Monday, December 29, 2008

Islamabad's Marriott Hotel is Open for Business Again

The hotel's owner vowed that he would reopen in time for New Year's, and so he has, just three months after the suicide bombing that killed 60 people and nearly destroyed the building.

Strangely, there was no coverage of the reopening in most of the mass media I checked this morning. Not even CNN or the BBC covered it. At least France 24 ran an Agence France-Presse story: Islamabad's 'fortress' Marriott reopens after suicide bombing.

The AFP story highlighted the new physical security measures that will prevent a repeat truck-bomb attack.

The hotel's new bombproof wall -- which is 14 feet (3.5-metre) high and 15 feet thick -- is capable of absorbing the shock of even a massive explosion like the one in September, said Hashoo chief operating officer Peter Alex.

Visitors will have to pass through a bombproof room within the wall in order to gain access to the hotel, which will feature sophisticated scanning equipment, he said.

There will however be no parking at the hotel. Even vehicles ferrying VIPs to the Marriott will have to deposit guests at the front gate and drive on.

The story included the picture above, which shows part of the new perimeter wall. What we see there is a pyramidal stack of earth-filled barriers (probably Hesco Concertainers, a modern version of the ancient Gabion field fortification) placed along the line of the hotel's front perimeter. Unseen in the photo is the new entry control point where visitors and their luggage will be screened before they proceed to the hotel. Together, the perimeter wall and the entry controls ensure the hotel will have the maximum available setback distance from the presumed points of detonation of any future truck-bombs, and setback is the best protection a building can have against bomb blast.

I expect that the Concertainers are a temporary arrangement, since their polypropylene walls degrade after a couple of years outdoors. There are many ways to build permanent anti-ram walls that are equally effective but far more aesthetic. And, despite the statement by Hashoo's COO about a "bombproof wall ... capable of absorbing the shock of even a massive explosion" there really is no protective benefit to that wall other than keeping uninspected vehicles out. The idea that a humongous big perimeter wall will protect buildings in its 'shadow' from bomb blast is a fallacy.

PS - The blast wall fallacy is so widely believed, even by consultants and contractors who are paid enough that they should know better, that I feel compelled to cite a reference work to prove my point. The U.S. Defense Department's guide to mitigating vehicle bombs makes it quite clear that an effective blast wall must be wider and taller than the building it protects, and must not be more than one story height away from the face of the building. A wall at the perimeter of a compound, no matter how massive it may be, does nothing to protect conventionally constructed buildings that are some distance away from the wall.

If you read page 42 of the linked reference you will have a better understanding of blast walls and their limitations than a certain mid six-figure security consultant I could name, as well as hundreds of less expensive but equally misinformed experts.

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