London Preps for Marathon With Bomb-Proof Recycling Pods

London is vigilant for Margaret Thatcher's funeral and London Marathon.

April 16, 2013 — -- London, which is on alert as it prepares for Margaret Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday and the London Marathon on Sunday, long ago took steps that many U.S. cities and large corporations with huge campuses may be thinking about now.

Packages or bags placed on the ground or in trash bins are a major vulnerability.

London rid itself of trash bins decades ago as a security risk amid strife with Northern Ireland. The city is accustomed to extensive public safety planning and precautions surrounding major public events, such as the London Summer Olympics.

Read more: Vulnerable Points Along Marathon Route Highlight Security Challenges

Boston police say there is no evidence the devices at the marathon blew up in trash cans, though they might have been placed in a nylon bag and set on the ground.

Kaveh Memari, CEO of Renew, said a "blast mitigating" recycling "pod" his company developed can prevent some damage if a device was placed in one of these bins.

"It's exactly this kind of thing that this thing was designed to handle," Memari said of the unit, which is almost 5-feet tall.

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"We don't use the word bin at all as most times people would not envision a Renew Pod," Memari said. "It's like referring to an email as a message, an armoured transport a wagon, or a smartphone a telephone to someone who has never written an email, been in a tank nor used a mobile."

Renew is providing about 100 "bomb-proof" recycling pods in London that show advertisements and public service announcements.

"Renew is not just a hardened shell," said Memari. He said its built-in messaging system also fills the "informational black hole" that follows for people in the surrounding area, like that which followed the London bombings on July 7, 2005.

The company conducted blast testing at New Mexico Tech's Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, which provides training approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

Stephen Vickers, account executive with Renew in London, explained that free newspapers and other material piled up in the streets after trash bins were eliminated.

As part of Renew's 21-year contract with the city, last year it began placing the pods in London's City Square Mile.

The company already placed one pod near the New York Stock Exchange in the spring of 2012 and hopes to have additional units in the city later this year. It also has four pods in Singapore.

For the upcoming London Marathon, the pods will provide information on road and subway closures, as well as advice on being safe and vigilant.

"Road closures will be in effect from 07:00 in the City on Wednesday as part of arrangements for Lady Thatcher's funeral," is one example of a message. London Underground subway status updates can also be shown on the bins.

The opening of the paper only pod fits the size of a McDonald's disposable cup, said Vickers. There are also mixed recycling apertures which also allow for the collection of plastic and can be leverage containers.

Ian Murison, director of engineering with Curventa, the industrial design firm that helped develop Renew's pods, adds that the openings to the bins can be locked remotely so people can't put anything inside in emergencies.

Murison said the internal area of the pod is designed to withstand the shock force of a bomb.

Previously, London had a number of cast iron bins that would cause additional damage if an explosive device broke away its pieces.

The city previously had over 1,300 waste bins before the IRA bombings but now has about 25 in some of the parks, Memari said.

Many cities are limiting garbage bins or only using clear plastic bags hung by simple wire or plastic stands, so the contents of the garbage are easily viewable.

Murison declined to reveal the bins' material for security purposes, but said they were made of a type of steel "joined together in the best way possible to withstand a substantial shock blast." The company also enlisted the help of a submarine engineer.

They are composed of a "Blast Module center," "which is four times stronger than steel and is designed to handle huge over pressures and blast waves emanating from an Improvised Explosive Device," Memari said.

"We learned that bombs placed inside of bins made better bombs," Murison said from Curventa's headquarters in London. "And when glass shatters, that's what causes the damage and a lot of lacerations."

The recycling bins are also designed so any potential explosion would blow the lid up in the air.

"The vast majority of the energy of an explosion is going into thin air. We do have to send the shock waves somewhere and like a chimney it goes straight up but should protect people in the vicinity," he said.

While some technologies may assist in preventing some tragedies, Murison said public vigilance is a major factor.

"You can control something in an enclosed space like a stadium, but when it's outside like a marathon, it's extremely difficult," he said. "You hope the vast majority of the public is vigilant and report suspicious activity -- unless you lock down the whole city which isn't going to happen."

Read more: After Boston Marathon Bombings, Gun-Control Push Continues