly traveled areas

Published 11 May 2010

New Yorkers were lucky that a T-shirt vendor notices the suspicious SUV left by Faisal Shazad in Times Square, but there are ways to improve on luck in trying to secure highly traveled areas; more coordinated CCTV system, blast-mitigation, and more call boxes are a few of the measures

Foot traffic in Times Square // Source:

When Faisal Shahzad drove his Nissan Pathfinder into Times Square on Saturday, he was likely aiming for a place dense with tourists, theatergoers, sidewalk hucksters – what experts call a target rich environment. Thanks to a combination of Shahzad’s ineptitude and a quick-witted T-shirt vendor, NYPD’s crack bomb squad disabled the Rube Goldberg contraption before it could detonate.

Fast Company’s Linda Tischler writes that we got lucky, but apart from surrounding the theater district with surveillance cameras — which may have helped crack the case but did little to prevent evildoers from trying to perpetrate their crimes — what could have been done to make the area safer to begin with? Is it possible to design for security in heavily trafficked intersections like Times Square?

Don Aviv, chief operating officer of the security firm Interfor and managing director of the firm’s physical security group, thinks so. His job is to advise companies on how to design buildings that can withstand security assaults, whether they be trucks loaded with explosives, gas attacks through ventilating systems, or spies with telescopes in the building across the street.

Designing a secure building has historically meant designing building something that looked like a bunker. “Security has always been at odds with architecture,” he concedes. “Most security firms would love to say ‘Put a big wall around it.’” On the other hand, he says, “When architecture firms drive the bus, security is often left in the dust.” The trick is finding a happy medium where security pros and architecture meet eye to eye, Aviv says.

Recent advances have made designing for security both more sophisticated and more attractive. “Technology has reached a place where you can use the environment and strategically placed cameras to mitigate the vulnerabilities,” he says. “In midtown Manhattan, however, threats are dramatically different.” You still can not secure a building against an attack by a suicide bomber wielding a plane, but it’s possible to make buildings safer from attack on the ground.

Tischler lists seven things Aviv would suggest for making the area even safer.

1. Create a flow of traffic that mitigates the use of large vehicles. Aviv commends the city for its recent redesign of the area to be more pedestrian-friendly — and harder for traffic. Besides cutting down on pedestrian accidents, it may well have been a surreptitious act by the city to make the area more secure through environmental design.

2. Check parked vehicles with