Protecting public spaces: a conversation with the Brussels Region and The Hague

Brussels Prevention and Security of the Brussels Capital Region and the City of The Hague are both partners in Secu4All, a project led by Efus that started a few months ago, in December 2020. We’ve asked them what they expect to draw from it.

What are the main challenges in protecting your city’s public spaces, and how can Secu4All contribute to addressing them?

Paul Verhoeff, Events Coordinator, City of The Hague (NL): Our main challenge is the integration of different user functions in a densely populated and frequented area in the centre of the city. This area surrounding what we call The Hague’s ‘democratic heart’, where Parliament is situated, is a leisure hotspot with restaurants, bars, markets and private businesses. It is also a public transport hub. As such, there are interests that might conflict in case of terrorist threat. Whilst the area must be accessible on account of the public functions, the presence of the Parliament requires limiting access to a certain degree.
Secu4All could offer a fresh view on this possible conflict of interest and bring into the equation new ways to secure the area and provide balance between accessibility and security. Technological advances are of great interest to our municipality: the combination of old school physical barriers and modern security technologies can provide a solid solution for this area.

What is your approach to public space security?

Hans Crab, Head of Unit – Partnerships and Projects at Brussels Prevention and Security of the Brussels Capital Region (BE): Since 2019, we’ve had a two-level, integrated working group for security in public spaces. Coordinated by Brussels Prevention & Security, it includes and for urban planning, as well as Brussels Mobility as permanent members. On the operational level, these members have scheduled meetings four times a year. Additional members and meetings are added on an issue-specific, ad-hoc basis if needed.
This operational group also meets twice a year for more long-term planning, budgeting, and workload assignments. Generally, the group identifies best practices and involves as many relevant stakeholders as possible to implement them. Early results have been very positive, including the production of a Security by Design manual to prevent terror attacks in public spaces, which we are currently supplementing with a second volume forthcoming in 2022.
This collaborative work enables us to integrate architects and designers into the security process rather than only urban planners and political decision-makers as is usually done.

The Hague: Our approach is based on a strong network of partners and continuous dialogue among the major stakeholders. This is a strong point that enables the City Council to be constantly informed and to act quickly when a threat is detected.
Since it is difficult to limit access to the central area of the city, our approach lies in the presence of military police as well as CCTV. It is crucial that we be able to early detect any terrorist threat, which again is challenging given the open nature of the concerned area. We are thus interested in learning from other cities participating in Secu4All that might face similar challenges.

Why do you think it is important to strengthen the competences of local authorities regarding the security of public spaces?

The Hague: Risk assessment and urban security are in a continuous flow. As the risk level for specific threats moves up and down the scale, it remains crucial to keep informed on any new development concerning the security of public spaces. As such, strengthening the knowledge base of local authorities is essential so they can implement efficient security strategies for densely populated and frequented public areas.

Brussels: We believe a greater share of security should be devolved to the local and regional levels because that is where urban planning and design processes happen. Local authorities have the most detailed knowledge and can provide the most accurate assessments of the situation on the ground, and we need to utilize that knowledge. They are already maintaining roads, parks, and public spaces as part of their daily work, while the design and planning of security remain the competence of the government and ‘trickle down’ to the local level. Moreover, we have numerous excellent partners on the national level with whom we cooperate closely, frequently and productively.

What aspects of Secu4all could bring added value to your existing activities in the field of security & public spaces?

Brussels: A fresh point of view on our approach will give us important data in order to validate or adjust our current strategy. The added value lies in the knowledge that the project partners bring to the table and the opportunity for us to do the same. Sharing best practices is invaluable in any research field.

What do you expect from your participation in Secu4All?

Brussels: We have established a primary approach for our city and region, but we want to enhance, compare, and complete it with the European expertise we can tap into through Secu4All. There is no need to reinvent the wheel at the local level when there is already a wealth of knowledge available. We are looking forward to sharing our ideas and innovations with the project partners. Just as we hope to help other communities, we hope to spark constructive criticism and engage in a dialogue that will help us refine our concepts. Efus and the Secu4All project partners have considerable expertise and we are excited to discover where this process will lead us.

> More information on the Secu4All project