A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Threat of vehicle-ramming attacks could take place anywhere — always be alert

In the America’s heartland, many of us live out our everyday lives without the worry of terrorist striking close to our towns and cities, simply believing that the threat of terrorism will not visit their own home town or city. Since 911 our government has successfully thwarted similar attacks on a grand scale, but they have been unsuccessful at stopping them entirely, as terrorists today have changed their strategy and are now striking softer targets which could occur right here in the state of Kentucky.

A very alarming threat and growing new trend is the increase in vehicle ramming attacks on innocent people going about their day. Terrorists overseas have suggested conducting vehicle ramming attacks— using modified or unmodified vehicles — against crowds, buildings, and other vehicles.

This seemingly new and destructive form of terrorist attack is fast becoming one that security experts fear the most, because it can cause untold carnage and seemingly can come out of nowhere.

Creating a barrier

While Homeland security has sophisticated systems in place to alert them to those acquiring weapons or explosives, getting your hands on a vehicle is very easy. These low-tech vehicle attacks can be carried out by lone wolf terrorists who are inspired by an ideology but are not actually working within a specific political movement or group making them harder to detect. Vehicle ramming attacks offer terrorists who have limited access to explosives or weapons an opportunity to conduct an attack with minimal prior training or experience with little to no warning.

Such attacks could be used to target locations where large numbers of people congregate, including sporting events, entertainment venues, festivals, parades, fireworks displays, public school functions, universities or shopping centers. In essence, any such event that attracts a high number of people in a confining space could be a target.

One of the very first deadly vehicle ramming terrorist attacks in our history was the attack in Beirut barracks bombing on October 23, 1983 when two trucks bombs struck separate buildings killing 241 U.S. and 58 French peacekeepers, six civilians.

Such events have remained rare until Israel started to experience such attacks in growing numbers over the past decade. Then here recently such attacks have started to increase worldwide in the last year, where the body counts have been rather significant.

On December 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany, a truck was deliberately driven into the Christmas market. The attack left 12 people dead and 56 others injured. One of the victims was the truck’s original driver, who was found shot dead in the passenger seat. The perpetrator was a Tunisian asylum and was killed four days after the attack in a shootout with police near Milan, Italy.

On November 28, 2016 at Ohio State University, a car ramming attack and mass stabbing occurred at 9:52  a.m. EST in Columbus, OH. The attacker, a Somali refugee, was shot and killed by the first responding OSU police officer, and 13 people were hospitalized for injuries. The next day law enforcement officials stated that the attacker was inspired by terrorist propaganda from the ISIS.

On the evening of July 14, 2016 in Nice France, a 19-ton cargo truck was deliberately driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day resulting in the deaths of 86 people and injuring another 434.

Attacks like those in Berlin or Nice are easy to replicate and difficult to prevent, that is the simple fact. Sensitive facilities, such as airports and transportation hubs, government and military buildings already have the proper security crash and attack-resistant bollards in place to prevent such attacks. Many of these anti ramming barriers are disguised as flower boxes, benches, street lights, garbage bins, etc.

What is concerning to me as a risk management and safety profession aren’t the large venues in larger cities, but instead the smaller venues in small towns and cities.

Sizeable crowds show up to weekly summer music concerts, marathons, festivals, parades …etc., producing crowds where several hundred to several thousands in attendance. Many of these events will have street vendors, alcohol and food concessions; with entire families, strollers, pets standing in the middle of a street distracted by the events of venue, like bowling pins in a bowling alley.

These events usually occur on closed-off streets in the heart of that community, obstructed only with safety cones — without any anti-ramming security barriers in place to protect the public from a vehicle ramming attack.

With enough planning and time major larger cities have caught on and are now employing temporary concrete barriers to block streets off. Some cities will also strategically place dump trucks filled with sand to help thwart ramming attacks. Just recently in New York City used more than 80 sanitation trucks along the 2 ½ mile route for the Macy Day Parade this past Thanksgiving as protection.

Unfortunately every defense has its flaws and consequently security experts has been tossing around the deployment of a technology already developed called “directed EMP devices” as a countermeasure to stop car ramming attacks once they have begun.

If deployed these electromagnetic pulse devises could be used by local police to disable a vehicle by simply pointing the device at the moving vehicle, boat, or construction equipment involved in the attack, by emitting radio frequency pulses that overload the sensors in a vehicle’s electronic controls. For as long as it emits the pulses, the engine cannot be restarted. If vehicle-based ramming attacks trends continue to increase, I would expect that local law enforcement agencies will start deploying these as a countermeasure.

The reality is that you can’t protect every event from an attack like this and it is impossible to reduce the risk to zero. Crowds of people are abundant in just about every American town or city and law enforcement must be prepared to protect them from an evolving playbook of terrorist tactics.

Law enforcement agencies as well as the general public should be zealously aware of suspicious activity that could be indicative that a vehicle ramming attack is being plotted. 

Here are some countermeasures to consider.

Commercial driving schools and rental facilities of commercial vehiclesand& construction heavy equipment should be educated on what to look for, such as nervousness during the purchase, paying in cash, or lack of familiarity with the vehicle’s operations.

The theft of commercial vehicles and construction equipment prior to special events should be closely scrutinized by business owners and law enforcement.

Improved accountability of unattended large commercial and construction vehicles are often parked for long periods of time.

Signs of unusual modifications to commercial motor vehicles, heavy equipment, passenger cars, and sports utility vehicles (SUVs), such as homemade attempts to reinforce the front of the vehicle with metal plates should be reported.

Commercial motor vehicles or heavy equipment being operated erratically, at unusual times, or in unusual locations, particularly in heavy pedestrian areas should be reported immediately.

A vehicle operator’s apparent unfamiliarity with commercial motor vehicle or heavy equipment operation (unable to back up; trouble with shifting; poor lane tracking; unfamiliarity with basic vehicle mechanics such as air brake operations, slack adjusters, fifth wheel operations, Jake brakes, engine type, or location of fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment) should be reported.

Truck drivers and truck stop operators/employees should report shady and unusual people or vehicles loitering around a truck stop for no apparent reason.

Everybody will need to be vigilant as it will take the help of the entire community to prevent such attacks.

In the interim regardless of size of the community, event planners, mayors, county government officials and/or police chiefs must begin to consider the use of temporary barriers, sanitation trucks or dump trucks to adequately barracked. Consideration should be given to physically obstructing roadways leading into special events that involve dense pedestrian traffic in every community within our great state.

Remember — if you are alert today, you will be alive tomorrow!

Be Safe My Friend.


Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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One Comment

  1. Rob Reiter says:

    Thanks Keven — another great article from you on an important topic!

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