DSS Physical Security R&D: A Tradition of Protection and Innovation
By Angela French, DSS Public Affairs
In October 1983, two suicide bombers crashed trucks through the gates outside the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. service personnel. In response to this attack, the Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security recommended the creation of a new bureau to consolidate a number of security offices and functions that were then scattered throughout various offices of the Department and other foreign affairs agencies. The panel advised that the “principal element” of the new Bureau of Diplomatic Security be the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and that DSS, among many other things, “complete the revision of physical security standards to include state-of-the-art physical security concepts.”
Today the DSS Physical Security Research and Development (R&D) program remains dedicated to developing security solutions that are both crucial and innovative. From “climb resistant paint” to testing the anti-ram capabilities of natural landscape barriers, the R&D staff is funding and researching cutting-edge technology to keep Department of State and diplomatic personnel safe.
The program’s team collaborates with federal, international, and academic partners to generate and test various physical security solutions and ideas. If a concept proves to be more effective or increase efficiency, the R&D program staff works with the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) and other Department of State offices to integrate those solutions into building and infrastructure design.
According to Research and Development Chief Doug Briller, DSS and OBO collaboration on building construction ensures the Department of State remains a leader in constructing outstanding buildings while still meeting our lawfully mandated requirements for safe and secure facilities.
“By regularly collaborating with OBO and other DSS offices,” said Briller, “we can ensure the applicability and integrity of new technologies that are being introduced to support and secure our diplomatic facilities around the world.”
Briller said the DSS R&D program is best known for its blast-mitigation testing and evaluation. In collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the team developed Hardened Alternative Trailer Systems (HATS), which protect personnel and assets from blasts, fragmentation, ballistics, and other high-impact assaults. The team continues to expand HATS offerings to include multiple workspace sizes and configurations.
The team often collaborates with federal partners and universities that have established transportation safety programs such as Texas A&M University, Pennsylvania State University and George Mason University (GMU), and advanced research programs like the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. For instance, the R&D team works with Texas A&M University and GMU on vehicle-barrier testing and armored-vehicle stability research through U.S. Department of Transportation’s existing contracts.
“Many of our international partners face similar physical security challenges, in both domestic and international arenas, and learning from each other’s successes and failures better informs us all,” said Briller.
The R&D program also serves on the American Standards for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Committee on Security Systems and Equipment, which seeks to define and establish a common testing platform and practice for anti-ram testing. According to Briller, Department of State approval is the gold standard for this type of testing.
“Through the ASTM committee, DSS is able to leverage its experience by helping define a testing and certification process for other government agencies and the private sector to use. This ensures that tests meet the department’s high standards without it needing to be involved in each and every test,” said Briller.
As global threats expand and evolve, DSS’ presence will increase around the world. Fortunately, DSS’ physical security R&D team will continue its innovative and life-saving work to protect Department of State personnel, facilities, and information domestically and abroad.
COLLABORATION WITH JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
The Physical Security R&D Program is exploring a number of innovative physical security solutions in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) One of these projects includes developing climb-resistant paint. Like something out of a comic book, intruders attempting to climb walls would be thwarted as the paint exuded an oily substance or flaked off, prohibiting them from establishing a firm grip.
The JHU/APL is also researching advanced lightweight composite armor for vehicles, which may significantly reduce the overall weight of the vehicles. This would enable them to last longer and improve vehicle handling and maneuvering. Additionally, the laboratory is conducting research on the use of structural silicone for blast resistant construction. Structural silicone is the “glue” used to attach glass to a window frame in armored vehicles and modern glass-fronted building construction and according to Briller, using these glass fronted “curtain walls” is a more efficient and architecturally pleasing method of construction.