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Jacksonville tripling capability to protect large crowds from vehicle threats
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Jacksonville tripling capability to protect large crowds from vehicle threats

Jacksonville tripling capability to protect large crowds from vehicle threats
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville tripling capability to protect large crowds from vehicle threats

Protecting against people who intentionally or accidentally drive in to large crowds, Jacksonville’s Emergency Preparedness Division is the first entity in Florida to use anti-vehicle barriers at large events.

After launching their first set of the barriers last year, they’re now looking to triple their current capabilities.

Emergency Preparedness Division Assistant Chief Todd Smith says they first saw the barriers while at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans. They immediately started researching the system and then asked the State for funds.

“We recognized that we needed to address a gap, and a gap- for us- is any time there’s not the right equipment or the right training to address the issue. And so the issue here was- whether it was intentional or accidental- impacts to public gatherings from vehicles,” Smith says.

The Division got $79,000 in Department of Homeland Security grant funds through the state last year to pilot anti-vehicle barriers, as the first organization in Florida to try them out. Smith says they were deployed about 30 times in the first 100 days alone, and they can cover events like Jags games at TIAA Bank Field, festivals- from Five Points to the Beaches- and the recent NCAA action at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. The Division went back to the State with their early positive results, to ask for more support. Now, $160,000 in grant funding is pending approval by the Jacksonville City Council, which would let the Division triple their existing capabilities.

“Ensure that public gatherings are safer,” says Jacksonville Emergency Preparedness Division Director Steven Woodard.

Bill documents filed with the Council show the barriers are intended to “address the new and emerging threat posed by terrorists using vehicles to conduct attacks”. Woodard points to cases across the US and in other countries where people have intentionally driven in to large crowds, or even accidentally because of impairment or other factors. These barriers are set up at strategic points around large gatherings, in an effort to prevent that from happening.

Smith says this system is relatively new to the US, but has been tested at embassies overseas. The appeal, he says, is that while each barrier weighs around 750 pounds, they can be set up and moved by just one person.


They come in a motorized trailer that facilitates loading and unloading, and then a specialized tool helps move the barrier itself. 19 people at the Emergency Preparedness Division have gone through the training needed to safely set up the barriers, meaning they have a lot of flexibility in using the system.

“Can be placed in advance, but is rapidly deployable and easily movable, so it doesn’t impeded emergency traffic,” Smith says.

The barriers are designed to be non-lethal- if a vehicle makes impact, one side of the barrier digs in and the other lifts up, essentially raising the front of the car and stopping it. The barrier is intended to work on any terrain, and Smith says it is durable enough to immediately be put back in to use, even if it is hit by a vehicle. While they’re intended for use at pre-planned events, Smith says the flexibility of the system allows them to quickly deploy if they believe an incident has surfaced where the barriers would be useful, or move the barriers if the size, scale, and location of an event changes.

The grant funding entirely covers the cost of the barriers and trailers with no City funding match, and the barriers themselves have a lifetime guarantee. The City will have to cover the cost of any future maintenance needs of the trailer. While the Division was the first in Florida to use these, Smith says many other entities- from the Port of Tampa to Disney- are now exploring them.

And Jacksonville could look to further expand as well, as the community grows.

“Certainly, to protect large areas, you would need more of these. We’re really focusing on places where crowds are concentrated, and making sure the public is safe,” Woodard says.

Woodard says this is just one of many elements they deploy, and they’re constantly working with JSO, JFRD, facility management partners, and others to ensure you’re safe at these big events. He says they have not had any incidents requiring protection from the barriers, but it’s a good tool and service he’s happy they can provide.


Stephanie Brown
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Anti-vehicle barriers

Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

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