Friday, May 25, 2007

Building a terror-resistant city

If you could start from scratch, how would you construct a city that minimizes the destruction and chaos terrorism could cause there?

The terror-resistant city would also have to be as pleasant to live in as a normal city. No hiding people in underground concrete bunkers.

First, lets split terrorist attacks into two categories:

1. Attacks that interrupt vital services (electricity, water) to a large number of people.
2. Attacks that cause large number of casualties.

Looking at the first kind of attacks, the Internet is a good model to follow, I think. The Internet was initially designed as a communications system that would still function after sustaining several nuclear attacks. The Internet has no central core, just a series of inter-connected nodes that each have many connections to other nodes. A node may be destroyed, but the rest of the grid still functions fine.

Cell phones and satellite TV are good examples of services that follow this model already. Terrorists have no way of blocking large numbers of people from receiving them due to their design.

How could you deliver the two most vital services a populace needs, power and water, in a way that resembles the Internet or cell phone service?

Power distribution seems to be the easiest to tackle: a combination of solar power panels on individual building and small, neighborhood generators linked together in an Internet-like grid. It would be tough for a terrorist attack to deny large numbers of people electricity were it to be distributed in this manner.

Water is a tougher problem, but a similar design would still work. Drill as many individual wells as possible coupled with a large scale water distribution system again modeled after the Internet. Also, each home could have a large water storage tank that held at least a weeks worth of water in case of an outage.

Turning to the second kind of attack, the ones that kill large numbers of people, a few things are obvious from the start:

Cars and trucks need to be completely separated from the city's population, period.

This suggests what the city's layout should look like: a long thin rectangle with the center devoid of cars and trucks, or perhaps a circular deign with a ring road. Anyone who needed their car would still have it close by, but outside the city. Delivery trucks could still get close to where they need to get to, just not inside the city.

Large numbers of people need to be discouraged from gathering, period.

Small, neighborhood shops, restaurants, theaters, work places, etc. vs. large ones. Not really a problem, most big cities already have these. Nothing like being able to shop, dine out and take in a movie without once having to get into your car.

Schools and factories present a problem. Schools could be kept small or schooling could even be provided via teleconferencing. Any factory that required large numbers of people would have to be located outside the city. No huge office towers, office parks only.

The idea is to come up with a terror-resistant city design, not a terror-proof one.

It would be interesting to see what an architect's contest sponsored and advised by the military could come up with.

I bet some of the ideas they came up with would be worth applying to Baghdad and other cities at risk.


Blogger OmegaPaladin said...

The issue with utilities is that they are definite cases of the economy of scale. Centralized distribution could work, as long as the generation points are adequately protected. The current system of security at nuclear plants is likely better than the security at some military installations. They are the definition of terror resistant. Water facilities are developing similar protections.

1:01 PM  
Blogger alphie said...

Trying to defend a city is quite costly, too, omega.

America is currently spending over $4000 per Iraqi civilian per year and it still can't keep Iraq's water and electricity flowing.

And utility disruptions there likely add to the insurgency, or at least the perceived weakness of the government we're backing.

12:46 AM  
Blogger OmegaPaladin said...

Well, I gather Iraqi infrastructure is pretty bad to begin with. The solar cells are not likely to provide nearly enough power and are outrageously expensive. Diesel generators require fuel, which must be transported. Fuel distribution sites have become targets in the past.

What I was referring to are hardened utility conduits to multiple redundant distribution facilities. Each neighborhood has its own distribution facility, whose security is their responsibility.

7:32 PM  

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