Thursday, September 18, 2014

What Jane Austen Can Teach Us About Designing Fortress Embassies

Visit OBO here

The good people of OBO have released the minutes of OBO's Industry Day 2014, which I have been happily browsing all day. It's chock-full of great discussion between OBO officials and the architects, engineers, and assorted others in the construction field who are working on, or want to work on, all those Fortress Embassies functional, secure, and sustainable works of art that are OBO's chief product.

I particularly enjoyed the back-and-forth between OBO Director Lydia Muniz and one of the industry attendees on the neuroscience of landscape perspective. It turns out that Prospect-Refuge theory is an established category of analysis in the design field, and it holds that people like landscapes that let them see out (so as to scope out the terrain for threats) while not being seen (refuge).

Anyway, Ms. Muniz scoffed when her interlocutor insisted that there is neuroscience on this subject which proves men and women react to the same landscape differently, with the men responding more to the prospect part and the women more to the refuge part. That is treading dangerously close to political incorrectness.

Well, I don't know about neuroscience, but I do know that literary critics have studied prospect and refuge in the novels of Jane Austen, which makes them both sound plenty female to me.

Of course, the Industry Day discussion frequently touched on the impositions of security standards on the work of embassy designers. I was pleased to see that Director Muniz made no apologies for that. Good for her.

But, I notice how quickly the word "but" got inserted right after anyone at Industry Day made a ringing declaration about the utmost importance of security. See page 14 of the minutes for this one:
“We have high performance standards. Security is of the utmost importance to us, but … “
And page 42 for another one:
“And I know, again, the security question is of the utmost importance, but … “ 
But really, it's okay. I fully understand. I'm just kidding you, OBO, you know that. I kid. I kid because I love.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Select Benghazi Committee Holds First Hearing September 17

And awaaaaaay we go!

Summer is over, Congress is back in session, and tomorrow the new House Select Committee on Benghazi will pick up where we left off a couple months ago when it holds its first hearing. The hearing's topic is how the State Department has implemented the recommendations of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, which seems like an easy one, a little warm-up before the really contentious stuff begins later on.

You can read the ARB report here, and view some additional documents here.

Tomorrow's witness panel will consist of Gregory Starr, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and two members of the The Independent Panel on Best Practices, an outside panel of experts which critiqued Diplomatic Security operations in response to one of the ARB recommendations.

You can read the independent panel's report here.

The hearing will be on Wednesday, September 17, at 10:00am. You'll be able to view it live at the Committee's website. It will be Safe For Work, I think, although that might depend on where you work.

The Democratic side of the Select Committee has already put up a prebuttal website - Benghazi on the Record: Asked and Answered - to get its spin in place. It has a good collection of links to previous reports and public statements.

It's anybody's guess whether or not the Committee will resist the lure of this week's allegations of 'document scrubbing' by Hillary cronies and stick to its announced topic.

Monday, September 8, 2014

When You Can Match That, I'll Be Impresssed

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, one of his father's 37 sons

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kicking' Down the Door

If you've ever wanted to know how to kick down a door, check out this good advice from The Art of Manliness:
Check to see which way the door opens by checking the hinges. If the door opens towards you, kicking it down is going to be next to impossible. Kicking a door down is best employed on a door that swings away from you.

Kick to the side of where the lock is mounted (near the keyhole). This is typically the weakest part of the door.

Using a front kick, drive the heel of your foot into the door. Give the kick forward momentum and keep your balance by driving the heel of your standing foot into the ground. Don’t kick the lock itself; this could break your foot.

The wood should begin to splinter. Today most doors are made of soft wood and are hollow. They should give way fairly easily, especially since the lock’s deadlock bolt extends only an inch or less into the door frame. Older, completely solid doors will prove more resistant. Just keep on kicking until the door gives way and you can save the day.

That is all good advice, provided we're talking about ordinary doors. But what about the doors on Fortress Embassies? Will those cave in after one or two manly kicks?

No, they won't. In fact, they are tested to ensure they will stay up under prolonged attack. Take a look at these videos.

And not only the doors. The windows hold up just as well.

Referring back to The Art of Manliness, as it rightly notes ... If the door opens towards you, kicking it down is going to be next to impossible. All those Fortress Embassy doors open toward the outside, away from the protected side of the door. That's, like, Fortress Design 101.

Note also ... The wood should begin to splinter. Today most doors are made of soft wood and are hollow. Fortress Embassy doors are made of steel, not wood. Hundreds of pounds of steel.

Forced-entry tools, manly ones (photo from Oregon Ballistics Lab)

All of which brings me to this press release from the good people at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations about new contract awards to companies that will install those doors and windows. 

Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces Final Selections for Forced-Entry/Ballistic-Resistant Contract:

The Department of State has awarded three Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Worldwide Design-Build Forced-Entry/Ballistic-Resistant (FE/BR) contracts in support of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).

The solicitation was set aside to 8(a) Small Business Concerns to support the Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a) Business Development Program and help the Department meet its small business goals.

Awards were made to the following 8(a) certified companies:

  • Edifice, LLC
  • Hardline–Nati Construction, LLC Joint Venture
  • Trison–Desbuild Joint Venture

  • The scope of these contracts includes installation, repair and replacement of FE/BR products, including doors, windows, opaque panels, glazing panels, and vault doors.

    The government anticipates additional Worldwide Design-Build FE/BR contract awards to be issued under a separate solicitation, set aside to Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUB Zone) small business concerns.

    The duration of each contract is one base year, with four option years. The overall ceiling amount for each contract is $50 million.

    The bottom line is that these Forced-Entry/Ballistic Resistant products really work. All the designing, the testing, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on installing them have paid off in lives that were not lost during mob and terrorist attacks. In Jeddah, Damascus, Sanaa, Tunis, Khartoum, and elsewhere, attackers have spent hours trying but failing to get past those secure door and windows and inside our embassy office buildings.

    Failed forced-entry attack in Jeddah (photo from

    So those OBO contracts include the "repair and replacement" of FE/BR products? Given the steady pace at which mobs keep attacking our embassies, the repair and replacement business ought to be steady work.

    These guys might not be the brightest of attackers, but they sure do try hard.

    Go ahead, keep on hitting those windows until you wear yourself out. We'll just replace them.

    Sunday, August 31, 2014

    Pool Party At Our Place!

    Finally, a Libyan militia that knows what it's doing! That looks like the most fun you can have without beer. Or female guests.