HUGE vehicle-stopping barricades will become a common sight at large events in Newcastle as the threat of terrorists using vehicles as deadly weapons prompts police and the city council to take dramatic steps to keep people safe.
The Newcastle Herald can reveal Newcastle City Council has been working with police to implement measures to combat the threat of “hostile vehicle attacks” at major events.
Central to the counter-terrorism plan is the introduction of two-metre tall, 12-tonne “target hardening” barricades to prevent the kind of “low-tech” assaults that have seen lone wolf extremists use vehicles to commit terrorist attacks in London, Nice and Berlin.
It comes in the wake of the latest terror attack in Barcelona where at least 14 people were killed and more than 100 others injured when a van ploughed into pedestrians on a popular tourist strip.
Since garbage trucks lined the Anzac Day march in April, the council and NSW police have begun insisting on barricades at major events. At last weekend’s Wallsend Winter Fair, which attracted more than 30,000 people, large skip bins buttressed the grand parade down Nelson Street.
Council has ordered 16 new “vehicle entrapment” barricades that Newcastle’s events liaison officer, Drew Ferguson-Tait, said was a “pro-active” step to help police and event organisers.
“If you just use a cement barrier, a one-tonne Hyundai Excel will go straight through it and then the fragments become a weapon, it’s useless, you need to not only stop the vehicle but entrap it,” he told the Newcastle Herald.
The city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations will be among the events affected, with council moving the main gathering areas to another location in Honeysuckle.
Mr Ferguson-Tait said council was also “having internal discussions” about ways to make pedestrian spaces like Hunter Street Mall safer, but the barricades are one part of an increased security presence at the 700-odd events held in Newcastle each year.
This week, officials from council and Newcastle police met with organisers from some of the city’s largest events, including Surfest, to brief them on the need for more road diversions, slow-down points and armed police at events deemed to need counter-terrorism measures.
The standard for whether – and which – measures are needed depend on the size of the event, and if it fits under the category of being “iconic, religious, political, issue motivated, crowded or dignitary”, according to this week’s briefing.
A “crowded” event is anything that attracts more than 1000 people into one area.
Inspector Shane Buggy, from Newcastle police, said that while there were “no current threats for this area”, police were working with event promoters to implement crowd safety measures.
“It can be a difficult task to plan for some events given the geography of where they're held and the way it can change. No two events are alike,” he said.
“At Anzac Day we had heavy vehicles and obstacles in place. Newcastle has a number of festivals and these kinds of events need to be practical. We can never completely eliminate the risk that something like this might happen here, but we can certainly put things in place.”
Terror fears a strain on Hunter events
The safety checklist for holding an event in the Hunter has grown alongside fears of a terror attack, with organisers bracing for the cost of putting up barriers at their festivals, fairs and sporting contests.
Weeks before a van killed and injured scores of people on Barcelona’s crowded Las Ramblas thoroughfare on Thursday afternoon local time, Newcastle police had been issuing “Safe Places” directives for Hunter events that need council permits.
Surfest organisers have met with police at the competition’s Merewether beach site, and have spoken with Newcastle council about the tightened security that will be expected at the 2018 event to ward off vehicle attacks.
“We’re in the process of engaging with [hire and logistic] companies to provide the level of security that council requires as part of its [development application] consent.
We don’t expect that to be an insignificant amount,” Surfest’s communications director Paul Scott said.
“The police don’t just want lumps of cement. You’ve got to think of things like how you’re blocking off streets, and working with the community to allow access.”
Last weekend’s Wallsend Winter Festival wasn’t deemed to need extra security, but many in the crowds on Nelson Street noticed large skip bins blocking the thoroughfare.
“The last thing we want to be doing is putting people off events by scaring them. There was no warning of an attack, but it was a deterrent. We preferred to be proactive,” festival coordinator Rhonda Campbell said.”
“It's a sad day and it’s unfortunate that it has to happen but to be honest, most people probably wouldn’t have even realised.”
Newcastle Beer Fest organiser Luke Tilse said crowd safety and counter-terror measures are already among a litany of responsibilities for Hunter event organisers, who spend countless hours consulting police, managing traffic and applying for council permits.
“We did have to include it this year in our risk management. I’m assuming that there’s only going to be more of it, and it was mentioned to us,” Mr Tilse said.
“It’s just part of the package now. You have to tick that box. It’s almost like you do your event as a side project.”
A NSW Office of Sport spokeswoman for McDonald Jones Stadium, the NSW government-run home of the Newcastle Knights and Jets, said police frequently conducted “security vulnerability assessments” on critical infrastructure, places of mass gathering and transport systems.
The office didn’t answer questions about whether security has been increased at the stadium to protect spectators, such as more barriers, bollards, searches or cameras, or whether such measures will be adopted.
“The NSW government places the utmost priority on the safety of the community and work is continuing between Venues NSW and police to ensure the highest level of security at all major events, including those [at] McDonald Jones Stadium,” the spokeswoman said.