Whenever there is an attack on a school or college campus most people tend to focus on the tool used by the attacker. So far we’ve been fortunate that a majority of these attackers have preferred firearms to explosives, which have the potential to cause far more damage and are only addressed in a limited capacity by current security measures. Unfortunately, yesterday an attacker decided to utilize an automobile and knife to attack the Ohio State University:
Police are investigating whether an attack at Ohio State University which left 11 injured was an act of terror.
Abdul Razak Ali Artan, 18, rammed his car into a group of pedestrians at the college and then began stabbing people before police shot him dead on Monday.
This is the second major incident where a knife was one of the weapons used by the attacker. A few months ago a guy went on a rampage with a knife in St. Cloud (and the police were good enough to lockdown the mall so people were trapped inside with the attacker). But this is the first time, at least in recent history, that this type of attack was perpetrated in part with one of the most dangerous commonly available weapons, an automobile.
The amount of energy something has is based on its mass and velocity. A 230 grain .45 bullet traveling at 900 feet per second will give you 414 foot pounds of energy. A 124 grain 9mm bullet traveling at 1,200 feet per second will give you 384 foot pounds of energy. A 1.5 ton vehicle moving at 30 miles per hour will give you 90,259 foot pounds of energy. As you can see, a vehicle can deliver a tremendous amount of energy and therefore can deliver a tremendous amount of damage. On top of that a vehicle provides the driver with some amount of protection against police weapons (in part because it’s capable of moving fast, in part because part of the driver is concealed, and in part because the engine block can protect the driver from a lot of types of commonly used ammunition). And then there’s the fact that an automobile contains combustable fuel.
So far people have been fortune that most of these attackers have opted for firearms on foot rather than using a vehicle. Even in this case the amount of damage the attacker could have caused was reduced because he opted to exit the vehicle and continue is rampage on foot with a knife.
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear as though the attacker had much success. He did manage to injure 11 people but so far it appears that he didn’t kill anybody. However, if the next attacker decides to study previous attacks to learn from them they could leave a bodycount in their wake. So the big question is, what can be done?
Of course colleges can try to hinder automobiles from entering the campus by erecting concrete pillars akin to those in front of many stores. But maintenance and delivery people often need to get vehicles on campus so some means of access has to remain. And blocking vehicle traffic will only cause an attacker to seek another tool. The only real defense against these kinds of attacks is a decentralized response system. One of the biggest weaknesses that allows these attacks to meet a high degree of success is the highly centralized security measures currently in place. When one of these attacks starts an alert is sent to the police. The police then need to get to the location of the attack, find the attacker, and engage them. This usually means that the attacker has several minutes of free reign. The faster the attacker can be engaged the less time they have to perpetuate their indiscriminate attack. Any further centralized security measures will meet with limited success. At most they will force an attacker to change their strategy to something not addressed by the centralized system.
Obviously legalizing the carrying of firearms on campus is a good start. Permit holders add a great deal of uncertainty for attackers because anybody could potentially engage them. Since permit holders don’t wear obvious uniforms an attacker also can’t know which individuals to take out first (and by surprise so the unformed security person doesn’t have a chance to respond). Another thing that can be done to make these attacks more difficult is getting rid of the shelter in place concept. Sheltering in place can be an effective defensive strategy if the people sheltering have a means of defending themselves. If they don’t then they’re basically fish in a barrel if the attacker finds them and gains entry to their shelter (although in the case of a vehicle sheltering in place can be effective, especially in a relatively hardened building like those on many college campuses).