The White House's Fence Upgrade Looks Straight Out of Game of Thrones

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

From toddlers to truly deranged adults, Barack Obama's residence has seen its share of intruders this year. Now, the fence that so many crazies have scrambled over is getting a well-needed upgrade. And they’re using millennia-old defence techniques.

After several embarrassing breaches this year, the Secret Service began looking for ways to improve the security of the White House fence, as Wired’s Eric Niler writes today in a story about improving security through design. Many of those incidents involved the fence, which is why this summer, the Parks Service is installing hundreds of steel pokers against the existing decorative, leaf-shaped spikes that currently top the fence.

Spikes? Yes, spikes; ones that follow the same basic blueprint that civilisations have followed for thousands of years to defend their strongholds.

It seems stupid-simple. How will fence improvements deter attackers who burrow, or those who use drones to breach security? Those are legitimate questions, but a look back at the many White House security breaches over the years prove that they usually involve climbing that damn fence. Quadcopters are a new fear, but the most obvious way to stop the most intruders is the fence. Think of it as Occam’s razor for security: the simplest design solution is usually the right one.

The White House's Fence Upgrade Looks Straight Out of Game of Thrones

National Parks Service.

They look positively medieval, based on schematics submitted by the National Parks Service and pointed out by Politico.

The spikes will be clamped onto the existing fence toppers, which are more decorative than destructive, creating a secondary line of pointy metal that climbers will face when they’ve made it over the existing spikes. Each pointer is around 17 centimetres in length, and are angled backwards away from the fence to create the perfect geometry for catching errant scraps of clothing or skin that might be shimmying over the fence.

The most painful detail: What the Parks Service calls “pencil points,” or sharped steel pokers that tip each spiked rod.

These pencil point spikes are basically just a modern version of a palisade, which has been a core part of defence tech for millennia, used by everyone from the Roman army to pre-Columbian Amazonian peoples. Though they vary in details, palisades are usually lines of sharped points angled in the direction of the defending army, designed to catch or impale anyone trying to scale them:

The White House's Fence Upgrade Looks Straight Out of Game of Thrones

Carsten Medom Madsen

It’s only a temporary solution for the White House, which has a lot more than a fence to worry about in our age of quadcopters and cybersecurity. But historically speaking, it’s got a pretty good track record.