Mall robberies showed a sharp spike towards the end of 2014. Hardest hit was the Western Cape. Conclusion: we need to get smarter about many aspects of crime, from predicting to prevention and deterrence. And, not least, stopping the bad guys from making a getaway.
There can’t be a more security-conscious nation than South Africa. A sad fact of life in this country is that dealing with crime is an inevitable – and often burdensome – drain on the household budget. But the focus was taken away from domestic crime towards the end of 2014 by a minor plague of heists at shopping malls and commercial centres. One man believes he has the answer.
Dean Lazarus, above, is the man behind a novel barrier idea developed by his company, Spider Wire. Lazarus, who has a security background in both Australia and South Africa, moved back here around 5 years ago.
He noticed most mall attacks had common features:
● A vehicle would be used to carry out the attack or robbery
● In the case of a robbery, the criminals would escape in one or more vehicles.
“I began a conscious effort to look out for the security measures at shopping centre access and exit points,” Lazarus says. “Without exception, not one shopping centre had any real means of stopping a vehicle travelling at high speed from either entering or exiting the premises.”
What most facilities had was a simple arm barrier. It’s a type of barrier designed not to stop vehicles, but merely to deter someone from not paying for their parking. “During one mall robbery in Centurion, the criminals just drove straight through the arm barrier.”
So what about those fancy spike barriers, then?
“Well, I hate to break this to anyone who has installed them: they are not designed to stop any vehicles. They are merely designed to puncture someone’s tyres.”
On regular tyres, he says, you should be able to drive up to 5 km on deflated tyres that have been punctured by spike barriers. That’s ample time to be able to reach another getaway car.
“If you have run-flat tyres, you will be able to travel in excess of 50 km on your tyres after they have been punctured. In other words, they are just as ineffective as those standard arm barriers.”
He began to research products from all over the world and was drawn to a type of barrier referred to in the security industry as an anti-ram barrier or road-blocker. To give you an idea of just how impressive these barriers are, their testing involves smashing vehicles of different sizes into the barrier at up to 80 km/h. The barriers would stop the vehicle dead in its tracks. Understandably, he got excited.
That was before he found out what building them involved – and what they cost. All of them, he discovered, use either hydraulics, pneumatics or electro-mechanical systems. That means they are complex, expensive to build and expensive to repair.
“The companies I approached had barriers starting from around R600 000 all the way to over R1 million per barrier system.” Of course, these companies could state that they had tested their product under an international standard known as PAS 68. What exactly is PAS 68? In short, it is a test in which a vehicle of a certain size (depending upon which test the company chooses to do) is rammed into a barrier at the aforementioned 80 km/h. If the barrier stops the vehicle, the company gets a certificate and flaunting rights.
There’s one catch: the test costs the equivalent of about half a million rand.
Lazarus hit on the idea of saving costs by using a standard design of a vehicle-mounted winch to pull up the barrier. He commissioned the work to an engineer (now his colleague). The significant advantages of the patented design that emerged are, he says, threefold:
1. No expensive mechanical, pneumatic and electro-mechanical systems
2. Minimal repair costs.
3. Simple installation. The design has its own reinforcing built in. It needs little more than a 360 mm trench, filled with concrete.
How well does it work? In the absence of a budget for a PAS 68 test, they designed their own. Admittedly, it took place at a makeshift test site in Heidelberg, Gauteng. Admittedly, it lacked sophistication. But by all accounts it was a blast.
They hooked up a late 1980s Toyota Cressida to a remote control. Between 1,7 and 2 tons of vintage Toyota, with none of today’s sophisticated crumple zones, it was effectively a piece of solid steel travelling at speed. At 70 km/h, it slammed into the barrier. Says Lazarus: “The results were amazing. The barrier stopped the vehicle dead in its tracks. It was what we in the security industry call ‘zero penetration’.” The engine block was squashed and pushed into the front seats.
Practical implementation of the barrier would make life easier for everybody except the bad guys, he says. Lazarus envisages the control room operator pressing a single button to activate barriers at all exit and entrance points. Nobody could leave or enter. By vehicle, anyway.
Whereas the barrier would normally be flat or closed at shopping malls, security areas such as embassies would use the barrier in the normally Up position, and lower it using access control, he says. With steel in many parts of the barrier up to 30 mm thick, it could also act as an effective shield for security personnel in the event of armed attack.
Lazarus dreams of having his barriers at every shopping centre or high-security facility in the country. “The other advantage to our winch-operated design is that it’s flexible and interfaces easily with other systems.” Best of all, the system they have devised should, he says, cost no more than about R200 000.
● To find out more, visit spiderwire.co.za