Skip to main content


PhD project within Smart City & Smart Buildings


Stine Ilum,
Industrial PhD


University of Copenhagen, Department of Anthropology



Since the Danish national intelligence and security service (PET) has assessed the terror threat against Denmark to be significant and a number of terrorist attacks in neighboring cities such as Berlin, Stockholm, and Paris have taken place in public spaces, The City of Copenhagen has started planning how to secure The Inner City of Copenhagen and its public spaces better against terrorism. The PhD-project has followed this counter-terrorism process.

Ethnographic fieldwork has been conducted at The Municipality of Copenhagen, The Danish Security and Intelligence Service as well as in private security companies, and architecture firms. Thereby getting an understanding of the professional practice of counter-terrorism in Denmark, including the rationales and roles at play in their work. Fieldwork has also been conducted at street level in the Inner City of Copenhagen. Thereby getting an understanding of how people as part of their everyday lives experience the so-called significant terror threat, including which decisions and precautions they make in relation to the terror threat, and perceptions and reactions to the new counter-terrorism installations. Insights from the PhD project inform the architecture firm SLA in their work with risk reducing landscapes.


  • It is important when working with counterterrorism to keep in mind that the calculated risk of a given threat does not correlate 1:1 with people’s perception of risk and feelings of unsafety and fear. Terrorism, in particular, is a good example of something that many people are concerned about, though the actual risk of being killed in a terrorist attack is extremely small. This means that when we work with counterterrorism and reduce the calculated risk of a terrorist attack, for instance by putting up surveillance cameras, bollards, blast proof windows, guards, and so forth, we do not necessarily reduce people’s perception of risk nor their feelings of unsafety and fear. In other words, if you want people to feel safe, it is not enough to only work on reducing risk.
  • There are many opinions, ideas, and approaches to counterterrorism. There is not one way that is the right way. Therefore, if you are a city planner and you are about to start a counterterrorism project, it is important to know that the solution is not given. You have to make a choice and stand up for that choice. And that in itself can be hard. As a city planner you have to take responsibility, make decisions, and weigh different values and priorities: Do we want the smallest risk possible no matter the costs (monetary, aesthetics, effect on daily life and people’s feelings)? Do we want open urban spaces and buildings (and then accept a higher risk)? Do we want visible security measures or more camouflaged measures? And so forth.
  • The communication of international terrorist attacks in media plays a key role in evoking fear of terrorism among citizens. When they move around the city, citizens are simply reminded of these previous attacks when they find themselves in similar situations. For instance, at a Christmas market or at a crowded pedestrian street. This happens not only in cities where actual attacks have taken place but also in other cities, where people have only heard about the attacks though media. Fear of terrorism can thus be said to be contagious via media and storytelling. As little communication about terrorism is the best possible cure to the widespread fear of terrorism. If media reduced their extreme attention to everything that has to do with terrorism, if production companies like Netflix and HBO stopped developing movies and series about terrorist attacks, and if researchers like myself put a curb on the continuous flow of information about terrorism, I believe people would worry less about it.

Counterterrorism, Everyday Life, and Feelings of Security. In: Security by Design. Edited by: DG Joint Research Centre, European Commission.


Ilum, Stine. Forthcoming book chapter. Counterterrorism, Everyday Life, and Feelings of Security. In: Security by Design. Edited by: DG Joint Research Centre, European Commission.

Ilum, Stine. Forthcoming peer reviewed article. Fear of Terrorism: Recognizing Situations of Potential Danger in Urban Space.

Ilum, Stine. Forthcoming peer reviewed article. Ha-Ha Walls, Concrete Blocks, and Bollards: How Rationales of the Security Industry Shape our Cities.

Safe Urban Spaces: A Nordic Approach and Toolbox. A publication by Nordic Safe Cities and SLA. Forthcoming.

SLA, PPG og Stine Ilum m.fl. (2019). GRØNBOG. Et debatoplæg om terrorsikring af byrum og bygninger. Realdania, Innovationsfonden og Dansk Live
→   Read article

Sikkerhed og arkitektur. Arkitekten 08, oktober 2019, Vol. 21, pp. 7-10
→   Read article

Klimatilpasning og terrorsikring – Nye barrierer for universelt design? Trafik & Veje, November 2018, pp. 20-23
→   Read article

Fem år efter angrebene i København: Sådan har terror ændret bybilledet. DR. 14. februar 2020.
→   Read article

Branchesamarbejde efterlyses: Hvordan skal dansk terrorsikring se ud?, Politiken, 1. juli.
→   Read article

Safe Urban Spaces – A Nordic Approach and Toolbox. Safe Urban Spaces & SLA. 2021.
→   Read article