Building With Terrorism in Mind

Buildings and public spaces were the focus of recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. This op-ed wonders how the building and design professions should respond.
December 8, 2008, 10am PST | Nate Berg
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"The buildings and public spaces selected for attacks included lobbies, atriums, and open areas that facilitated killing large numbers of Westerners and local citizens, using guns for point-blank assassinations. Venues on the hit list included two luxury hotels, a train station, a hospital, an outdoor café frequented by Westerners, and a Jewish community center. The attackers specifically sought out those who held American and British passports. The siege continued for several days, until Indian security forces gained control of the situation."

"Like the events of 9/11 at New York's World Trade Center, the Mumbai attacks have raised awareness among building owners, hotel facility managers, and design professionals worldwide about how vulnerable their facilities may be in the event of a terrorist attack – and not just from IEDs. At the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal, where most of the violence occurred, high, central atriums – architecturally desirable elements because they typically allow natural light and views in a space – proved to be a major vulnerability. Media reports indicate that the terrorists entered the hotels, threw grenades and directed automatic weapon fire at guests and staff on the ground-floor lobbies and restaurants, and then ascended the atriums. From these vantage points, they shot at guests and commandos below, and lobbed more grenades."

"At the 105-year old Taj, the attackers knew the building layout, kept moving, and didn't linger in small areas with one exit where they could be cornered. Most modern fire codes call for two means of egress from occupied public spaces. To make matters worse, commandos and local police didn't have updated as-built drawings of the hotel, which would have indicated walls, corridors, and recent construction."

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Published on Friday, December 5, 2008 in Buildings
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