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Ubiquitous Security Barriers Get a Fashionable Flourish

Manufacturers of bollards, the waist-high security posts around buildings and landmarks across Washington, are making it easy to dress them up to match their surroundings. The choices include nautical and federalist styles, copper and granite, even sports themes.
Manufacturers of bollards, the waist-high security posts around buildings and landmarks across Washington, are making it easy to dress them up to match their surroundings. The choices include nautical and federalist styles, copper and granite, even sports themes. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

On Sept. 11, father and son were at a government test facility, rating their parking-lot bollards against crashes and crunches. "At the time, we were making a brochure on aesthetically pleasing bollards for vehicle traffic control, anti-theft, things like that. The moment we heard about the attacks, we decided to put that crash-test picture in the brochure."

Overnight, their orders tripled.

Soon after the surge, Dickinson said, the company and the clients realized that "these bollards are effective, but they're not that pretty." So their next-generation bollards -- at the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California, along Broadway in New York, at the National Archives in Washington -- were designed to accept a decorative sleeve, something custom-made in aluminum or bronze, with fluting, flourishes, even the state seal of California.

Their motto -- "Bollards can be beautiful"-- is a sentiment difficult to swallow for some in Washington.

At their monthly meetings, federal planning and arts commissions are faced again and again with proposals to fortify icons in the nation's capital.

"It's really depressing, the amount of time we're spending on this," said John Parsons of the National Park Service. "What we're doing is . . . to defend against Timothy McVeigh. We're building this defense system because of what he did."

However, most say the proliferation of bollards -- whose name probably derives from the word bole, which means tree trunk -- is preferable to reviled Jersey barriers, fat concrete planters and even trash trucks pulled into the driveway of the White House.

The National Capital Planning Commission has a vision that enlists more creative ways to protect buildings and preserve open spaces. Existing street features -- lampposts, benches, bus shelters and newspaper kiosks -- would be given bollardlike reinforcement.

The marketplace is ahead of those suggestions. At a recent security trade show in New York, city planners from across the country saw the newest anti-terrorism technology.

It's a cellular concrete sidewalk called the Tiger Trap. It supports pedestrians, but collapses under the weight of a large truck, dropping into a deep pit below, the ultimate urban booby trap.


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